Don't use having a baby and feeling tired as excuses to avoid exercise. I know from experience that it's easy to say "I don't feel like it" or "baby is a bit unsettled today" or "I can lose weight once baby is a bit older" or "I can get away with my mummy lumps and bumps this year". You just need to put the right importance on yourself and your workouts. The benefits of antenatal and postnatal exercise are well documented and are in fact recommended.
Sometimes being toned and slimmer isn't the right goal to set which is why many mums fail to work out regularly. Exercise isn’t just about your fitness levels and the way you look. Most people forget, or don't realise, that there are many other benefits to be gained from exercising. Have you considered that it can also boost your mood by releasing all of those happy endorphins, increase your metabolism so you burn more calories, improve your energy levels, give you a mental escape and challenge, relieve stress, provide a sense of achievement and well-being and give you chance to focus on yourself for once? It's important for mums to find time for themselves, after all, you can't pour tea from an empty tea pot!
Aside from being a great pick-me-up, working out regularly can relieve many symptoms of pregnancy and postnatal recovery such as reducing fatigue, nausea and cramps, improving postural alignment to help with hip and back pain, strengthening core and pelvic floor muscles to support you and your baby as well as providing you with the endurance to cope with labour and delivery and aid a faster recovery.
Postnatal exercise generally concentrates on strengthening your pelvic floor to help stop those embarrassing moments when you laugh or cough (ahem!) and toning your core to get you back into pre-pregnancy shape within about 9 months. Once you get your muscle tone back you can work on improving your cardiovascular levels as well. You get to feel great about yourself and know that you are able to deal with the physical demands you face as your baby grows. Oh yes, and you can still exercise whilst you are breastfeeding, in case you were wondering!
The other benefit of antenatal and postnatal exercise is that you can, under the guidance of a qualified instructor, better manage all of the changes your body goes through during pregnancy and for up to a year after birth. All those usual pregnancy and postnatal niggles can be reduced or even eliminated with the right fitness regime. Listen to your body, talk to your instructor about how you feel and only work to a level that is comfortable for you. Do make sure you check your suitability to exercise with your GP before you start though, especially if you have any medical conditions.
If you don't enjoy classes or the gym, or can't get there regularly, you can still do plenty such as swimming, walking or simply working out at home (but make sure you follow a specialist pre/postnatal workout coached by a qualified professional). There is also the option of Virtual Fitness Training where a qualified instructor will write a bespoke training programme for you to follow in your own time and can focus on activities you prefer. It's like having a personal trainer but without the hourly rates!
If you want to start following some safe exercises at home here are a few simple ones you can try during and after pregnancy:
Think about maintaining a good posture throughout day. Shoulders back and tummy in. This will make you look good and burn more calories as you engage more muscles.
Go for a walk around the block for about 20 mins at a pace which is comfortable for you.You should be able to talk whilst you are walking without struggling for breath.If you are pushing a pram, think about your posture, pull in your tummy and keep your elbows in at your sides with the pram close to you.
Stand with feet hip width apart, slightly bent knees, pelvis tipped forward, arms by sides, breathe in lifting rib cage, breathe out pushing the air out and pulling in your tummy as far as you comfortably can, hold for a count of 30, relax your tummy.(repeat x3).
Stand with feet together, step forward on one leg bending the knee as far as possible, bend back knee at the same time, hold for 2 seconds then push back to standing position. Make sure you keep your bottom tucked under and that your front knee is over your foot when you look down.If you need to hold onto something to help with balance you can put a dining chair at the side of you to rest your hand on. (repeat on alternate legs x4).
Find a suitable wall or door.Stand facing the wall, place hands about shoulder width apart on it at shoulder height, move feet back to allow you to lean on your hands with an in-line, flat body, keeping a flat back slowly bend your arms to lower your whole body towards the wall as far as comfortable then straighten arms to push back up.(repeat x8).
Stand with feet about hip width apart, tuck bottom under, isolate pelvic floor muscles, squeeze (like you are trying to stop your urine flow) and hold for 5 seconds then release, (repeat x8).
Disclaimer: Check with your GP to make sure it is OK for you to exercise. Listen to your body and only do what is comfortable. If you are pregnant or postnatal make sure your exercises are appropriate. Once you have had your baby only begin gentle exercises after your 6 week check-up if your GP says you can.
Remember to set yourself sensible goals so failure isn’t inevitable. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Having lots of small goals you can tick off on the way to your overall target will give you a huge sense of pride and achievement and keep you going back for more.
My top tips for sticking with it are:
Make sure you have fun as the more you enjoy it the more you’ll want to do it.
Mix and match what you do so it doesn’t become boring and repetitive.
Make sure you vary sessions each week to get a balance between cardio and strength training.Have a training partner or someone to provide you with lots of support and encouragement (this can be a partner, friend, family member, gym instructor, etc).
Schedule exercise time in your diary the same as any other appointment.
Keep a diary of what you have done and how you feel so you can see your progress.
If you want to track your weight loss, only weigh yourself once a week. You could also take measurements of your chest, waist, upper arms, upper thighs and calves. Remember that you may not lose weight every week as your body goes through changes and develops more muscle.
Drink plenty of water (around 8 glasses a day) to help flush out toxins and rehydrate you. Drink more when you are exercising.
If you have a baby or children at home you could either ask someone to look after them for you or find a class that allows you to bring them along. If not, try to work out when they are asleep, or better still if they are old enough get them to work out with you.
So, mums-to-be and new mums, don't think you're stuck with that bun-in-the-oven or muffin top look. Find a workout and give it a go. It's a fantastic way to have fun and feel great whilst you get fit for birth, fit for baby!
Mum plus One (pre/postnatal fitness & well-being)