If exercise was a big part of your life before welcoming a little one into the world, then, in the months after giving birth, you might start to wonder about how to approach getting back into movement–if that feels right for you.
Not every new mum will feel that a return to exercise is the best thing for them right now, and that is totally okay. Whether you had a vaginal birth or a C-section; or straightforward birth or a traumatic one, will all come into play. Listen to your body and speak to your midwife or doctor if there is anything you are not sure about.
If so, however, it’s true that the world of postpartum workouts can be seriously overwhelming. Advice, often conflicting, can be found in every corner.
It’s for this reason that WH has called upon Hollie Grant, founder of The Pilates PT Method and The Bump Plan, for some inside intel. As a mum, she has first-hand experience of slowly and gently returning to movement after birth, and has trained the likes of Jourdan Dunn and Ella Mills (a.k.a. Deliciously Ella).
Here’s exactly what she wants women who have just had a baby to know.
1. Gentle recovery can begin early
According to the UK’s Standard NHS procedure, women should wait until their 6-week postnatal check before considering exercise, but Grant says this doesn’t necessarily mean you should be on bed-rest until then. (If you had a C-section or a difficult delivery, of course, recovery may take longer–check in with your midwife or doctor about this.)
To caveat, she’s absolutely not suggesting you get yourself to the gym the day after giving birth, rather that the immediate post-labour timeframe can be crucial for super gentle recovery, as long as you feel ready.
‘Anyone who has attended a 6-week check-up knows that it’s more about your baby than it is about the birth parent, and often exercise isn’t even discussed,’ she tells us. But, interestingly, she affirms that ‘There is so much you can, and should, do in those first few weeks post-labour.’
She pinpoints the following:
2. Focus on rehab, not weight loss
It pains us to say it, but ‘snap-back culture’ is real, and Grant’s also passionate about getting rid. ‘There is so much pressure to lose weight after having a baby, and even well-meaning family and friends might mention it, too. I really urge you to focus on rehab, rather than weight loss. Aim for a strong, functional body, that can deal with the demands of anything parenting throws your way.
‘Placing the focus on how your body performs, rather than looks, will help keep any toxic diet noise at bay, and allow you a more positive outlook on your new body.’
You’ve just grown a human inside of you for nine whole months – be proud and give both your body and mind the break they deserve.
3. Making peace with changes to your body is vital
In the same vein, whether it’s weight loss, aesthetics, fitness, strength or otherwise, your body will never be the same. That’s most definitely not a negative thing. Rather, it’s that recognising that your body has changed for life, and accepting, that will bring you a huge sense of peace.
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‘It’s not a popular message, but we’re always postnatal,’ Grant adds. ‘I had my daughter three years ago, have taught over 1,000 live classes since then, am a postnatal expert, and still don’t have the body I had before. I never will. But neither do I need to. Every single aspect of my life has changed since, so why on earth do I expect my body not to have to?
‘I am, however, the strongest I have been in a long time, and I appreciate what my body has done for me. I have other markers of success for my body now.’
Think about the amazing process your body has just been through, for starters.
4. Comparison is never helpful
Pitting yourself against other new parents is, literally, pointless. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we’re all different. No woman will have the same birth as another, so there’s absolutely no use in making yourself feel some kind of way if they just so happen to be recovering sooner, for example.
‘One parent may have had an active pregnancy, a smooth vaginal birth, and lots of support at home. Another parent might have had a high-risk pregnancy, a traumatic birth, and little to no support at home,’ Grant explains.
‘These differences mean that you will never be at the same stage as anyone else. If Tracy from NCT is back to running 5k a week at 6 weeks postnatal, and you don’t even know where your trainers are at after 12, don’t feel bad.’
As ever, you do you.
5. Stop holding your breath
Fact: the way you breathe scientifically changes during pregnancy. It’s for this reason that you might feel out of breath more easily, and it’s also why you need to pay even more attention to proper breathing.
‘By the time we give birth, our uterus is very high up by our diaphragm and our breath is much shallower,’ Grant says. ‘This can mean we feel quite breathless, have a more rapid breathing rate, don’t make much use of the whole of our lungs, and can feel quite alert or anxious. We can try to re-establish good breathing technique as soon as we’ve given birth.’
Practice slow, deep breaths for 5-10 mins per day to reap these rewards:
- Core stimulation (including the pelvic floor)
- Reduced likelihood of subconsciously holding your breath while exercising (which could increase risk of prolapse)
- A calmer nervous system (efficient breathing stimulates the Vagus nerve and the ‘rest and digest’ system)
In, and out.
6. Go at your own pace
An obvious one, but it’s vital you learn to walk, before attempting to run. ‘After you’ve had a baby, your body has changed in so many ways,’ says Grant. ‘It can take weeks (if not, months) to get back to some sort of “normal”.’
‘In the first couple of months, I ask clients to imagine they’re rebuilding the structure of a house. We want to get the scaffolding in place before we start messing about with the tough stuff inside. Bump Plan members do this through deep core engagement, breathwork, pelvic floor activation, and awareness of how their bodies work. Spend time building up the foundations, and you won’t risk a setback further down the line.’
Don’t rush it, basically.
7. Take care of your pelvic floor
There’s no two ways about it: your pelvic floor needs work post-birth. This is something Grant swears by for her clients. ‘Whether you had a caesarean or a vaginal birth, your pelvic floor needs some love. It not only controls the passage of urine, faeces, and wind, but it’s also responsible for enjoyment of sex, and literally supporting your internal organs.
‘Birthing people are understandably more at risk of prolapse (where the pelvic organs drop down into the vagina), but a functional pelvic floor can really help reduce the risk of a prolapse, and help you exercise safely with a prolapse. It can also help prevent the cliché “sneezing and weeing” that so many parents suffer with (and that has been normalised far too much).
‘Pelvic floor exercises should include both holds (holding up to 8 seconds, 10 times), and rapid pulses (aiming for 10 quick flicks). These should be performed daily, in different positions, and paying attention to “relax” the pelvic floor after each hold and pulse too (a tight pelvic floor is not good news).’
You heard the woman.
8. Know that moderate exercise is unlikely to impact milk supply
Ask any new breastfeeding mum and chances are they’ll have concerns that too much exercise = lower milk supply, but Grant’s got good news: ‘There is no evidence to suggest that exercising at a “moderate intensity” affects your milk supply.’
She adds, however, that there is some existing evidence suggesting exercising to maximum exhaustion may affect the quality of milk, but this research was from a very small sample size and doesn’t accurately represent breastfeeding parents.
‘The mental and physical health benefits of exercise far outweigh any possible risk of changes to your milk,’ she affirms. ‘If you are breastfeeding, ensure you stay hydrated, wear a supportive sports bra, and try to feed before exercise for more comfort.’ Easy.
9. Be conscious of Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of DRA, but just in case a few of you aren’t, a quick re-cap. ‘Diastasis Rectus Abdominis is a widening and thinning of the linea alba (the connective tissue between your abdominal muscles) and is a perfectly functional part of pregnancy and allows our bumps to grow,’ says Grant. In other words, it’s when your abdominal muscles, essentially, separate.
‘In around two-thirds of women, DRA sorts itself out postnatally by 8-10 weeks,’ Grant explains. ‘That said, for around a third of women it won’t, and we don’t always know why.’
There is something that can be done, too. ‘Avoiding core work however is not the answer,’ says Grant. ‘For DRA to change, and potentially heal, we need loading of the core. It’s not wise to avoid core work entirely, but if you do have DRA, it’s important you learn how to exercise with it.
‘A strong core is so important as a parent, and a little understanding of DRA, or using a programme that is designed for those with DRA, will be incredibly helpful.’