There seem to be two camps out there with regards to postnatal bodies. The first camp is the “bounce back”… the celebs or Instagram women who somehow miraculously are “bouncing back” from pregnancy and fitting into their skinny jeans/bikinis just days after giving birth. Then there is the second camp, who are proud to love and embrace their postnatal bodies and see no rush to lose the baby weight.

Hopefully, you will know from Mama on the Move’s ethos that I definitely don’t fit in with the first camp – the “bouncing back” brigade. I do concur, that there are some “normal” women out there who naturally lose their baby weight very quickly and seemingly with little or no effort. Well, lucky them. The celebs mums, however, have nutritionists, dietitians, trainers, nannies, and basically every other resource they could possibly need to be able to focus on attaining the perfect physique. As model Chrissy Teigen recently admitted: “We have people who make it possible for us to get back into shape,” she said. “But nobody should feel like that’s normal, or like that’s realistic. Hurrah! Well said Chrissy, I totally agree. It’s okay to make peace with how we look after having a baby and not hold ourselves to impossible standards of beauty that were never realistic to be
gin with.

On the other hand… I going to be a bit controversial and say I don’t completely buy into the “loving and embracing my postnatal body” camp either.

img_7877Now hear me out… I absolutely and completely agree with the concept and I absolutely love and respect what my body has achieved! It’s a miracle, it’s amazing and I am very very proud to have carried and birthed 3 babies. I think our bodies are INCREDIBLE. I am lucky that I felt great throughout all my pregnancies, but the postnatal part I do struggle with. You are left with a body that feels very very different to how it was. Of course it’s softer and squishier, usually battered and bruised all over from the labour and birth and on top of that you have crazy new milk filled boobs to contend with. You are constantly exhausted, usually sat hunched over feeding baby for most of the day and night or rocking baby in the same position for hours on end – all of which leaves you with back/shoulder/neck aches and pains. Understandably you don’t feel as physically strong or as fit as you were. So although I do love what my body has achieved, I also feel pretty sorry for it too! It’s really been through the mill. 9 months of pregnancy, birthing a baby and the aftermath! I feel it now needs some serious TLC and re-strengthening. I completely agree that losing the baby weight it not a priority in the early days and weeks – you need lots of nourishing and nutritional food to sustain you and your baby.

img_7898BUT, at some stage, slowly losing the baby weight IS going to help your body get back to optimum strength. By strengthening your deep core muscles you are going to help relieve that back pain and strengthen your pelvic floor, by taking part in regular, appropriate exercise you are going to relieve your aches and pains and feel fit and strong again. And my goodness you need to be strong as mother! The lifting, the carrying (not just baby but car seats, buggys etc) you will be constantly on the go! Most days I go to bed with my body aching more than had I done several hours of spin classes – and not in a good way! The plus side of safely losing your baby weight is that you have a functioning, strong body once again and yes let’s not get away from the fact you will also be fitting back into your pre pregnancy clothes. And for most (if not all) women, that is a huge achievement and also a massive self esteem boost. We can’t get away from it and I would be lying if I said fitting back into my clothes again wasn’t a massive plus. The point is it shouldn’t be the main focus as you will be doomed to fail if it is!

When you feel ready it is essential to start to focus on strengthening and improving your body’s function and health through good nutrition and safe and appropriate exercise. And let’s not forget the massive benefit regular exercise has on our mental well being too – being a mum is also mentally exhausting and the feel good endorphins from a workout can help brighten and lift our moods and make us happier mums. So yes, I am looking forward to getting back to the pre pregnancy fit, strong and healthy Laura so that I can run around after my 3 children happily and being able to do up my jeans comfortably will be an added extra. And whilst I am being kind and patient to my postnatal body, I won’t be sorry to see it go…..

Click here for safe and effective postnatal fitness and pilates programmes you can do in your own home or in the gym.

Laura x

One of the most common questions I get asked by new mums is when they can start running again after having their baby. Of all the exercise options available to new mums, running definitely seems to be the most popular and I can completely understand why:

  • It’s free, which after shelling out for a lot of new kit for the baby is an important consideration.
  • It’s convenient, no need to worry about scheduling childcare or booking into a crèche, you can fit in your exercise as soon as the opportunity arises.
  • It’s easy, when you are living in a sleep deprived fog you just want to be able to do something that does not require a lot of brainpower.
  • It’s uplifting, even a quick run provides a surge of endorphins and some much needed headspace.

However, probably a lot of mums would also say that part of their reasons for running were to help lose the baby weight and to improve their cardiovascular health. Sadly, running is probably one of the least effective forms of exercise for achieving these goals and that is especially true for new mums.

In terms of weight loss, running is not a particularly effective form of exercise for a number of reasons. Studies have consistently shown that strength training is far more effective at targeting fat and boosting metabolism than running. An exception to this is if the running is done in the form of short sprints in interval training. (This would be completely inadvisable for postnatal women for reasons I will come onto later.)

One of the reasons why strength training is so much more effective than running is that the average person gains 1 pound of fat and loses 1 pound of muscle every year after 30.  We tend to lose muscle each year because we aren’t showing the body that it is necessary to maintain it (by doing things like strength training). This decreases our metabolism and reduces our daily calorie expenditure (body fat burns 2-4 calories per pound per day compared to 6-10 for muscle). We have included low impact strength training in our postnatal programme to help you tone up and safely lose weight. You do not need to worry about ‘bulking up’ - women naturally have higher oestrogen levels that prevents bulky muscles.

Regular cardiovascular exercise may actually cause the body to drop muscle in order to become more efficient, as the lighter you are the faster you can run. It could also cause extra calorie consumption (your body tries to maintain homeostasis so if you burn more energy your hormones tell your brain your body needs more energy so it increases your hunger signals – this is quite often why a trip to the gym is accompanied by an increase in appetite!  This is fine if you are maintaining a regular exercise schedule, but quite often this is tricky during the early postnatal period in particular. Also, studies have shown that most people tend to overestimate the calories they have burned through exercise; yet underestimate the calories they have consumed.

So, running does not score great points in terms of weight loss. For new mums in particular it is also one of the worst ways that you can improve your cardiovascular health. During pregnancy a hormone called relaxin is released which helps make your ligaments stretchy and elastic in preparation for childbirth. Relaxin affects every joint in the body and it can take up to five months for your ligaments to get back into their original positions and stabilise. As a result, your joints may be weaker than usual, increasing the risk of your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis and spine weakening under impact. Therefore you are at much greater risk of injury then previously, particularly for high impact sports such as running.

Another reason to be cautious about running is that any high impact activities increase intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure needs to be contained within the abdomen by the coordinated action of the core muscles – the pelvic floor, diaphragm, deep abdominal and multifidus. These muscles have been weakened during pregnancy, meaning that the increased intra-abdominal pressure often leads to increased stresses on the linea alba, the connective tissue running down the centre of the abdomen. This can exacerbate a condition known as diastasis recti (see our blog about it here).

One of the main muscles that has taken a hammering during pregnancy and delivery is the pelvic floor. Even if you had a caesarean section these muscles will still have had to support the increasing weight of your baby over the last nine months. Your pelvic floor muscles stretch up to 3 times their normal length during birth, and you may have sustained deep muscle tears, particularly if you had a surgical delivery. Running places huge stresses on these already weakened muscles. To put it into perspective you could think about the g forces involved. Standing is a 1-G activity, walking is a 1.5-1.75 G activity, whilst running is a 2-3 G activity. If you load these lengthened tissues too early, you will damage them further leading to pelvic organ prolapse (POP), stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and low back  and pelvic girdle pain. It is NEVER ‘normal’ to leak and this is a very clear sign that you should reduce the intensity and start focusing on improving your core strength.

At this stage I should admit that I love running and completely sympathise with those of you who cannot wait to get back to it. If this is the case here are Mama on the Move’s guidelines on returning to exercise:

Firstly, it is important to check with your doctor, midwife, physiotherapist or continence professional before returning to sport or exercise after the birth.

0-3 weeks postnatal

  • Walking
  • Postnatal abdominal hollowing
  • Pelvic floor exercises

3-8 weeks postnatal

  • It is recommended you wait until your six-week postnatal check before starting a group exercise program or going back to the gym
  • Walking
  • Low impact aerobics or postnatal class
  • Low intensity water aerobics class and swimming (once bleeding has stopped)
  • Gym program (maintain posture, light weights, no breath holding)
  • Postnatal abdominal hollowing
  • Pelvic floor exercises

8-12 weeks postnatal

  • Follow the guidelines for 3-8 weeks, gradually increasing your intensity and weights
  • Progress your postnatal abdominal hollowing

12-16 weeks postnatal

  • Consider visiting a physiotherapist for a postnatal abdominal muscle check and pelvic floor muscle testing before returning to high-impact exercise, running, sport or abdominal exercise programs.

After 16 weeks postnatal

  • You can return to previous activity levels provided your pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal and you are not experiencing any back pain, vaginal heaviness, or urine loss during or after exercise.
  • Seek further advice from a health professional if your symptoms persist

Other factors to consider

You may feel more tired in the first few months after having a baby due to interrupted sleep, the extra demands of motherhood and breastfeeding. Fatigue and over exertion during exercise can increase the risk of injury. It is important to listen to your body and how you are feeling. Be aware of any warning signs of pain or discomfort and, slow down if necessary to allow this to subside, rather than pushing through the pain.

While you are learning to breastfeed (if you are breastfeeding) and looking after your baby, you may not have the desire to exercise in the first few weeks or months. During this time you can still be strengthening your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in preparation for when you do feel ready to return to exercise. You may find that walking is an exercise that will get you out of the house and one that you can do with your baby, and maybe your partner or a friend.

Tamsin x