Being a personal trainer and nutritionist, I have a solid understanding of training and eating nutritionally, however nothing compares to experiencing the changes in your body via first-hand experience. Pregnancy is an amazing; life-changing experience, but there is no doubt that it is also tremendously hard on the body. The recovery time may be different for each person and depends on the pregnancy, birth experience, and previous exercise history. The body is likely to have changed composition, lost muscle, and contain post pregnancy weight, and will need time to heal from the inside out.
Below are a few important things to remember when returning to exercise post-pregnancy. Remember everyone is different and if you have any concerns I would recommend consulting your medical practitioner or finding a nutritionist/personal trainer to work with during your journey:
- Your body needs to heal from the inside out, – as a first priority start strengthening your pelvis. You can start pelvic floor exercises as early as a couple of days post-pregnancy or as soon as you feel ready.
- Check your abdominal separation following pregnancy. Focus on strengthening the inner-abdominal muscles first utilising abdominal holds and bracing your abs. Avoid crunches or sit-ups until your Transverse Abdominal muscles have strengthened (generally allow approx. 12 weeks) and if you have more than a three-finger separation consult your medical practitioner before beginning an exercise program.
- You can begin walking shortly following pregnancy, assuming your body is feeling up to it. In the first 5-6 weeks make walks, abdominal and pelvic floor exercises your priority. You can introduce gym workouts following your 6-week post-natal clearance from your doctor.
- If breastfeeding, try to breastfeed prior to working out. Heavy exercise can cause lactic acid to accumulate in the breast milk and may alter the taste.
- Listen to your body and slowly increase the intensity of your workout. Remember you will be adjusting to a totally new routine and sleeping pattern, so ensure you rest and get some sleep when your baby sleeps.
- Drink lots and lots of water, particularly if you are exercising. If you don’t drink enough fluids it may affect your milk supply.
- Your muscles may not recover as quickly as they used to, so remember to stretch after each workout.
- If breastfeeding, your appetite may have increased. Ensue you are consuming a nutritionally dense diet incorporating plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables, dairy, whole grains and healthy fats. Try not to consume saturated fats and empty calories, as these wont be beneficial for energy and recovery.
- Vary your exercise to keep you motivated and take advantage of time with family i.e. family walks after or before work or ‘mum& bub’ fitness classes.
- If you are a runner, avoid returning to running until 12 weeks following pregnancy. Ensure you start off slow, running only 5-10 mins to begin with and gradually increase the time/intensity. Returning to running too early may lead to injury and it will take time for your pelvis to get use to the body impact experienced when running.
Remember your body is very different to what it is normally, so be sure to listen to your body, take things slowly, enjoy your new family time and always ask a professional if you have any concerns. Note that many mothers don’t lose the last few kilos until after they have stopped breast-feeding, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Focusing on a nutritionally rich diet and safe exercise regime with gradual progression will ensure you reach your optimal health and fitness goals.