I was probably hugely naive but I was completely unprepared for what would happen to my body after having a baby. Before getting pregnant I had never had to watch what I ate and I while I was aware that I would not get my figure back the day after giving birth I definitely thought that things would get back to ‘normal’ after a month or two.
In retrospect, there were a number of warning signs I missed that should have altered me that this was not going to be the case. I did a lot of ‘resting’ and ‘eating for two’ during pregnancy and consequently I was HUGE. I went on maternity leave at 28 weeks and spent a lot of that time going out for coffee, always accompanied by a slice of cake.  I had put on the recommended two stone that you are supposed to gain by the end of pregnancy by 20 weeks, and when my son arrived he weighed in at 9 pounds 11.

So I should not have been surprised when four months after having my son I was getting asked, “When’s it due?” if I went out without him. The situation became even worse after I had my daughter. I can still remember vividly the day I managed to get a rare afternoon off from my then 2 year old and 6 month old and headed to the shops full of excitement to get my holiday wardrobe sorted. As the afternoon progressed my confidence sunk lower and lower. All of the places where I used to shop only stocked bikinis, which there was no way I could contemplate. I ended up in desperation clutching a hideous miracle shape changing swimsuit two sizes bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. Then I was hit with the sinking realisation as I looked in the mirror of the changing room and saw what my body had become. It seemed to sum up all the negative feelings I had about becoming a mother; out of control, unattractive, frumpy and just not ‘me’. I sat down in the changing room and cried. As soon as my husband got home later that evening I went for my first run in three years.

Fast forward six months and I had been completely bitten by the fitness bug. I was doing circuits twice a week, spin and had signed up to doing a marathon. I felt in a much better place mentally and had got down to a healthy weight but things were still not right. Whilst the rest of my body had slimmed down my stomach stubbornly refused to budge, and actually in some ways looked worse as it was now totally out of proportion with the rest of my body. On top of this, once I started running longer distances for marathon training I started experiencing problems with my pelvic floor.

Luckily I discussed these issues with Laura and she checked me for a diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and discovered that I had a three-finger gap that was very deep in my lower abdomen. She gave me some corrective exercises and made me stay away from high impact activities until the gap had decreased. One month later I was down to two fingers and within three months it was less than one and I could feel my core was so much stronger (and as a bonus I no longer looked 3 months pregnant!).

These experiences inspired me to train as a Pilates instructor and specialise in pre and postnatal fitness. I am passionate about the importance of exercise in helping empower mums and enabling them to reconnect with their bodies. I also want to make sure that they are informed about how to exercise safely and effectively both before and after pregnancy. I know how important it is to be doing the right sort of exercise after having a baby, particularly if you are trying to get rid of the ‘mummy tummy’. If you want to find out more about diastasis recti read our blog about it here. We’ve put together an infographic with some gentle core strengthening exercises that will help you start repairing the gap. For more Pilates exercises to strengthen your core muscles and diastasis friendly fitness workouts why not check out our postnatal programme.

Tamsin x

Diastasis Recti Infographic

Diastasis Recti Infographic

 

Whatever your fitness goals are, you'll hear a lot about the "core." This weekend I attended a fitness class at my local gym. Throughout the class the instructor kept repeating the phrase “Engage your core!” But at no point did she actually explain what that meant or how you should go about doing it! You may have some vague understanding that your core is somewhere in the middle of your body, or that it is important if you want to get a toned stomach. However, there is so much more to this group of muscles, so at Mama on the Move we decided to create an infographic to help you understand what your core muscles are and why they are important.

 

There is no universal definition of what ‘the core’ is but it is generally agreed that it consists of the deep abdominal muscles as well as the muscles closest to the spine. To understand how the core muscles work it is important to understand that muscles perform different roles within the body as either ‘mobilisers’ or ‘stabilisers’

 

‘Mobilisers’ are closer to the surface of the body and are responsible for performing fast, powerful movements. They tend to work at between 40 and 100% of their maximum capacity and tire quite quickly. In order for the mobilisers to function effectively other muscles need to act as stabilisers. These muscles need to work for extended periods of time so tend to work at 20%-30% of their maximum. One of the main characteristics of the core muscles is that they help to keep your torso still whilst movement occurs at the limbs.

 

For pregnant and postnatal women the process of carrying and delivering a baby can place a significant strain on your core muscles, meaning that we often suffer from conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction, hernias, diastasis recti and low back pain. Quite often it is not just the case that these muscles have been weakened but our brain may also have forgotten how to connect with and communicate with them. This is one reason why it is so important to return to exercise gradually after having a baby, as you will be much more prone to injury or making any pre-existing conditions worse. Our pregnancy and postnatal programmes include Pilates workouts that will help you reconnect with and strengthen your core.

 

At Mama on the Move we tend to focus on the ‘Power Four’ as the main muscles of the core. The transverse abdominis, the pelvic floor, multifidus and the diaphragm. The location and the roles of each of these are explained in the infographic. Watch out for our upcoming blogs where we will discuss how you can connect with and strengthen these deep core muscles both during and after your pregnancy.

Tamsin x

 

Core Muscles Infographic

Core Muscles Infographic

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

 

Congratulations on your new little bundle of joy! The focus in the first crazy weeks postnatally should be on getting to know your new baby and giving your body time to heal from the marathon of labour and birth AND the 9 months of pregnancy. Don’t expect to be getting back to the gym any time soon, some days just getting dressed will be a challenge so please be kind and patient with yourself in these early weeks/months.

There should be absolutely NO PRESSURE to lose your baby weight until you are ready, be that 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year or more. Having said that, I firmly believe that gentle, appropriate exercise and good nutrition is key for good physical health and mental well-being for new mums, whose bodies (and minds!) need to be looked after in order to recover from pregnancy and birth. Most mums I know (including myself) can suffer from aches and pains, back problems, pelvic floor issues, weak core (and tummy separation) and low mood which all effects their daily lives and can makes us pretty miserable. Exercise has been proven to promote happiness and well being and we all know the physical health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight. So when you feel ready mamas, follow the steps below to get back to feeling like your old self again. You deserve to look after yourself as well as your new baby!

  1. laura-and-tamsin-662-of-695Firstly always always be kind and patient with your body when working to lose the baby weight – it has taken 9 months to grow your amazing little bundle and can take that long or longer to lose the extra weight – and that is perfectly OK
  2. Breastfeeding can be a great way to help naturally lose some of the baby in the early weeks BUT please note that some people may actually hang onto those last 5 to 10 pounds until you stop nursing. Why? Because your body needs the extra fat stores to produce milk. Of course everyone knows someone who lost all their baby weight and more through breastfeeding alone (lucky them!). Remember everyone’s experiences are different but we all know the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mum and baby.
  3. Do your deep core exercises and correct breathing to restore your core - pelvic tilts and pelvic floor exercises can be done after delivery and its vital to start to activate these muscles as soon as possible. Some great safe, postnatal Pilates exercises that can be done immediately after birth can be found here.
  4. Quite simply - Get up and move. Which with a new baby can be easier said than done when you are stuck to the sofa feeding constantly. Additionally most new mums are too sleep-deprived and overwhelmed to even think about exercise. That's perfectly OK, and remember most women's bodies aren't ready for serious exercise until at least six weeks after giving birth, 10 weeks if they've had a C section or a difficult instrumental delivery. However, you could start by just walking with the buggy. If it feels good and doesn't cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther the next day. Pushing a buggy 1-2 miles in 30 minutes burns approx. 150 calories and getting out and about in the fresh air also does wonders for you and your baby. Do this until your 6-8 week postnatal checkup, after which you should be ready to do start more formal types of exercise.
  5. Body weight training will go a long way toward speeding up your metabolism. However, instead of going to the gym weight room, there are lots of safe body weight exercises you can do at home such as lunges and squats that feature in our postnatal strength programme AND it doesn’t have to take long – just 10 minutes of exercise can have great results.
  6. Watch calories and fat. Say no to empty-calorie foods such as sweets, crisps, biscuits, cakes…. (you get the idea!) as well as fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. Instead, fill your diet with a variety of nutrient-rich meals containing lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. We definitely advise against going on a diet right after giving birth. To get your body back, you have to think health first, your body is working to repair itself and shouldn’t be deprived.
  7. Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day will keep your blood- sugar levels steady and help prevent you from overeating, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner aim for a mid morning and mid afternoon snack. For more details and coaching on healthy eating and nutrition, plus a 100s of healthy recipe ideas have a look at our postnatal programme.
  8. Eat healthy snacks. As mentioned above, snacks are fine and help keep blood sugar levels even as long as you choose a healthy variety. To avoid temptation, keep only nutritious foods at your fingertips; veggies and hummus, hard boiled eggs, greek yoghurt with fruit, apple slices with almond butter are all good choices.
  9. Prioritise sleep… Yes I know this is an irritating one as obviously getting enough sleep with a baby is easier said than done… BUT, getting plenty of sleep has been shown to help with weight loss because you're not compelled to binge on high-calorie, high-sugar foods for energy. Strange sleep cycles like those forced on you by a newborn can upset your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose your pregnancy weight. Take a nap anytime the baby does, housework be damned. That way, you won't end up with a long-term sleep deficit, and you'll keep your energy levels and your potentially naughty cravings in check. Whatever you do, don't sacrifice sleep for exercise time in those early weeks. If you don't sleep enough, you won't have enough energy for satisfying workouts, anyway.
  10. Drink plenty of water! Hydration is key for adequate milk production (if breastfeeding) but it can also help you determine if you are actually hungry or just thirsty. Once you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and that for many can be confused with feeling hungry, so drink up!
  11. Meet up with other mums to exercise and motivate each other. It’s always great to workout with friends, it can make it much more enjoyable and turns what some people view as a chore into a social event! Getting out and about at an exercise class designed for new mums with their babies is a great way to meet other mums. Or get together with some mummy friends and work out together in a local park or at someone’s house so you don’t have to worry about childcare as babies come too.

If you would like to find out more about safe and effective workouts check out Mama on the Move’s Postnatal Exercise and Pilates online programmes.

Laura x

Diastasis Recti - “Diastasis” means separation. “Recti” refers to your ab muscles called the “rectus abdominis.” These two muscles run down the front of the abdominals and they are joined in the centre by the linea alba. During pregnancy, when the linea alba is softened, it is stretched by the increasing size of the baby and the abdomen. This causes the muscles to stretch and weaken as they lengthen. Eventually, the linea alba may split, and when this happens it is called diastasis. The split tends to start around the belly button area and then moves upwards or downwards depending on how the mum to be affected is carrying her baby.

So basically, it’s a separation of the abdominal muscles, allowing your tummy to literally bulge out, making it difficult postnatally to lose the “mummy tummy”.

It is important to know if you have DR both in pregnancy and postnatally and sadly it’s something that is not always checked by your midwife or doctor. I see many women in my postnatal classes and many have never had their tummies checked before. Therefore many women are unsure or unaware they have it and can unintentionally make the condition worse. Women with an untreated DR can suffer poor posture, back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, digestion problems and an inability to lose their “mummy tummy” despite their best exercise efforts!

So how do I know I have diastasis recti?

If you have never heard of diastasis recti and have never had your tummy checked then before you take part in any exercise it is important you self test using our guidance below. We would suggest you only check from 6 weeks post birth (when your uterus has shrunk, you have less fluid retention and abdominal discomfort). It makes for a more accurate test and it’s important to test your separation so you can measure progress.

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Place 2-3 fingers above your tummy button with your palm facing you
  • Take a deep breath in, then slowly raise your head and shoulders slightly off the floor as in an ab curl
  • Breath slowly out as you raise up and press your fingers into your tummy
  • The two sides of the rectus abdominus should close together on your fingers – a 1-2 finger width gap or less is fine, but don’t panic if it’s much bigger at first
  • You want to continue to feel for the width (and depth – how far in your fingers go) all the way along the length of your tummy, into your tummy button and below it. The width and depth may vary… it’s common to have a diastasis around the belly button area but can be above or below.
  • If the gap is greater than 2.5-3 fingers then the diastasis recti is present and doming may occur
  • Remember, you are also testing for the condition of the connective tissue (the Linea Alba). The further your fingers go into your belly, the weaker the connective tissue.

 

What exercises should I avoid doing if I have diastasis recti?

If you suffer from this condition there are many exercises that you should avoid altogether until your tummy separation has knitted back together.

  • Exercises that require lying backward over a large exercise ball.image showing diastasis recti
  • Yoga postures that stretch the abs, such as “cow pose,” “up-dog,” and all backbends
  • Abdominal exercises that flex the upper spine off the floor or against the force of gravity such as: as crunches, oblique curls,
    “bicycles,” roll ups/roll downs, etc.
  • Pilates mat and reformer exercises that utilize the “head float” position, upper body flexion, or double leg extension. Pilates 100s are a definite no-no.
  • Any exercise that causes your abdominal wall to bulge out upon exertion.
  • Lifting and carrying very heavy objects.
  • The full frontal plank and press ups (side planks ok) as the core muscles have to work against gravity, which puts great pressure on the abdominal wall.

transverse-abdominisWith regards to every day movements, try not to sit straight up from a lying position –  roll to your side and  push up from there (like when you are pregnant) and try and always engage your core muscles whenever you lift (babies, toddlers, car seats, whatever!), twist or get up from lying or crouching.

We would always recommend exercising with an instructor who is qualified in postnatal exercise who will be able to make modifications so that you can exercise safely. Our Mama on the Move postnatal programmes have been specially designed for postnatal women to help repair a diastasis recti and improve core function.

 

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