The first thing to take into consideration for new mums when easing back into a fitness routine is to learn how to be realistic when setting goals.
1) Feeding: For Mums in the early days, maintaining supported positions and postures while breastfeeding is really important to avoid neck, shoulder, and back pain (easy to say but harder to do we know!). Try to sit in an upright position with cushions and pillows providing some lumbar support, and ensure your arms are supported too, in order to reduce tension in the shoulders. Once baby is latched and feeding, try to look up in front of you rather than down all the time, so your neck is not in a flexed position for long periods of time. Try different positions too, like lying down or standing, to vary the mechanics and postural positions. The same points apply for bottle feeding of course. Many new mums experience back and neck pain, and increased associated headaches, due to poor posture when feeding and carrying their small children.
2) Aim for Symmetry: One thing you will likely notice, is that both yourself and baby have a favourite side for feeding, holding, cuddles, bobbing to sleep etc. The classic one is holding baby on one hip all the time. When we always do things on one side of the body, and not the other, not only is this potentially overloading structures on one side, but our body develops imbalances and muscle memory for that alignment – a postural version of the old wives tale ‘pulling a face in the wind’. We encourage our patients to be mindful of this and to try, when possible, to use both sides equally.
3) Do your pelvic floor exercises (Dad’s too!!): The sheet of exercises given to Mum’s by the midwife post-natally, including pelvic floor exercises (or Kegels), is almost certainly the last thing on your mind in the early days. However, we cannot emphasize enough how important they are. Not only are they crucial in post-natal recovery for ‘women’s health’ reasons, the pelvic floor muscles form an integral part of your core-muscle system, which when dysfunctional, increases vulnerability to back pain and injury. There aren’t many Dad’s with young kids that can honestly say they’ve been doing regular core exercises – hence the importance for men as well! You may be thankful for improved core-muscle activation when you’re on your 900th deep squat, trying to get your bundle of joy back to sleep at 3 am! These simple exercises can be done literally at any time and in any position. And a good habit is to remember to activate these muscles when lifting baby in and out of the cot, car seat, etc to protect your back.
4) Get back into your exercise routines (but don’t rush it): Even if it seems there are no spare hours in the day, getting into some form of exercise is great for your mental wellbeing as well as your body. There are many great options like ‘Buggy Fit’, yoga and pilates classes involving Mum AND baby, as well as gyms with a creche, that make exercise much more accessible as well as a positive social experience. The main thing is to take it slowly and not rush. Remember that in addition to the physical recovery post-partum (both in natural and c-section deliveries), hormonal changes continue for several months post-pregnancy, which may influence inflammation and pain sensitivity in the body, ligament laxity, and endurance capacity. This is particularly relevant for women who may have done a lot of long-distance running, high-intensity weight training or high impact sports. Just remember to take it easy and seek guidance from a health professional to return to these activities at the right time.
5) Manage your stress and wellbeing: Let’s be honest, as much as they are amazing, squidgy bundles of joy, babies are stressful!!! This plays havoc with our neurological function and emotional state, particularly when the sleepless nights start to kick in. We know that stress puts our body into a ‘flight or fight’ state in which the sympathetic nervous system becomes chronically overactive. This can lead to increased pain sensitivity, inflammation (swelling), altered hormone levels, to name just a few adverse side-effects. Finding whatever works for you; whether it be trying a mindfulness app, meditation, yoga, treating yourself to a much-needed massage, or a walk in the outdoors with the buggy – try and manage the stress and recognise times when your body is in this state…and remembering to breathe is a great start!
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Find All Sorts of Exercise
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