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Navigating early motherhood and return to exercise

By Physio Sophie

Are you a new mum, eager to get back to that pre-pregnancy body, back to the gym or feeling strong again?!.. with so much different information out there it’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed about what’s safe or not after giving birth. So many questions – to crunch or not to crunch, should my tummy still look and feel like this, should I be getting these sensations in my pelvic floor, when can I return to the gym, can I get back on the netball court soon?

That’s what we’re here for. We strive to help women feel empowered, strong again and get back to doing what they love.

So, the little human has just arrived, now what? For some – Sore/cracked nipples, troubles feeding, sleep deprivation, low energy/mood, feeling frustrated and angry, not feeling like yourself and feeling overwhelmed with the demands of early motherhood.

For others – Absolute bliss and awe. Loving every moment and can’t get enough.

Or for most, it’s a combination of the above. Know that there is no one way you ‘should’ feel and that anyway you feel is OKAY… you are normal! Early motherhood brings a whirlwind of changes, on top of the hormonal shifts from during pregnancy to postpartum.

Often women present to us at their postnatal assessment wanting to feel themselves again, eager to get back to activity and doing what they love. Great – now let’s do that but in a way that’s safe, guided and with purpose. You may feel great in the beginning but, we still need to consider the tissue healing, hormones at play and physical changes when planning a return to activity. Only then can we recondition your body (inside and out) to reduce injuries and dysfunction down the track, because at the end of the day isn’t that the biggest win of all? Your future self will thank you when you can have a laugh with friends without having a little spill or letting out some uninvited wind!

What does this process look like? We start with a postnatal assessment approximately 6 weeks after birth. Here we get a really good understanding about your birth history, how your body is moving now and what your goals are for this new post-natal period. When it comes to exercise, we start by regaining muscle awareness in the core and pelvic floor. Click here to learn more about ‘Mum tum’ and abdominal muscle separation following pregnancy. Think about it, your belly and tissues have just spent 9 months stretching, changing their position and tone so can we really expect them to bounce back to pre-pregnancy form?

We need to build back your awareness, motor patterning, function and strength. Evidence tells us that soft tissue healing takes a minimum of 6 weeks and strength takes 2+ months of consistent resistance training to achieve hypertrophy (growth) changes in the muscle fibres. However, abdominal fascia regains tensile strength closer to 6-7 months. Now, on top of these norms we also have to consider the change in hormonal profile that coincides with lactation.

Where do we start? We start with basic core activation exercises and we want to make sure we are doing these well and correctly. We see this often done poorly which can cause more harm later on during your return to activity. Now it’s not quite as simple as breathing in, bracing and holding your breath. You need to isolate and engage your deep abdominal muscles without compensating from surrounding structures or adapting poor muscle patterning habits. With our guidance and practice, this will then become more automatic and translate into everyday tasks. Once your fundamental core and pelvic floor activation is going well, we will start increasing the difficulty of your exercises to work, strengthen and really bring back in those muscles that have been altered by pregnancy. Then step by step we progressively build through a tailored plan and graded program to get you back to your end goal, be that; netball, running 10km or HIIT classes – safely to prevent any future issues. Bearing in mind that all the stepping-stones are there because we are thinking of your future body and well-being. Sustainability and longevity ladies!

What’s the takeaway? Each woman, their history, experience, body and level of ability are extremely variable. Therefore, there is NO one size fits all and NO set timeframe to return to sport after giving birth. Yes, that postnatal workout you saw on instagram may look great and work those tummy muscles, but they can’t tell how you’re executing the exercises so is it really the best option for you to get you back to your goals?

If you’re postnatal and eager to return to activity, then book in for a postnatal assessment now and let’s start this exciting new journey together. No matter what your goal is, as your physiotherapists in women’s health we will work with you to ensure the safest, most efficient and enjoyable return to activity possible. We also offer a number of post-natal classes where you can bring bub along, which are a great option for reconditioning in a safe and tailored environment. Click here to find out more. We can’t wait for you to join our vital core community!