Caring for Yourself After Baby Arrives
Published on: February 15, 2021
Mums-to-be take such care during pregnancy but what happens after birth? The baby takes first priority and self-care for mum is overlooked. Fitness trainer Anna Downs explains how to reprioritise your health with simple exercises to fit into a busy day through pregnancy and beyond.
By Anna Downs
Self-care has been a hot topic over the past few years. We are constantly bombarded with messages from health and wellness professionals about the importance of taking time for ourselves and this is with good reason. As mums and mums-to-be we are hardwired to put the needs of our children first. It is the primary driver behind most of our decisions BUT it is important to understand that unless we take care of ourselves, we will not be able to undertake this role to the best of our abilities. You ‘can’t pour from an empty cup’.
Self-care should be as easy as making yourself the priority. This sounds simple but when you’re sleep deprived your hormones do somersaults. Your body and life purpose change beyond recognition because you are trying to ensure your child is surviving and thriving–making yourself the priority can feel like an insurmountable challenge!
During pregnancy, we willingly make changes to our diets and lifestyles for the good of our unborn child. We prioritise self-care for the good of our children and as a consequence, we benefit at the same time. Once we have given birth, our instincts continue to help us prioritise our babies but as they are no longer growing inside us, we no longer receive the benefits! Arguably though, this is the period when self-care for mum is most important. We want to be able to model healthy habits to our children as well as being fit and healthy to allow us to be the best parents we can be.
As an ante- and postnatal exercise and wellness specialist, I passionately believe that finding time to move in a nourishing manner during pregnancy and postnatally is one of the most important acts of self-care we can undertake. Evidence shows that exercising during pregnancy has a multitude of benefits for mum and baby. Some of these are as follows:
- Reduce aches and pains
- Reduce constipation, bloating and swelling
- Boost your mood and energy levels
- Help you sleep better
- Prevent excess weight gain
- Promote muscle tone, strength and endurance
- Put you at lower risk of developing gestational diabetes
It’s also worth remembering that labour is an athletic event (whether vaginal or Cesarean section), so the stronger and fitter you are before you give birth, the better equipped you will be to cope with its physicality, and the faster you will recover afterwards.*
In terms of the types of exercise that you should be undertaking during pregnancy and beyond, think about what will prepare you to be ‘match fit’ for motherhood. Think about the movement patterns we undertake in everyday life and that you’ll be lifting and moving is a baby (that will only get heavier)! You don’t need to spend hours at the gym once you have understood what you’re working towards. You can build exercise into your everyday routine by tagging them onto pre-existing habits. This can be built into your lifestyle with very little effort (which is great when you’re tired)!
In my experience, mums move in all the following ways so including them all is not only desirable but essential:
- Mums lift – they lift their baby, car seats, heavy changing bags
- Mums balance – they hold their baby in one arm while reaching for something else
- Mums squat – they stand up and sit down (usually while holding their baby)
- Mums deadlift – they reach down and pick things off the floor
- Mums lunge – they get up and down from kneeling on the floor
- Mums hip hinge – they lean forward to change diapers, wash bottles, bathe baby
- Mums push – they walk for miles pushing a stroller
- Mums do cardio – they walk for miles (usually carrying or pushing their babies)
If you don’t have the time or headspace to seek help from a trained specialist, practical ways to add appropriate exercise and movement to your day could be as listed below. (Please note that if you repeat each movement a minimum of 5 times, by the end of the day, you’ll have accumulated a good gym session’s worth of movement!)
- Squatting – stand up and sit down 5 times every time you sit down
- Lunging – get up or down 5 times every time you move to or from the floor
- Deadlift – repeat the movement 5 times every time you drop or pick something up
- Cardio – take a longer route when you walk, always take the stairs, or stop the elevator a couple of floors before your apartment level.
If you need a little more assistance with how to conduct these exercises and movements safely, please feel free to contact me.
The fundamental thing to remember with all of these movements is to train the core to work in support of our movement. To do this we MUST exhale on exertion (i.e. breath out during the hardest part of the exercise). This will protect and strengthen your core, back and pelvic floor.
Please note – giving birth has a major impact on the body and returning to exercise should be undertaken with care and guidance. The recommendations are that you do not return to regular exercise for at least 8 weeks after an uncomplicated vaginal birth and 12 weeks after a Cesarean section (and after your doctors’ approval) though in some cases, you may need longer. Do remember to be kind to yourself. There is no rush. During pregnancy, your posture has taken 40 weeks to change and adapt. It can take over a year for things to ‘go back to normal’ so it is not surprising that a bespoke approach may be needed to ensure that postnatal exercise is appropriate and nourishing.
In the postnatal period, if you have lower back, shoulder or neck pain, you are leaking when you laugh, cough or sneeze, suffering from a pelvic organ prolapse, your tummy looks ‘poochy’ or you suspect you have a gap between your tummy muscles, prioritizing yourself, practicing self-care, and seeking expert help and assistance will ultimately help you be the best mum you can be. If you are feeling healthy, strong, and mobile you will be able to show up more completely for your child.
* Please note – there are several contraindications to exercising during pregnancy so please consult with your doctor first.
About the Author
Anna is an ante- and postnatal fitness trainer. She believes that if we can view exercise and movement as nourishment for our bodies, as opposed to punishment, we are much more likely to reap lasting benefits and create healthy routines that become part of our lifestyle. You all deserve a bespoke approach to your movement because if you move well, you feel well, then you can live well.
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