It takes 9 months for you to grow a tiny human being within your abdominal walls, changing every inch of your body in the process and unfortunately for you it can take an equally lengthy amount of time to reverse those dramatic physiological and hormonal changes.
Before returning to your non-pregnant fit and healthy self, the first thing to take into consideration is to be realistic and patient. Alongside changes made by the body when pregnant, there are additionally huge transformations required to deliver a baby. The message to take away is this...
Be patient and have faith, your old body can be yours once again.
As a general rule of thumb it is recommended that women do not return to any form of exercise until all/any bleeding has stopped and this rule is especially prominent if a woman has had a caesarean section where recovery can take considerably longer. Racing back to physical training following child birth could be extremely detrimental to your recovery and slow down or even totally halt fitness progress. Whilst the 6 week rule of thumb is one to take seriously you should remember that you don’t have to be confined to your home following child birth. Fresh air, beach and park walks are still considered useful tools in returning to your former glory.
Perform a light, increasing to brisk walk/cycle/cross train for 30-45 minutes 3 to 4 times a week following the day off the races to begin fat burning and promoting a healthier you.
Once you do return to the gym you should be aware that your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles won’t be in their strongest state. Increasing intra-abdominal pressure (crunches, sit ups and general ab work) can put too much pressure on the pelvic floor, halting the healing process and in extreme situations potentially lead to the chance of organ prolapse. One of the first forms of exercise you can start to incorporate daily can be re-strengthening your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. This is done by going to the toilet and stopping mid flow. The muscles you tense to stop the flow are indeed your pelvic floor muscles!
Practise holding these muscles for 20-30 seconds at a time throughout the day whilst also completing static abdominal holds for the same time frequency (tensing abs and holding)
Following child birth it is very common that women experience a separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominus, very much in the same way that the abdominal muscles part as a result of an abdominal hernia. Your doctor can look for this for you when you return for your check up and if severe enough, you may need to work with a physiotherapist to return your muscles to their original and healthy state. So be mindful that when easing back to an abdominal workout not to overdo it. In most postnatal classes, the focus is more on plank holds and variations of plank instead of sit ups and crunches.
Fall in love with the plank and begin to add variations of this classic hold into your postnatal gymnasium return. Perform sets of 3 to 4 plank holds for 30 to 45 seconds at a time moving on to side planks for the same duration.
Don’t forget that whilst returning back into your fitness routine you need to ensure that you are remaining adequately fuelled. Keep hydrated and make sure that you are eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. Don’t lean heavily on supplements but do ensure that you are consuming lots of protein from grains, fish, meat, eggs and dairy. Avoid too much sugary stuff but remember that you don’t have to bin the treats altogether.
To conclude, just remember that the road you take following child birth is a long one requiring patience and the worst thing you could possibly do is rush into an old gym routine resulting in injury. Keep listening to your body and always consult a professional with any questions along the way. Once your body is ready you will be able to return to your original routine and eventually your original shape. Lose the mummy tummy!