A guide to setting postpartum fitness goals
There is a lot of pressure on new mothers to ‘bounce back’ after giving birth, but we want to keep it real. Adjusting to your new life with a baby and all the emotional and physical changes it brings takes time – and there is no deadline.
To help you safely take your first steps back into fitness, we’ve split the months after giving birth into two phases:
- The ‘fourth trimester’, which is the first 6-10 weeks.
- After the fourth trimester, which begins once you’ve had your postpartum checkup and your doctor clears you for exercise.
Mental health should be a priority in the days, weeks and months after giving birth. While some new mothers find light exercise helpful in this regard, you may need to focus on trying to sleep, eat well or other basics. That’s OK, just make sure you’re doing what feels best for you and your baby.
Always consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, as there are some situations where exercise may not be advised. This information should be used as a guide only and should not replace the advice of your medical practitioner.
Realistic fitness goals during the fourth trimester
Calling the first few months after giving birth the ‘fourth trimester’ is a good reminder that this time is a huge adjustment for you (and your baby), emotionally and physically. You don’t have to stay confined to your bed, but your fitness expectations should be moderate for the first 6–10 weeks after giving birth. Heavy-duty exercise is not recommended, so what is?
1. Gentle walking
As long as you are pain-free and did not experience complications during birth, you may be able to safely begin walking as soon as a few days after birth. Start small – try a walk 5-minute around the block (pushing the stroller if you like), then come home and monitor how you feel. As well as your physical health, it’s good for your mental health to get outside and walk.
2. Gentle pelvic floor exercises
Your pelvic floor is a sling (or hammock) of muscle and tissue that supports your uterus, bladder and bowels. It’s had a whole lot of extra weight to support during your pregnancy, so now it needs some help healing and rebuilding.
Hopefully, you were doing clench-and-release Kegel exercises all the way through your pregnancy. If you’ve had no complications giving birth, you can start doing Kegels again as soon as you feel comfortable. (Talk to your doctor if you had complications or a C-section.)
Diaphragmatic breathing is both a relaxation technique and a gentle restorative abdominal exercise – perfect for new mamas.
3. Diaphragmatic breathing
Your diaphragm is a muscle that sits at the bottom of your lungs, and it plays an important role in your breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing – or belly breathing – is all about fully engaging your diaphragm, belly and abdominal muscles with each breath in and out.
This can help with ab separation (see point No.1 below) and relaxation, by lifting oxygen levels and lowering your blood pressure.
How to do it:
Start by sitting in a comfortable position, relax your shoulders, then put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach.
Breathe in through your nose, very slowly. You should experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand and your hand rise upwards. While your stomach is moving outward, your chest and the hand on it should remain relatively still.
Purse your lips like you’re blowing a kiss and exhale slowly, gently pulling your stomach in while you do.
Aim to do this for around 5-10 minutes.
Realistic fitness goals after the fourth trimester
You’re free of pain, you’ve had your 6-10 week check-up and cleared for exercise by your doctor, and you’re feeling ready to begin working out regularly again. This is the time you can get moving with FIT Post-Pregnancy. Here are some realistic goals to set yourself for the next few months.
1. Rebuild deep core strength
If your diastasis recti (ab separation) has not shown signs of repairing itself in the first 8 weeks after birth, be sure to consult with your doctor. It’s important to get proactive about rebuilding your deep core (which takes in 5 muscles sitting below your abs) strength, even if you haven’t experienced diastasis recti.
Stage 1 of FIT Post-Pregnancy includes essential weekly pelvic floor and core workouts to help you gently reduce any separation and start rebuilding strength.
Any core work at this stage of your recovery needs to be slow and controlled – don’t push your limits.
Your FIT Post-Pregnancy workouts are designed to get you moving safely while rebuilding your core and pelvic floor strength.
2. Move (a little) every day
You may be lacking in sleep, but it’s so important that you do some form of movement each day – whether it’s a FIT Post-Pregnancy workout or simply walking around the house with your baby in your arms.
In Stage 1 of FIT Post-Pregnancy, you have 4 workouts per week, each running for around 20 minutes. They’re gentle and designed to help you regain mobility, but if they ever feel like too much, don’t be afraid to take breaks or finish early.
On non-workout days, aim to do another form of gentle exercise like walking or stretching. 20 minutes is a good length of activity to aim for, but you can break that up into smaller chunks if needed.
Only do what you can and listen to your body. It’s not a race and we’re not tracking your active minutes!
3. Book in 5 minutes of ‘me time’ each day
We know it can be hard to even let the baby out of your arms, let alone leave the room. But you need to look after yourself in order to look after your baby.
Start by designating a small amount of time every day to simply being by yourself. You don’t have to wait until it’s nap time. Lean on your friends, your partner or your family and take a few minutes to meditate, write down how you’re feeling, or simply sit with a cup of tea or snack, uninterrupted.
4. Regain stability
“During pregnancy, your body produces cheeky hormones that relax joint-stabilising ligaments,” says FIT women’s health physiotherapist Phoebe Armfield, and the effects can linger after you’ve given birth.
This is why maintaining good posture when you’re resting, feeding your baby or simply walking is so important, and why good exercise form in your workouts is crucial.
FIT Post-Pregnancy is designed to help you on this front, with Emily’s tutorials to help you nail the form, and targeted exercises to rebuild back strength and improve posture.
So during your workouts, instead of aiming for intensity or lifting heavier weights, aim for good form like squatting without your knees caving inward or not arching your back when doing reverse flys or donkey kicks.
Small things like consciously bracing your core when you lift the baby, ensuring you have good back support while sleeping or resting, and avoiding sudden or jerking movements can also help.
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