Post Pregnancy Exercise – 9 Ways To Ease Yourself In
If fitness was part of your life before you had a baby, there’s no doubt post pregnancy exercise is on your radar, even with a little one in tow. But it’s tougher now. Your strength and fitness levels will be reduced (even if you kept up training throughout pregnancy, but especially if you couldn't), your time is impossibly squeezed and you’re probably functioning on very little sleep. But it’s not impossible – and the new wave of post pregnancy exercise options is blooming great.
But a quick bit of safety advice before the gym kit goes on.
Before you enrol on post pregnancy exercise
To starting working out again you need the all clear from your doctor at your six week check up, according to the NHS. ‘It is so important to give your body the time it needs to recover before getting back in the gym,’ says PT Charlie Launder, co founder of Bumps and Burpees. ‘Use this time wisely, drink plenty of water, get some sleep (when you can) walk lots, and eat nutrient-dense foods to get your body in the best position possible for your return to exercise.’
Even when you've had the all clear, Dr Amal Hassan advises that post pregnancy exercise should start with a gentle, yet progressive, core and pelvic floor restoration programme. As a former Psycle instructor as well as specialising in sports and exercise medicine, when she had her baby five months ago, she found it frustrating when she had to dramatically scale back her exercise regime.
'You can imagine how boring I found pelvic floor exercises then; no sweat, no breathlessness, no lactic acid, no point?,’ she says. ‘But after suffering the consequences of a long labour, a big baby, and an assisted birth I had no choice. These exercises are fundamental to my daily comfort, without them, I might fear taking the buggy out where there was no loo within easy reach.’
Her best advice? Sign up to post pregnancy exercise that has a pilates or pelvic floor element integrated into the workout, and practice pelvic floor and core exercises at least three times a week. ‘Remember: our core and pelvic floor are integral to every movement we do, and as they loosen and weaken throughout pregnancy (especially if you aren’t able to remain physically active), they need extra TLC once that baby’s out,’ Dr Hassan says.
How to know if you're ready to exercise
Not all doctors do it automatically, but make sure you ask them to check your abs for diastasis recti, or ab separation (a post natal qualified PT will also be able to diagnose this). If you have it, you’ll have to be even more careful with core work to prevent further ‘doming’ – so speak to an instructor for more details.
When you should exercise
“How do I keep my baby entertained,” is probably the most common thought of new mums You can try to squeeze around nap times (although babies have a habit of waking up just when you don’t need them to), and if you’ve gone to a post pregnancy class, make sure you get there 20 minutes early to feed – essential to get the most grumble free time and relieve pressure on milk-full breasts.
But the best tip is just to be prepared to workout at a minute's notice. Dr Hassan says, ‘I make sure I’m flexible as to when I fit exercise into my day. As long as he’s fed and asleep, and I’m already in gym clothes, I’ll quickly get started and not be too upset if I haven’t done all that I had expected to. Little and often over a long period of time is really going to make a difference.’
A warning on HIIT and breastfeeding – while ‘one doesn’t preclude the other,’ according to Dr Hassan, ‘It is worth noting that milk production is likely to slow during high-intensity exercise so it is even more important to stay hydrated. Avoiding breastfeeding within the hour directly following high-intensity exercise may reduce the amount of lactic acid passed on via your milk, and will allow levels of the amino acid Glutamine (good for immune health) following its decrease post-exercise.’
Don’t forget about your own nutritional needs: we all need to fuel up before after the gym, but breastfeeding mothers more than anyone. Remember breastfeeding uses up about an extra 300-500 calories per day.
Even when you’re ready to go the key thing to remember with any post pregnancy exercise is that your body has been through an enormous change, so take it slowly. ‘Remember not to compare yourself to others, or even your pre pregnancy self,’ advises Launder. ‘It took nine months to grow this baby so don't expect your body to pop back overnight. Everyone's body will react differently to pregnancy so give yourself time, be patient and don't forget to enjoy this time as a new mum.’
It’s frustrating, yes, but take it slow. Exercise now more than ever is some hard earned you time, so take your time
1. BUMPS AND BURPEES
Lomax Gym, London, from £69 per session.
Unless you’re willing to fork out for childcare on top of personal training, it’s very hard to go back to regular gym sessions with a baby. Step forward Bumps and Burpees for all your post pregnancy exercise needs at Lomax. Charlie Launder and her team of trainers are qualified to whip new mums (and mums-to-be such as Natasha Corrett anMadeleine Shaw) back into shape, but also, crucially are all haith a baby carrier, toys or even a bottle if your bub needs feeding. Which means you can relax as you workout, safe in the knowledge that someone else is in charge. They can work with any fitness level – whether you’ve kept it up throughout pregnancy or not – and will work on stabilising and rebuilding parts of your body weakened by pregnancy; your core being an obvious one, but also hips, shoulders and glutes. Expect a tough, results-driven session, at your own pace with
friendly, supportive chat.
WHAT YOU NEED: Nothing; Lomax provides towels, water, and baby entertainment.
TIP: Arrive 15 minutes early to feed your baby in the cafe before for maximum grouch-free workout time (and a shot of espresso for you!).
moveyourframe.com, from £8.75 per week.
The newest offering from the founders of Frame is Mumhood – pre and post natal online workouts that you can do at home. The post natal offering is split into two parts – first for when you start getting
back into exercise, and the second part to progress on to (or, if you’re already fit to start on). Each is around 30 minutes with the recommendation that you do them at least three times a week, with a supplementary 15 minute core workout, which you can do every day. I lay my baby on the mat in front of me and worked out over the top of her with my laptop perched on the kitchen table, which she found funny. Perfect to pause if the baby needs feeding/ winding/ and restart if you get her down for an unexpected nap and because you move up every two weeks, you never get bored.
WHAT DO YOU NEED: Resistance bands, pilates ball (available from Frame when you sign up) and, I added in an 8kg kettlebell to up the burn during squats and lunges. Keep your water handy.
TIP: Follow @Mumhood on Instagram for daily inspiration, hacks and mini fitness videos.
3. MUMS AND BABY YOGA
Space East, Forest Gate, E7, prices from £10.www.thespaceeast.com
With all the hunching you do feeding, rocking and holding your baby, post natal yoga is essential to any post pregnancy exercise plan, so it's bizarre that it's taken for classesspring up. This chic studio in Forest Gate’s railway arches is superb. Led by Anna Byworth, a qualified pre and post natal yoga instructor, and a mother herself, mums get a yoga lesson while the babies play on mats, sleep or take breaks to feed. Byworth evidently loves babies – she often spends the class calling out sequences with a child tucked under each arm. ‘Having a child involved while you workout and exercise is surely the perfect role model as a mother,’ she says. We couldn’t agree more.
WHAT YOU NEED: Water, comfortable clothing and a few baby toys to maximise your time on the mat
TIP: Don’t rush out before the end; Byworth darkens the rooms for the mums’ savasana and puts on twinkling lights for the babies. Who needs a separate baby sensory class?
4. POST NATAL TUMS
Frame, London, £13
If you’re craving the setting of a boutique gym to remind you of your old self, get down to any one of Frame’s branches and book into their post pregnancy exercise classes (there’s at least one per day). Our favourite instructor? Caroline Bragg (who also leads the Mumhood videos) who is is the master of rebuilding your pelvic floor. In her class, she explains how to work out if you’re doing it right (basically it’s much more than just a perfunctory squeeze) and how to rebuild your core. It’s an education.
WHAT YOU NEED: Change for a post workout smoothie from the onsite cafe.
TIP: If you can, leave the buggy at home and take the sling as there's limited room to park up at Shoreditch.
5. FOX AND CUBS
Clissold Park and West Ham, prices from £10.
We know exercising outdoors is better for our minds – and never more so than when you’ve just had a baby and the baby blues aren’t far behind. Kelly Bedford, a new mum herself and owner of Fitness Fox London personal training company, runs Fox and Cubs sessions for new mothers. Expect everything from a bootcamp-style class – high knee sprints and bum kicks to warm up – to toning squats, lunges and press ups (modified so you start on a bench, while rebuilding your core up to its former strength). Bedford tailors the sessions to your fitness levels and whether you kept up exercise throughout pregnancy or are starting after nine months (or more) off she pushes you whatever your level. If she has enough hands free, she will grab your baby if they complain, but most seem to like the entertainment of watching their mums prance about outside.
WHAT YOU NEED: A yoga mat and layers – you’ll soon be stripping off.
TIP: Bring a blanket and lots of toys for the babies and feed them up before you start.
6. MUMMA’S HEALTH HUB,
Pack of Hacks from £12.95, mummashealthhub.com
Jemma Thomas, PT and mum of two, knows how hard it is to motivate yourself to do exercise. But her message is that squeezing in a minute here and there throughout your day is all you need to get back into a semblance of a routine. After her first baby was born she stuck post it notes around the house to remind her to workout, and so her handy – and funny – ‘pack of hacks’ was born. The idea is to put the cards up around the house to prompt you to your exercises. So, keep the ‘tip toe’ card by the Moses basket and walk on, you guessed it, your tippy toes through the house while the baby naps to increase calf strength and improve your posture, or keep the reminder to do your high knees on the spot for 30 seconds while the kettle boils. Thomas, who also runs ‘Sweaty Mummas’ bootcamps in Wallington, south London, proves that you don’t need to find an hour to exercise – every second counts. Just what a busy mum needs to hear.
WHAT YOU NEED: Just to put down your phone and spend 30 seconds doing a sideplank, or 10 press ups. That’s it.
TIP: Get dressed straight into your leggings so you can squeeze in a 15-minute workout whenever you get the chance. Plus, you know, skinny jeans just aren’t comfy yet.
London and carifit.co.uk. £89 for six months, including online support and nutritional advice
When you first have a baby, you just don’t want to put them down. And although there hasn’t been many studies on the subject, some evidence published in the Journal of Paediatrics shows that wearing your baby can help reduce crying time (we’ll take that). So personal trainer Vern Hill, himself a dad of two, created the CARiFiT series of workouts – exercises while wearing your baby in a sling. He runs several ‘live’ classes around London – with hopes to expand nationwide- but the best feature is the online classes, led by Hill with ‘real life’ mothers from his gym in Wandsworth, all beautifully demonstrating the workouts with their babies strapped to their chests. Choose from a fully curated workout of about 25 minutes, or make up your own from legs, arms and core sessions to fit whatever time you have available. The genius lies in the fact that your fitness increases as your baby grows – so the workouts get tougher. Squatting with a 6kg lump (and growing) strapped to your chest, while shoulder pressing 2kgs above your head – that’s tough.
WHAT YOU NEED: 1 or 2kg weights and a baby sling – any brand, but Hill recommends Caboo.
TIP: Make sure the straps on your baby carrier are tight enough so the baby doesn’t bounce too much; it should be high enough up that you can kiss the top of her head. And strip the baby down to her vest and nappy – you will get hot and sweaty, and heat her up too.
buggyfit.co.uk, from £4.
You can start the gentle Buggyfit workouts from any level of fitness, confident in the knowledge that all their instructors are qualified and insured. The brainchild of Emma Redding after the birth of her son in 2002, it is now the most popular post natal franchise around the country, with outposts throughout the UK. The sessions are based around power walking and jogging to get the heart rate up, with toning and stretching thrown in. Maximise the endorphin benefits by being outside and meeting new mums.
WHAT YOU NEED: A baby and a buggy, obvs
TIP: Load up the buggy with everything you need – snacks, water, toys, playmat – the night before so you don’t forget anything as you head out. Don’t forget the waterproof cover to keep the baby dry.
Newcastle, £5. GritStoneCrossFit
Want to really feel like a super mum? MumFit is based on the fundamentals of Crossfit, although classes are scaled back to all abilities by instructor Liz Lindon, a Crossfit instructor who was inspired to start the class when she was six months pregnant and thinking about her fitness after the birth. You can bring your baby to the hour long class, which consists of a warm-up and mobility work followed by a strength section. The class finishes with the workout of the day, for example using a dumbbell and box step ups.
WHAT YOU NEED: A small towel to mop your sweaty brow, and good trainers.
TIP: Take it slow if you’re new to CrossFit – post natal fitness is a slow and steady race