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What new mums should know about exercising

If you’ve just had a baby, our top 10 things new mums need to know about exercising will take the uncertainty away and give you confidence to get back on the fitness wagon.

For many new mums, fitness is hardly a priority, but it can offer so many benefits – not simply aesthetically but also allowing you time for your self, as well as releasing good old endorphins, which will perk you up after weeks of night-feeds. There are lots of things to consider when you go back to exercise – read on for everything you need to know before you kickstart your routine.

1. Start slowly

Up until your six-week check-up, it’s crucial not to place too much strain on your body. Labour is a huge ordeal and the body needs to recover, so stick to walking and gentle kegel exercises initially. It may just be a five-minute walk every other day in the first couple of weeks, but you can slowly build this up. Remember the saying, ‘nine months in, nine months out’!

2. If you’ve had a C-section…

A Caesarean section is a major abdominal operation, so recovery will take slightly longer that it would if you’d had a natural birth. Make sure you don’t lift anything heavy or embark on any impact exercise for at least 8 weeks to allow the body to fully heal. Anything carried out too early can have an adverse effect and set you back on your journey to fitness.

3. And if you’re breastfeeding…

Make sure you feed your baby before exercising, so you are not bursting at the seams while jumping up and down! Also ensure you have a super-supportive sports bra (and breast pads in case of leakage). Intense exercise can also build up lactic acid in your milk, so wait 20 minutes after exercise before feeding again; while it won’t affect your baby, it may make the milk taste funny!

4. Do pelvic floor exercises

If you’re not sure what is meant by the pelvic floor, quite simply think about the muscle you use to stop yourself going to the toilet! This gets severely weakened during pregnancy and childbirth, and it is vital to strengthen it as soon as you can. Simple kegel exercises – draw up the muscle, as if you’re stopping yourself going to the toilet – are best. Carry out 10 repetitions of this small muscle engagement twice a day.

5. Work the stomach muscles safely

One of the first things to do before doing any abs training is to check for abdominal separation (or diastasis recti) – a common condition after pregnancy. This is where the abdominal muscles split to a gap wider than two fingers. This can be corrected – but not by doing 100 sit-ups every day! Instead focus on core engagement, activating the stomach muscles simply by breathing in and simultaneously drawing your belly button towards your spine. Hold this position (continue to breathe!) for 10 seconds and then release. Repeat this throughout the day and the muscles will start to strengthen and the gap will start to close.

Beware of weak joints

Throughout your pregnancy, your body produced relaxin, the hormone responsible for softening the ligaments to allow the body to accommodate your baby and to prepare for childbirth. This means joints and ligaments may be weaker, so it is important to be mindful of this and avoid jerky movements and putting too much pressure on certain areas, such as the wrists and knees, too soon.

Be kind to yourself

Some days, you may just not have the energy. Don’t beat yourself up about this, just accept that your body is tired and you are adjusting to a whole new routine, having less sleep and with a little someone to take care of. Allow yourself to have a rest day so you can gain energy and give it another go in a day or so.

8. Go for a walk!

Without a doubt, the best post-natal exercise for mind, body and baby is walking in the wonderful fresh air. You don’t have to do a marathon distance for it to be effective. Start slowly, even just 10 minutes a day, and then gradually build up to 30 minutes a few times a week. Pushing the pram will engage your arm muscles and if you can incorporate a hill, even better! This will get your heart rate up, burn fat and tone muscles in your lower body.

9. Use your baby

Use your baby as a weight! Holding on to your little one while doing sets of squats and lunges will add more resistance to your movements and also keep your little one entertained. They can also be used in place of dumbbells for a standing shoulder press or lying-down chest press. The perfect way to bond with your little one. (Note that you should never do this immediately after feeding.)

10. Get in a plank

The plank is a static exercise that works your entire core and will help strengthen those muscles that may have weakened through pregnancy. Using your arms to raise yourself off the floor, hold the whole body in a straight line. Start with 15-second stints, twice a day, and over time increase to one whole minute.

Emma Bord is a personal trainer specialising in pre- and post-natal exercise. Follow her @emmabordpt.