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Post Natal Exercise – What is Best?

December 6th, 2011 | Posted by Gail in PT

I have recently been asked quite a lot about how to tone up after pregnancy so below are a few points that should be considered.
Early months of Motherhood are demanding physically and emotionally and exercise may seem an impossible task to fit in during the day but is very important and research has shown that not only will it assist with weight loss there is an improved sense of well being, decreased symptoms of depression and increased energy.

what type of exercise is best?
There are a number of considerations that need addressing before you should commence a postnatal exercise program.

The Pelvic Floor
All women should perform pelvic floor exercise postnatal regardless of the type of delivery they have experienced. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that form a hammock, supporting your bladder, uterus and bowel. Although you may not have experienced any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction (leakage, heaviness, urgency to urinate) they have had to work very hard to support the extra weight of the uterus for the past 9 months of pregnancy and need strengthening. You should start pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible after delivering your baby.

How do I do my pelvic floor exercises?

Sit or lie in a relaxed position.
Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as though you are trying to stop yourself from peeing.
You should feel a lift upwards and tightening sensation around your bladder and vaginal opening.
Hold for 3-5 seconds and continue to breathe naturally.
As you get better, aim to hold for longer until you can hold for 10 seconds.

The first thing we all want to do is sort our tummies out but before we do this there is an important major factor to take a look at or you may be doing more harm than good.

Abdominal Muscle Separation & Strengthening

Lets take it that you have had your post natal examination but have you been checked out by a physio or qualified Ante/Post Natal Trainer?
Our abdominal muscles provide an internal corset protecting our vital organs and providing support to our spine and pelvis. The abdominal muscles are made up of different layers of muscle. These are the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques and transversus abdominis.

During pregnancy the rectus abdominis (or six pack muscle) needs to stretch to accommodate for your growing baby. Each side of the rectus abdominis muscle meets in the midline of your body to form a fibrous structure called the linea alba. This is the weakest point of the abdominal corset. Normally, the muscles stretch to accommodate for the growth of your baby. In some cases when the linea alba is placed under too much pressure, rather than the rectus abdominis muscles stretching, the linea alba overstretches or in some cases tears. This is known as a diastasis (or separation) of the rectus abdominis. The rectus diastasis will look like a vertical bulge in the midline of your body. You will notice this bulge when you do certain movements that increase the pressure within your abdomen and stress this area.
How to test for a rectus diastasis?

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent.
Place your fingers across the midline of your tummy just above the belly button.
Perform a sit up and feel for a vertical gap between your fingers.
If you think you have a rectus diastasis see your physiotherapist or Ante Post Natal Trainer for a specific abdominal muscle exercise program. Your physiotherapist will also ensure you are bracing and using your deep abdominal muscles (transversus abdominis) correctly and avoiding movements that are likely to increase the diastasis. Remember,a poorly managed rectus diastasis can lead to an abdominal hernia.

Start your abdominal muscle training by learning how to brace your transverses.

Start on your hands and knees
Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, and your knees should be under your hips. Keep your back straight
Relax your abdominal muscles forward.
Slowly and gently draw your abdominal muscles inwards towards your spine.
Continue to breathe normally.
Practice holding for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times.

Once you have mastered the bracing technique you can progress onto some harder abdominal exercises. Try the following abdominal exercise around 12 weeks of practice on easier tummy exercises


My Favourite is the leg drop

Lie flat on your back with your legs at table top position (both knees up off the floor). Inhale and brace your pelvic floor, exhale and as you lower one leg towards the mat. Stop if you feel your lower back lift off the mat or if you release the pelvic floor. Return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Toning and Weight Loss
You can commence a gentle aerobic exercise program from 6 weeks after delivery of your baby. Great ones are pushing the buggy.If you have a babe and a toddler great progress to a double buggy! If you have time to go out to a gym or class great but don’t get frustrated or give up if you can’t. There are simple body weight moves that you can do in 30 mins in a very small space.If you are breast feeding it is important to choose a form of exercise that is low impact and of moderate intensity. Research has concluded that exercise of low to moderate intensity will not affect production of breast milk or lactic acid build up.
Ensure you are wearing a good fitting supportive bra. Aim for 45-60 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 days per week. As I said this could simply be pushing the buggy when it becomes easy find a hillier route. Great for baby too to get out in the fresh air.Swimming, low impact aerobics, cycling are all good too.etc. (from food) must be less that Energy Output (from Don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking an extra litre of water during your exercise session.Eat healthy,small and often don’t restrict food groups, but when choosing carbohydrates choose, rye or spelt bread, brown basmati rice. Fruit berries.

Resistance training is another important form of exercise postnatally. Increasing your general strength will help decrease symptoms of back pain by increasing your strength, making lifting your baby easier. Weights training will also assist with weight loss by increasing your metabolism. A simple weights training program can be performed at home such as wall squats, lunges and pushups.

As part of my New Year exercise blast I will be posting a very basic post Natal workout to get you started. Basic because a)things are still getting back to normal with the body especially the back and stomach.I see many women 18 months Post Natal with very limited flexibility due to poor early Post Natal exercise or no exercise and we have to start very slow .B) It’s not a race and it doesn’t have to be complicated to get back in shape. Find a program that you can achieve and steadily progress with it for around six weeks.

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