5 tips on how to look after yourself in the first few weeks as a new mum
By Rosie Cardale.
As a pelvic health physio, I am often asked the important question of when a woman should expect to be able to return to exercise after pregnancy. It is such a good question and one where, as you can imagine, the answer will differ from person to person, for so many reasons.
However, the first 6 weeks postnatally, regardless of how you deliver, can look similar for most new mums. This time is such a precious time to adjust to your new way of life and, if it is your first child, get to grips with your new role as a parent. It is easy to focus all your attention on looking after the new baby in your life, making sure they are fed, clean, and looking gorgeous in their Peachi Baby nappies but try not to forget about looking after yourself, too.
A paper, recently published by Science Advances, has found that pregnancy pushes the boundaries of human endurance, similarly to how the Tour De France does to elite cyclists! Just as these elite athletes would allow their body to recover from this, so should any new mum after pregnancy and childbirth. So, here are 5 top tips to help you to look after your body after giving birth and eventually return to exercise.
Allow yourself to rest, as much as allows, for the first 6 weeks. Enjoy motherhood and the new addition to your life. Try not to feel the pressure to ‘bounce back’ just yet.
Practice conscious breathing 3-5 times a day. Try taking nice deep breaths, expanding through the ribs and diaphragm, and then slowly exhaling. This will not only help your pelvic floor muscles, as they mirror each other’s movement, but also help you to increase oxygen to the brain which will in turn help to release tension and improve your mood. This can be done at home, in a relaxed environment or whilst you are out walking, if you feel able to.
- Do pelvic floor exercises
Staggeringly, 50% of women do not know how to exercise their pelvic floor correctly. It is a boring exercise to do, but so important, particularly in this stage of your life. The better you can contract and relax it consciously, the better it will work for you subconsciously, such as when you are exercising or walking. The muscle surrounding and behind our back passage is about 2 times the size of that around our front passage. Because of this, I teach my clients to think about stopping themselves from breaking wind, and then holding in a wee. Hold this for up to 10 seconds (it may take a few weeks to get up to this length of time) and then allow it to relax over the count of 10 seconds. Repeat this 10 times, 3 times a day.
- Build up to exercise (slowly)
When returning to exercise, allow yourself a 12-week time frame to build up your low-intensity exercises to prepare you for high-intensity or high-impact movements. Elite endurance athletes would do the same when they return to their training after pregnancy, too. New guidelines written by physios have recommended that regardless of delivery, new mamas should consider returning to running no sooner than 3-6 months postnatally, after having completed a strengthening programme to prepare for this.
- Consult a physio
If you experience any pelvic floor dysfunction (changes to your bladder or bowel function, pain in your pelvic region or any feeling of vaginal heaviness/dragging), if you notice a divarication or tummy gap or want to know how to return to sport and exercise then it is best to be checked by a pelvic health physiotherapist. The best place to find one is on the Mummy MOT website or the Squeezy App website where they have a nationwide register of qualified physiotherapists.