Get in shape after a baby — part 1

Exercising the first six weeks after having a child

Once you’ve had your child, getting back into shape can be difficult. However, our guide to getting back into shape will have your working those pelvic floor muscles and reclaiming those abs in no time at all. Here's a list of things to do to get back into shape after having your baby:

The first six weeks after giving birth

Congratulations on becoming a mother! While your new baby will be uppermost in your thoughts, you might now be ready to start thinking about getting back in shape. One exercise you can start doing almost immediately is pelvic floor exercise or, Kegels. The sooner you start them, the less likely you are to suffer from subsequent problems, such as urinary leakage or poor muscle tone in the vagina.

Remember, this applies to you even if you had a Caesarean section. Experts believe it is pregnancy itself, and not delivery, that weakens the pelvic floor muscles, so get working those pelvic floor muscles now.


Getting back into shape after a baby

How do you work your Kegels correctly?

Firstly, you need to locate the right muscles. The pelvic floor consists of four layers which form a ‘sling’ from the pubic bone to the coccyx, with openings to allow the urethra, vagina and anus to pass through. You can identify these muscles when you are urinating. Try to stop the flow of urine halfway through – and you’ll feel your pelvic floor muscles contract. (Try not to do this too often though, as it can cause urinary tract infections).
Try to remember the sensation of the pelvic floor muscles contracting. Now lie down on your back or side and draw up and tighten the pelvic floor muscles. Because the muscles are made up of both slow twitch and fast twitch fibers, it is important to mix slow and fast contractions. With the slower ones you should hold for a few seconds and release and lower with control. Make sure that when you release the muscles, there is something left to release. If the contraction has already faded when you go to release, make the duration of the contraction shorter. The faster ones should lift the pelvic floor in one strong contraction, and release with control.

Dos and don’ts when doing pelvic floor exercises

  • Do not hold your breath.
  • Do remember that the release part of the exercise is as important as the contraction.
  • Do not tighten your glutes.
  • Do try the exercise in different positions – sitting, standing and lying prone.
  • Do not pull the tummy in.
  • Do perform the exercises regularly. Research suggests that performing 10 slow and 10 fast contractions, three times a day is effective.
  • Don’t give up your pelvic floor exercise after just a few weeks – you need to stick with it.

Reclaim those abdominals

In the early post-natal period (the first six weeks), you can also start to target the abs, but not by going back to doing your regular abs or crunch routine. The abdominal muscles have to stretch considerably during pregnancy and studies show that the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) can become up to 20cm (7.9in) longer and, as a result, slacker. What’s more, the linea alba, the connective tissue down the middle of the six pack separates (a process known as diastasis recti). This all sounds a bit worrying, but the separation begins to diminish just a few days after giving birth and is usually less than two finger widths apart by six weeks. 

However keen you are to get the abs working, do not start doing sit-ups, curls or crunches. Those muscles will have been through a lot of trauma so it's vital that you resume exercise gently and cautiously.

In the early stages you can begin the following exercises:

Getting back into shape 1: Navel to spine contractions: Standing up, inhale, and as you exhale, draw the navel gently into the spine (in other words, don’t ‘brace’ as if you were going to be punched in the stomach!). Hold for a few seconds without holding your breath. Build up to 20-second holds and repeat regularly throughout the day.

Getting back into shape 2: Pelvic tilts: Lie face up on the floor with knees bent, feet flat and spine in neutral. Inhale and as you exhale, draw the navel to spine and tilt the pelvis so the pubic bone curls towards you. Feel your back pressing lightly into the floor, but don’t squeeze your glutes. Hold, then release with control.

Getting back into shape 3: Front lying abdominal raise: Lie face down with hands under forehead, head in line with body. Keeping the rest of the body relaxed, inhale and peel the navel to spine, trying to lift the abdominals off the floor. Hold for 6 seconds, breathing freely, then relax. Do not liftthe hipbones off the floor or contract the back.

Getting back into shape 4: Bridge: Lie face up on the floor with knees bent, feet flat and spine neutral. Do a pelvic tilt, as above, but this time peel the spine off the floor, starting at the tailbone and rolling up, one vertebra at a time, until your shoulder blades clear the floor. Pause, then slowly lower the back down in the same way.

So, as you can see it is possible in the first few weeks to start to focus on the abdominals and pelvic floor. This will help you regain good posture, start to restore muscle strength and potentially help rid you of any back pain.

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