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Choose the right exercise regime and you'll feel great, lose weight and tone up. Here's a post-baby fitness overview of what's hot and what's not for new mums
Getting back in shape after you've had your baby is easier said than done. There's no doubt, however, that the benefits are huge – you'll regain your figure, improve energy levels, lift your mood and boost your confidence.
The general guideline is to wait until after your six-week check before you start to exercise. But there are some gentle alternatives you can do earlier that are beneficial and can help to speed up your recovery after giving birth. Make sure you have your doctor's permission before trying these and always listen to your body. If you're feeling exhausted, run down or in pain, rest and seek professional advice.
In the first few weeks:
• Do pelvic floor exercises every day – check out the ones in our pelvic floor article Essential post birth pelvic floor exercises.
• Go for gentle walks with the pram. Start off with five minutes and increase by a few minutes each day.
• Do deep breathing exercises when your baby is having a nap. Lie on your back, knees bent, tailbone on the floor and place your hands on your rib cage. Breathe deeply, feeling your rib cage rise. Relax as you breathe out and your rib cage falls. Repeat 6-10 times. With a bit of luck you might fall asleep too.
• Practise tummy hollowing – lie on your back as above, place your hands on your lower abdomen. Take a deep breath and as you breathe out, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles (imagine stopping yourself from passing wind or holding back a wee) and focus on hollowing your tummy inwards as you draw up with your pelvic floor. Repeat 6-10 times.
After your six-week check:
• Find a mother and baby yoga class. Check the teacher is properly qualified and registered with an authoritative body such as the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), RCM (Royal College of Midwives) or REPs (Register of Exercise Professionals).
• Do postnatal Pilates classes where the focus is on inner core strength. Look for one where you can bring your baby. Again, check that the teacher is qualified.
• Try a postnatal exercise video that you can fit in easily around your baby's schedule. These are often celebrity-led, so check it's taught by a qualified professional too.
• Do try buggy or pram fit classes. There are a number of organisations that run classes with qualified teachers. These are great fun and a way to make friends with other new mums.
What to avoid:
• Boot camp-style or high intensity classes. Promises of a great body in a few weeks will set you up for failure. Instead, take it steady, making small, positive steps. Focus first on your pelvic floor and deep tummy muscles and gradually build from there.
• Abdominal crunches. Get your GP, or an exercise specialist, to check if your tummy muscles have separated, which is perfectly normal. If the gap is wider than two finger widths, exercises like crunches and planks could make the gap worse. To flatten your tummy and narrow the gap, exercise as described above and try a specialist postnatal Pilates class.
• Jumping or jogging, if it makes you wet yourself. This means the exercise is too stressful on your pelvic floor. Instead do walking, swimming (only after your postnatal bleeding has stopped) or cycling and lots of pelvic floor exercises. If you have any concerns, go to your GP who can get you a referral to see a specialist women's health physiotherapist.
By Lisa Durant