Top 10 tips for postnatal recovery
Updated: Jul 4
One of the questions I get asked the most as a postnatal trainer is how do I regain my abs after having a baby. Many mums hope for an easy answer or are looking for a couple of exercises that will make all the difference. However, it's much more complicated than that. Nutrition, hormones, sleep and stress have a major impact on the recovery of a mum post-childbirth. Breathing and posture also play a huge part. When we tear a muscle elsewhere in the body, there are typically common steps to follow to help that muscle heal. But during pregnancy and childbirth, several muscles and tissues of a woman's core are affected. And because they work together, healing one muscle without taking into account the other ones, will usually not work. For example, it's hard to heal the pelvic floor if the diaphragm is not moving well or the transversus muscle is not activating correctly. Another thing I say to mums is this: If it took 9 or so months to grow a baby, please allow the same amount of time post-birth before you get frustrated. In the meantime, go through my list below to see how you fare. Also keep in mind that any additional postnatal issue (eg diastasis, prolapse, stress or urge incontinence, hernias etc) will influence the recovery time. If you have any of the above, please work with a women's health physio for at least three months to give your body the best chance to heal. This is especially important if you plan to have subsequent pregnancies.
1. Check your posture in a mirror: -Head (it often juts forward) -Shoulders (they tend to round forward) -Pelvis (anterior or posterior tilt is common) -Knees and feet (they tend to turn in) These body parts change substantially during pregnancy and postnatally and affect how we breathe and engage our core. If you're made aware of these imbalances, you can start taking steps to addressing them. During a Mummy MOT, a women's health physio will check your posture for you. 2. Breathe well: Think 360 breathing which is evenly spread into your sides and back in order to help your core heal. This is also called thoracic breathing and is used in Pilates. If our breathing is shallow, we are typically in flight or fight, which impacts our diaphragm's ability to lower down and subsequently our pelvic floor muscles' ability to lengthen and relax. If we don't get a good inhale, we can't get a good exhale which we need in order to contract our pelvic floor and transversus muscle.
3. Engage your core muscles correctly while doing abdominal exercises by exhaling and lifting your pelvic floor and tightening your transversus muscle (and relaxing on the inhale). This is an important first step when doing core exercises (which I call re-building your foundation) but many mums rush this part and go straight for harder or even high-impact exercises. Some good ones to start with on your back: -Toe taps/heel slides/dead bugs, bridges And on all fours where gravity will help you engage your transversus muscle further: -Half plank hover, 3/4 plank, side plank. Remember that you also use your core in many standing and balancing exercises. There is so much more to core exercises than sit-ups (my all time least favourite exercise because it’s not particularly functional!) 4. Progress core exercises at your pace: Rushing things might cause stress to the connective tissue and muscles and impair your results. Also, watch out for doming in your linea alba (midline) while doing stronger core exercises such as full planks and double leg lifts. It is a false economy to rush core recovery exercises so I recommend working with a postnatal trainer or attending a class such as Buggyfit for a number of months before you go back to regular fitness classes.
5. Eat well: No amount of core exercise will compensate for a poor diet. It is a well-known fact that what we eat impacts 80% of how we look whilst exercise only accounts for 20%. Protein, fibre and good fats at each meal will heal your body and balance your blood sugar levels.
6. Sleep as much as you can! I know this is a tricky one for new mums. When we sleep, our muscles and tissues heal and come back stronger. If you're not able to get enough sleep, focus on getting rest during the day, and focus on improving controllable factors such as diet and stress.
7. Stress less: Stress hormones such as cortisol break down your body and make you store fat around your midline. Stress also interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as other vital body functions. So try to slow down, meditate and take slow breaths to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
8. Avoid bloating by eating more fibre (30 gram per day), drinking more water (2 or more litres per day) and upping your Omega 3 intake (oily fish, flaxseed etc). This will help to avoid constipation which can stress the pelvic floor further.
9. Ask a women’s health physio to check for abdominal separation (diastasis), hernias and pelvic floor weakness including incontinence and prolapse. Having dedicated, specialist support will help you recover safely. See my Buggyfit page for a list of local physios that I work with.
10. Smile and be grateful for your amazing body. Many mums I see feel broken, are in pain or don't like the way their body looks. These are all very valid concerns. But it's also good to gain perspective and be kind and patient with yourself while you work to regain strength and reduce pain over time. If you need help with any of the above, why not come along to a Buggyfit class or get in touch to book a 1-1 session.
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