“How can I sensibly and safely start an exercise program after I’ve had my baby?” This is something that women ask me on a near-weekly basis. Assuming you’ve had a healthy pregnancy, delivery and baby, my answer is always the same.
First, don’t rush into an intense exercise routine, unless you are an avid athlete or incredibly fit and active anyway. Second, if broken sleep has taken its toll and you have a choice between resting and exercise, then choose sleep.
Get moving, mama
That said, not moving sensibly at all for weeks on end—as per the traditional concept of ‘lying in’ or ‘confinement’ in many parts of the world and still not uncommon here in Hong Kong—will certainly not do you any good physically or mentally. And if there is one thing we all want to be, it is a healthy, happy mother, and staying still long-term is not the solution.
The link between Post Partum Depression (PPD) and lack of exercise is not only strong, the link between a general feeling of ‘the blues’ for anyone is also linked to lack of activity.
Among many other studies worldwide, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says studies show that regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long-lasting.
“One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time,” the association states.
Start soon, but start slow
The best way to start is—of course—gently. Once you have checked with your doctor that you are in good shape to start exercising, this could mean a daily walk with the stroller and/or the baby in a sling. Or, get advice on safe yoga stretches alongside breathing techniques for relaxation.
And I stress this: don’t wait too long. I believe we should capitalise on those post-natal chemicals and the congratulatory atmosphere by moving in some way, every day, straight away. A good way to start could be putting on that sling and walk around Lugard Road, for example, at least once a day.
If you feel up to it, join a group post-natal class. The community energy of a group class is a mood booster and gets you out of the house so you feel more productive and structured in your day of endless breastfeeding and napping.
Over time, stop every four minutes for a few Kegel exercises, which not only assist with bladder control but also encourages proper postural alignment. You can also wear a post-natal corset when moving around. We call this a neurological feedback tool, as it supports core stability and gives your body a memory boost of how your muscles and tissues should function when they are at their optimum.
A healthy mum is a happy mum
The strengthening and stabilising of the core via a pilates program is the way to go, even if the initial exercises are done at home and consist of simple exercises like pulling up the pelvic floor, bridging, and gentle chest lifts. Yoga may overstretch ligaments which are already loose from Relaxin, a hormone produced to relax ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for childbirth.
Whatever you do, do it because it is empowering for you. Try to make it part of your baby routine and soon enough, it will be how you live your life. And what baby doesn’t love being active, learning how its body moves, watching the world around them with their mother and hearing the sound of laughter and positivity?
Ultimately, you will feel and look stronger, more confident and feel healthier. In conclusion, please remember that a happy, healthy mother is a good one.