Although your mind may be keen to get going, to shed those pounds and tone those muscles as quickly as possible, your body has other ideas. It is really important that you get back into exercising gently and ensure you do the correct exercises for your post natal level.
Your body has gone through a tremendous amount of effort and has changed in more ways than one. Some of these changes will return gradually, but others may be permanent and therefore your body needs time to adjust and learn how to function in this new state. You won't even be aware of all these changes, which is why it is important to take it slowly.
First of all it is important to understand that you will continue to have the relaxin hormone in your system for some time after the birth, especially if you choose to breastfeed, so you should avoid jerky movements and quick changes of direction, or exercises involving heavy weights, as this can damage the ligaments in your joints due to them being softer. This is also true for stretching, so postnatal stretches after any exercise, should only be held for approximately 10 seconds, so not to over-stretch. So bear this in mind, even if you're just out for a walk or going about your daily routine. Look after your joints and back.
Before embarking on any exercise after having a baby, you must check with your doctor that it is safe for you to do so, which is usually done at your '6-week check-up'. Once you're ready to go, you can start with gentle walking with your pushchair and enjoy the great outdoors. Regardless of the weather, get out there, and enjoy the freedom and freshness that it brings with it. Many research studies highlight the extra benefits of being outdoors, such as lifting your mood and reducing postnatal depression. Your baby will also benefit from the fresh air and you can enjoy watching them as they discover a multitude of new things for the first time, like a tree or a bird, which we often take for granted.
For women who have undergone a Caesarian Section, it is important to remember, that although this procedure is common, it is major abdominal surgery. It is vital that you are given the go ahead from your doctor to start exercising, to ensure full medical recovery has taken place. Generally though, if you have had no complications, you can start walking as soon as you feel ready and progress to a light exercise routine six weeks post birth. Walking increases blood flow which can actually promote faster healing of the surgical tissues.
Slowly build it up by introducing some gentle muscle toning work. You may want to concentrate on general toning exercises for the legs and arms, such as squats and bicep curls, as you will be carrying a heavy car seat around, never mind with the baby in it! Once your baby is a few months old and you feel ready, you can start doing exercises of a higher intensity, like jogging....but of course this is where the benefits of the daily pelvic floor exercises come into play!
It is vital to highlight though, that pregnancy can cause great muscle imbalance throughout the body, so it is extremely important that you aren't performing exercises that will actually reinforce this imbalance, rather than correct it. For example, a new mum will likely have a kyphotic posture, meaning you'll feel like the hunchback of Notre Dame! Therefore, you do not want to be working on your push ups every day, or repeatedly performing exercises that cause an inward rotation of the shoulder joints. (For more information and examples of specific postnatal exercise techniques that can help correct this muscular imbalance, see this article on the Tribal Fitness website.)
So, let's address the stomach area then, because let's be fair, that's what most new mothers want to concentrate on. You may be surprised to learn that hundreds of sit-ups is not what you need to be doing (you may also be relieved to hear that). In fact, crunches may do you much more harm than good. Before starting any stomach work, it is important that you have what is called, a 'diastasis recti' check done by a trained professional. This looks for separation of the abdominal muscles, which can cause long term problems if not corrected. Performing sit ups and oblique work (the sides of your waist) can make the separation worse, so it's important you know your abdominal status. More worryingly, it can contribute to a 'pouchy' area at the bottom of your stomach that you will not be able to tone up - and who wants that frankly!
Regardless of your postpartum status, the primary focus of starting any exercise regime after having a baby should be the core muscles. These deep stomach muscles support the spine and provide us with great abdominal strength (and a flat stomach!). So think of it as working from the inside out. By the way, this is true for everyone. Baby or no baby. Male or female. A strong core is vital for stability, posture, daily tasks and effective exercise performance. Don't neglect it.
Your body has taken a long journey to grow and birth your baby. Appreciate what it has done and give it the time and nurture it needs to regain strength and stability. Don't rush it....practice that patience you've had to learn from being a mother.
And remember, that although you may be desperate to bounce back to that pre-pregnancy shape, you have to take baby steps.