Post-partum exercises and the safest way to regain your shape after childbirth
When you consider it takes up to 40 weeks or more to create a tiny human, you would think mothers would relax and give their bodies time to restore. Instead, according to a 2014 survey of 1,500 women in the United Kingdom, 40 per cent of new mums feel pressured into losing weight quickly. A 2015 study by the American journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that 75 per cent of women don’t achieve their pre-baby weight one year post-birth, while UK-based research revealed it takes an average of 19 months to get close to pre-pregnancy weight.
“In my practice I see a huge number of women who have returned to exercise too soon, and too intensively, and see me with aches and strains on their pelvic floor function,” says Renée Knowles, a physiotherapist specialising in women’s health and clinical Pilates at Up and Running sports medical centre in Dubai. “You must remember that you have just performed one of the most incredible things – developing and giving birth to a tiny human. Time and patience are vital.”
Respect for the healing process is key. If you had an uncomplicated, natural delivery, you might feel tender for five weeks or more, and it is advisable to wait until your six-week, post-partum check-up before returning to gentle exercise. A caesarean section can require six to 12 weeks’ recovery, depending on your body, and you should always wait for the green light from your doctor before starting any physical activity.
“Exercise on your hands and knees or in bridge position should also wait until after six weeks,” says Knowles. “After six weeks for a natural delivery or eight to 10 weeks for caesarean section, you can start gentle low-impact exercise, such as cycling, cross trainer, Pilates, yoga and light weights. Avoid high-impact exercise such as running and aerobics until four to six months after giving birth.”
Dubai and UK-based nutritionist and yoga instructor Suzanne Cork says it’s important to be “kind to yourself”. Cork, who gave birth to her daughter, Olivia, in February, says: “Consider the first three months after birth as the ‘fourth trimester’ – a time of rest, recovery and irreplaceable moments with your newborn. Eat to nourish your body rather than trying to lose weight and under no circumstances try diet pills, liquid diets or other weight-loss products, which can be harmful to you and your baby if you are breastfeeding.”
Blood lost during and after delivery can also lead to iron deficiency, which exacerbates the chronic fatigue that new mothers often experience. Fill up on iron-rich food such as free-range, grass-fed organic beef, dark green, leafy vegetables and dark beans such as kidney or aduki beans, advises Cork, and avoid too many raw foods (unless in easily digestible green juice or smoothie form) as these require more energy to process.
Breastfeeding mums who are tempted to cut calories to lose weight should also be aware that they need, in general, up to 500 more calories a day to support the process. “Lactogenic foods can help with milk supply issues,” says Cork. “Try consuming things like moringa [add to smoothies to help mask the taste], oatmeal, brewer’s yeast, salmon and fenugreek seeds.”
Updated: September 21, 2016 04:00 AM