I am now well over 9 months postpartum and I must admit my journey to physical recovery was slow…
I had a long labour, an instrumental delivery (Ventouse), breastfeeding issues and a whole load of emotional baggage to cope with. So, it perhaps wasn’t too surprising to hear that I completely neglected my postpartum body for the first couple of months of parenthood…
But, I eventually got on it and in this post I want to share what I did to help me recover physically.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NO PHYSIO/PERSONAL TRAINER. THIS IS A REFLECTIVE POST ONLY. WHAT WAS BENEFICIAL FOR ME MAY NOT WORK FOR YOU AND I WOULD ALWAYS RECOMMEND THAT YOU SEEK SPECIALIST INPUT.
Firstly, I must say that THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO PRESSURE TO ‘SNAP BACK’ OR ‘GET YOUR BODY BACK’. For me, this journey was more of a very gradual process and a way that helped me to FEEL better first, and then get back into my old wardrobe second!
Here’s what I did…
Pelvic Floor Exercises
I’m sure most people know of pelvic floor exercises (PFEs), but in case you don’t I will explain briefly.
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments within the pelvis that help to support the pelvic organs (such as the bladder, uterus, rectum). As the uterus enlarges during pregnancy, there is greater pressure put onto the pelvic floor, the muscles and ligaments weaken and organs can move downwards resulting in pelvic organ prolapse. The great news is that you can work the pelvic floor muscles to reduce the risk of this happening, pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and postnatally.
(Image above from duvet_days on Instagram - I absolutely LOVE their images!)
I must admit, I have been obsessed with PFE’s for a while (even before I was pregnant) and did this religiously during my pregnancy and remembered to do this after delivery too. Make sure you do them correctly and do a mixture of long and short squeezes. There are several online videos/documents that can advise you how to do these correctly. I have linked an NHS resource here or have a look at this booklet from POGP
When: as soon as you can after childbirth
I suffered quite badly with diastasis rectus abdominis/abdominal muscle separation – at one point I had a 4 finger gap.
I was distracted by a newborn who wasn’t gaining weight, as well as struggling with breast milk supply issues. Eventually, feeding became established at around 4 weeks (which I was informed can be the case) which is when I started noticing other parts of my body a bit more. I had back pain, felt very weak in my core and was really struggling to get in and out of bed. I then realised I had totally abandoned my abdominal muscles and noticed the four finger gap.
Luckily for me, I knew how to check for diastasis recti and when I had my 8 week postnatal check with my GP surgery I asked to be referred to a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. I saw her on a few occasions and got specific exercise advice/reviews. This is something I would strongly recommend. If you are unsure whether you have diastasis recti then please ask your doctor to check and ask for onward referral – they should oblige.
This leaflet from POGP has some good basic advice, but please seek specialist advice if you have a large or persistent gap beyond 8 weeks post delivery.
Mum and Baby Yoga
When: Speak to your instructor, but I started at 10 weeks after delivery. You may need to wait longer if you delivered by c-section
I started mother and baby yoga classes when I was 10 weeks postnatal. The classes were run by my antenatal yoga teacher and I was happy knowing that I would be seeing some of the mums I had met before my son was born. Each week, we spoke a lot about our deliveries and so it enabled our teacher to ensure we weren’t doing any exercises that were too strenuous for our stages of post natal recovery. It started off as very, very light yoga – low intensity, lots of relaxation, feeding and chats with tea and snacks afterwards. Gradually, over the months, the yoga intensity has picked up as our bodies have healed and become stronger.
Overall I have found postnatal yoga to be a great holistic return into mental and physical strength after giving birth. I now have the added benefit of a network of local mum friends and babies who have spent so much of their first months together. I would certainly recommend these classes if you can!
When: anytime, gradually increase distance and intensity
As you know I live by the sea…
My first walks were short and slow. They are now long and at a pretty quick pace (unless I want to stare aimlessly at the sea, which I often do!). Also as my son has grown, the weight of my buggy has increased, so pushing him back up from the beach to the clifftops is actually a real all over body work out!
Best things about walking with your baby:
- The fresh air
- The views – normally at a quieter time when others are at work/school
- Often sends baby to sleep (not always, I know)
- An opportunity to have some time to think/be mindful
- Improved physical fitness
To quote the late George Michael – ‘Let’s go outside!’
When: seek specialist advice
Six months into my postnatal period I was feeling heavy and slow and really felt that I needed to up the intensity of my exercise. I wanted to get my heart pumping. I needed to sweat (yes, SWEAT). I was unsure what to do… Previously I had played netball, but didn’t want to commit to regular training and matches in the evenings. Running was a no-no for me, not ever being a runner myself pre-baby and knowing that actually we need to be careful about starting running after having a baby (If you are interested in running I would recommend that you read this new Guideline on postnatal running published by Grainne Donnelly, Tom Goom and Emma Brockwell aka the Physio Mum).
So, inspired by an advert with a banging mid-noughties indie track by Bloc Party, I decided to take up spinning. And I absolutely love it!
By this stage, I was working on my diastasis recti and knew how to engage my core well through my personalised exercises and yoga. I would do this as I got on my bike (as instructed by the teacher – actually a physio, who knew of my postnatal history) and I would go at my own pace and turn up the intensity as and when I could. Honestly, it didn’t take long for me to feel fitter and for me to be able to get into my old wardrobe once again!!
I am still doing all of the above! I love the routine and so does my son. I will have to stop the mum and baby yoga soon, a I return to work, but for now my little regime has kept me feeling great – Mind, Body and Soul.