Imagine this: you’re a new mama, holding your sweet smelling, squishy little newborn, just taking her all in. Your body is a little beat up, but that’s to be expected, since you just gave birth. You hop onto Facebook to share yet another photo of your beautiful sleeping newborn, and the first thing you see on the sidebar is an ad for a workout program: “Get Your Pre-Baby Body Back in 28 Days!” You’re worried, your care provider hasn’t cleared you for exercise yet, but you should probably start working on getting your abs back right away.
As if new moms don’t have enough to worry about, they can feel so much pressure from friends, family and social media to get “back in shape” immediately after giving birth. Many new moms don’t even realize how different their bodies may be after giving birth – a swollen belly and stretched skin may be the least of it. Fitness Professionals everywhere have advice for new moms: eat this, don’t eat that, move like this, do this one move and it will all be good.
Certified pre/postnatal fitness instructors and Certified Personal Trainers will sing a different tune. We encourage new moms to honor their bodies, do what feels right right now, eat to hunger and for health, and move carefully and consciously.
New moms should be reassured that it’s OK to lay low for the first few weeks while they adjust to their new roles. In addition to learning to parent a newborn, postpartum women are recovering from birth, from pregnancy, fighting lack of sleep, learning to breastfeed, and readjusting personal expectations of life with a newborn. New mothers may be fighting baby blues, or battling postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. They might have family support, or they might be doing this alone. They might have time off from work or return to work. No matter how it’s going, women who give birth go through more changes in the year of pregnancy, childbirth and recovery than most other adults will ever go through in their lifetimes. As part of her support system, we must create space to let mama honor her body and her journey.
Each mom will recover differently. Previous fitness levels will be a part of this, as will the birth itself. Moms who’ve had a complicated vaginal birth or cesarean birth may need a little more time than the mom who had a fairly straightforward vaginal birth. Regardless, the shift of prenatal to postpartum hormones can leave joints and ligaments loose – relaxin, one of the many hormones of pregnancy — doesn’t leave the system at the moment of birth. Core muscles that used to work well for balance and support will likely be less supportive, and mom may experience back pain and feel unsteady. Some women will experience a condition known as diastatis recti and should be particularly careful about the types of core work she does. Many women will also experience upper back and shoulder pain from holding and feeding a newborn.
New moms should be reassured that it’s OK to lay low for the first few weeks while they adjust to their new roles.
The ACOG (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommendations do not specify a timeline for returning to exercise, nor do they specify how intense those workouts could or should be. During the first 6 weeks, moms are in an immediate recovery period and should go easy on exercise. Short walks, pelvic tilts, small crunches and kegels are good ways to begin.
Once mom is feeling healed (please check with your care providers – they’ll know the most about each woman’s individual situation), she can return to exercise in earnest.
Programs like Stroller Strides are taught by Nationally Certified Pre and Post Natal Group Fitness instructors and are designed to help give all moms the strength they need for motherhood. At FIT4MOM, we embolden each mom to workout to her ability each day; some days, that will be full out, other days, it may be a little mellower, and that’s OK. Our focus is on fitness and helping mom be prepared for the constantly changing rigors of motherhood, not on getting back into her old jeans.
One of my greatest joys in training new moms is to hear them remark on how their backs no longer hurt, or that they can keep up with an older child on the playground, or that it’s easier to hold the ever growing baby.
All new moms need support, and space to find her new self in her new role. Let’s create a space where moms can find the strength they need to get through each day, both physically and emotionally, without an unhealthy focus on “getting back” to anything.
Exercise Tips for Postpartum Moms*
*once you’ve been cleared by a care provider
- Start slow – you’ve plenty of time to return to previous fitness levels.
- Begin with postural alignment: make sure your bottom rib is over your hip bone and your neck is in line. Be cautious about the positions you’re in while nursing, feeding, and caring for your baby – shoulders back, core pulled in, feet elevated if you’re able.
- Glute bridges (lying on your back, feet planted on the floor, knees bent, pressing the hips high) are a great way to begin to strengthen your core and pelvic floor.
- Body weight squats will help strengthen the glutes and pelvic floor – be sure to pull your core in and keep your knees behind your toes.
- Grab some resistance (an exercise tube, small hand weights or bottles of water) and perform bent over rows –(hinge forward at the hips, knees slightly bent, arms bent at 90 degrees, pulling the elbows behind while keeping the arms close to the body) pulling exercises help strengthen the back and counter the forward movements that are done throughout the day with baby.
- Bird dog (on all fours, alternately lifting opposite arm and leg) will help build core strength.
My goal as a FIT4MOM owner/instructor is to give moms the strength for motherhood and help them reach their fitness related goals.
About the Author
Katy Taylor owns FIT4MOM Issaquah|Sammamish|SnoRidge and is an ACE certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. She is also a Childbirth, Breastfeeding and Early Parenting Educator at Evergreen Health. Katy has three girls she gave birth to and one who was born before she met her. She enjoys running and lifting weights, camping, backpacking, skiing and being at the beach, all with or without her partner, friends or kids. Katy’s goal as a FIT4MOM instructor is to give moms the strength for motherhood and help them reach their goals.
FIT4MOM operates franchises all over the greater Puget Sound area. To find your closest location, head over to fit4mom.com.