While pregnancy is a wonderful time for an expecting family, it can also be very challenging physically for the mom-to-be. The growing baby (with his/her weight), hormonal swings, impaired thermoregulatory ability (sweating) and altered metabolism can all work together to make climbing a flight of stairs difficult, let alone working out five days a week.
By the end of nine months, you will have a happy baby, but potentially a deconditioned body as well. While the best defense for physical recovery after pregnancy is a good offense (staying reasonably active as long as possible during pregnancy), sometimes that doesn’t always happen. So, now what? Over the next two posts, I’ll be discussing four post-pregnancy fitness tips to get mom back on her feet and moving, before her baby does.
*Note: Today’s post will discuss getting your body up and moving again, gradually and safely. The next post will discuss posture, movement patterns and nutrition.
1. Get your core and hips realigned and firing again
The baby bump does more than get a lot of well wishes from friends. It has also probably tightened or weakened a number of your hip, core and lower back muscles. This situation may also be exacerbated if you had a c-section or have diastasis recti (splitting of the abdominal wall due to the pressure of the baby pushing against your belly). Often a result is what we call “lower crossed syndrome” where you’re standing more in a “swayback” position:
Getting your core and hips back in the game (and for some, the upper back muscles) is a crucial first step to exercising well again. All of the forward weight will have likely made your chest, hip flexors and lower back tight while weakening your upper back muscles, trunk stabilizers (abs) and hip stabilizers (abudctors). Here are a few stretches and exercises you can do to get everything in line again:
Hip Flexor Stretch
Chest Pinky Ball
Hip Pinky Ball
Cat/Cow (don’t force either movement, stay long through your spine, lightly engage your abs, return to neutral after doing a few repetitions):
Hip Hikes (you can put a small, soft ball between your hip and the wall to create pressure rather than your knee, focus on driving down through the heel of the standing leg – less is more with this exercise, don’t drive up through the raised leg or hip)
Mini Band Side Steps
*Interesting side note: If you have diastasis recti, you want to make sure you avoid spine-flexing movements that cause you to push your abdominals out like crunches and sit ups. You need to focus on keeping your belly button drawn in and firm when moving and focus on trunk stability exercises (using your abs to stay steady, rather than actively moving your spine) like planks, side planks, cable extensions/Palloff presess and dead bugs.
2. Focus on consistency before intensity
Don’t try to hit the gym, or the ground running just as hard as you did before you got pregnant – unless you’re Paula Radcliffe. Your body can start to decondition within a few weeks of stopping exercise, so if you’ve been doing little, to no exercise in the previous few months, you’ve got some catching up to do. Your body has also gone through a number of changes (potential diastasis recti, c-section, altered hip/core firing patterns from the baby bulge) that could leave you at increased risk for injury if you go straight back into intense exercise. Finally, if you’re not sleeping well (which is to be expected with newborns), your body isn’t setup to adequately recover from highly intense workouts.
If you want to get moving again, first get clearance from your doctor. C-sections typically require a little more recovery time. Once cleared, focus on moving a little bit each day, especially since you probably won’t be able to stay away from your newborn for more than a little while at a time. Getting your core and hips firing again is a great place to start (see tip #1 above).
As far as intensity, consider starting at around 30-50% of your pre-pregnancy loads, but by all means feel free to do less if something feels out of sorts. Bodyweight and resistance band exercises – squats, modified or wall/ledge pushups, resistance band rows/pulldowns, step ups, core exercises – in addition to walking/light jogging are a convenient way to get some exercise in at home while still being near your baby. If you notice that you have rounded/hunched shoulders and forward head posture, consider doing more pulling/rowing exercises than pushing. If you have access to a gym and dumbbells/cable machines, that’s fine too. Again, start lighter than normal – you have plenty of time to build back up.
*Interesting side note: Research has shown that bouts of high intensity exercise (intervals, HIIT/Crossfit style classes) can potentially increase amounts of lactic acid in breast milk, which may not be appealing to breastfeeding babies. If you do choose to perform HIIT while breastfeeding, you may want to feed your child prior to exercise, and/or wait a couple hours after HIIT exercise to let the lactic acid clear from your body.
That’s it for Part 1 – check out the next two tips in early September. Let me know in the comments below if either of these tips were useful for you!