Motherhood is tough.
And I am not even talking about the sleepless nights, or constantly being in a state of high alert, or the fact that the work you do as a mum is generally undervalued by society (doesn't that suck!).
I mean it is physically tough.
It may not exactly look like an episode of Australian Ninja Warrior, but when your core has been stretched beyond what you thought was humanly possible and your pelvic floor has pushed out a human (or you have had major abdominal surgery by way of a c-section) the task of lifting a pram into the back of the car can seem as insurmountable as the warped wall!
So once the new mum fog has lifted and you feel like moving again what should the focus be? I vote for "getting shit done, pain free". We want to be moving freely, without daily tasks being a literal pain in the neck/back/butt.
Here are just some of the examples of the physical tasks mums do on a regular basis:
- Squatting to come down to your child's level to tie their shoe or connect eye to eye
- Lunging to pick up toys off the floor
- Lifting a basket of wet washing (every damn day)
- Lifting a newborn and holding them for long periods
- Lunging to pick up more toys off the floor
- Lifting a pram or car seat into the car
- Carrying groceries while having your baby strapped to the front of you
- Picking up your 5 year old when they hurt themselves and only a mummy cuddle will do
- Sprinting to catch your escaping child before they reach the road.
So how to we achieve that?
"Training for the Functions of Daily Life"
It is all about preparing for the physical tasks of motherhood by training for the functions of daily life. At Go Mum, we do this by replicating commonly used movement patterns from daily life into our exercise programs and regressing or progressing the difficulty of those exercises dependent on the mother's stage of recovery. We aim to gradually rebuild the strength and function that allows mums to tackle daily tasks with minimal effort and without pain.
If you are just starting your return to exercise (regardless of how long ago you had your baby) you might like to consider the following steps as a general guide to postnatal recovery progression. However, keep in mind that each step is not mutually exclusive. For example, you can do cardio while still working on your pelvic floor.
1. Shift your Mindset
Acknowledge that it will take time and that weight loss may not be the first step in the process. You are on a journey of healing that will set you up for a lifetime of pain free movement. Just because you can't see the difference doesn't mean you won't feel the difference your training is making. Focus on setting some goals around how you want to feel and what you want to be able to do.
2. Get an assessment
Rebuilding pelvic floor function and preventing further damage should be a consideration in every type of exercise you do as a woman (regardless of whether you have any current pelvic floor issues or not). Having a pelvic floor and abdominal check by a women's health physiotherapist will provide you with useful information on where you are at and give you a great starting point to measure progress.
3. Reconnect with your Core
With a little guidance from a health and fitness professional specialising in postnatal recovery, you can make a start towards reestablishing core strength and function. Your core supports your whole body as it moves and we can only increase the intensity of our exercise to a point where our core can support it. This can be a lesson in patience as abdominal recovery can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Also, weeing when exercising is a sign that our system is not functioning correctly and should not be dismissed as an inevitable side effect of motherhood (refer to point 2).
4. Build Strength
For all that lifting we do as mums, strength is an absolute MUST. Strength training does not mean getting bulky and through functional movements that replicate daily life you can quickly see the benefits.
5. Add in some Cardio
Nobody wants to feel breathless when they are running around with their kids. A little cardio work can go a long way to making us feel well and allowing us to engage in fun activities with our family. Low impact cardio options are available so you can protect your pelvic floor while still getting a post cardio workout buzz. Your postnatal trainer can guide you on ways to engage in cardio exercise while protecting your pelvic floor.
Some Final Notes:
- Keep moving during pregnancy. If you don't use it you lose it so maintaining fitness during pregnancy will have you in a good position for postnatal recovery.
- Everyone's recovery time will differ so avoid measuring your progress against the progress of others. Being consistent and committed to your recovery will get the fastest results for you.
- You are only as strong as your weakest link. If you have abdominal separation or pelvic floor dysfunction then you must work within those boundaries and not ignore symptoms of a bigger problem.
- Gradually increase the difficulty while keeping a check on your pelvic floor. If you start to leak or feel pain or pressure in your pelvis, scale back your exercise, revisit your pelvic floor exercises and see a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
- See a pelvic floor physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or a suitably qualified postnatal trainer for tips and techniques to protect your pelvic floor while exercising.
I hope you have found this article useful and would love to hear what you found most beneficial when returning to exercise.
About The Author
Christine holds a Cert III and Cert IV in Fitness and has undergone specific training in exercise for pregnancy, postnatal pelvic floor and abdominal recovery and group exercise instruction. Christine is registered with Fitness Australia (Reg No. 095064) and a member of the Continence Foundation of Australia. She also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Bachelor of Leisure Management and volunteers as President of Friends of the Birth Centre to advocate for improved maternity services for women in Queensland.