This week we have a guest blog from the post natal fitness expert Vanessa Barker of VB Fitness. Here Vanessa tells us all about fitness after having a baby and its not as simple as I thought. It seems there is so much more to it, here Vanessa explains…….
What you really need to know about ‘getting your pre baby body back.’
That’s what it’s all about, right? Getting your body back. We all get asked- how much weight have you gained? Are you back to your pre baby weight? Only 6 more pounds to go! I think this pushes some mums to rush, or push themselves to get back to this magical number, and I don’t like that. I don’t like the focus on weight, on a number, on how you look.
I’m not saying don’t lose your baby weight. I’m saying think about why you want to lose it, and exactly how important it is to you. And do it in a way that protects your health, now and for years to come. I’m saying focus on how you feel, and be guided by that. Exercise to feel good, not exhausted. Eat to nourish, not to deprive your body of calories.
So this blog isn’t really about just getting your body back. It’s about educating you so you can safely restore your core’s function and feel good. The cool thing is, the sensible approach is also the one that gets the best results! Read on to find out why…
‘Ab’ work will make your tummy look worse, not better!
If your core isn’t functioning properly (and after having your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles stretched, and your diaphragm squashed, many postnatal women don’t have functional cores) then strengthening exercises will only make it worse.
Traditional ab exercises like crunches and planks create pressure in the abdomen, if you haven’t restored your core and can’t control that pressure, it will push out on the tummy. Think domed and unstable, not flat and functional!
That Diastasis Recti is the reason for a poochy tummy.
If you roll up from lying and you get that ‘doming’ down the middle, or if you still look a few months pregnant when you’re not, it’s likely it’s due to diastasis recti (DRA). This is when the ab muscles have separated (they kind of have to, to make room for baby!), leaving a gap. This means a lack of support and control.
For some women this closes naturally in the first 8 weeks after giving birth. And if it doesn’t close naturally, you will need to do some restorative exercises to help. Any more than 3 fingers gap and I would recommend seeing your GP to get referred to a physiotherapist.
Please be aware though- this is not the only reason for a poochy tummy. Sometimes faulty breathing or recruitment patterns can be a problem even after the gap is closed, and this is why postnatal exercise is so specialised- every woman is different.
It’s not just about closing the gap.
Still on the DRA- be aware the gap does not have to close completely. In fact it probably won’t. But you do need to have a firm midline, not soft. When the tissue between the abdominals is firm, this means it can create tension and support you. If it is soft, and you can sink your fingers into it, then even if you have a relatively small gap (less than 2 fingers), you still need to work on it.
Over 50% of women who have had children get pelvic organ prolapse (POP). And a common cause is inappropriate exercise.
Prolapse is something rarely talked about. But it needs to be. Before I started working in postnatal fitness, I hadn’t heard of it. But prevention is better than cure, and I am so glad I’m aware and more mindful of what I do now.
Prolapse is when the pelvic organs fall into the vagina, as pictured here. There are different types, depending on the organ, and different degrees of severity, depending on how far it has fallen. A weak pelvic floor and ligaments that are stretchy from the pregnancy hormone relaxin are a combination that mean you have to be careful.
Physiotherapist and pelvic floor expert Sue Croft says patients often present to her 6 months after starting a bootcamp. See Sue’s blog here and get all the information you need.
Incontinence is common, but NOT normal.
Incontinence is a sign that something is wrong, and if you don’t address this it will only get worse. If your pelvic floor isn’t functioning properly, this could lead to POP later. So please, see your GP to get referred, or go straight to see a Women’s Health Physio privately.
You are not ‘broken’, this can all be fixed, and you are not vain to focus on yourself.
DRA, POP, both can be treated by WH Physios. In some cases surgery will be necessary, and with POP the outcome depends on severity, but they will help you manage it. You do not need to be in pain, you shouldn’t be in pain, and you need to see a professional if you are in pain. This is not forever. You should not feel guilty for taking time for yourself; we all need this to function at our best. Do what you need to do to feel good about yourself.
The 6 week check myth.
6 weeks and you can get the all clear to exercise, right?
I think there’s often a miscommunication when we see our GPs and are told we can exercise. I got lucky after my first, my GP told me yes, I could exercise, but my body has been through a lot and she’d recommend waiting 3 months. This, plus the fact my son was a terrible sleeper, made me wait 3 months. Otherwise, given the amount of training I did pre-pregnancy, I know I would have jumped straight back into it. And potentially done some damage.
I think GPs tend to be thinking of exercise as a gentle return to training, walking, appropriate conditioning work. What some of us think is ‘woohoo, bootcamp!’ I know this because I hear the stories when bootcamp results in a hernia/ POP.
On the other hand, whilst I’m all for resting if you need to, gentle walking and some pelvic floor and transverse abdominis connection work will help aid recovery in the early weeks. Work on alignment, soft tissue release (ideally in the form of a massage!) and focus on eating nutrient dense foods to prepare for when you are ready to return to formal exercise.
It’s about more than just your workout.
When it comes to healing your core and pelvic floor, posture, nutrition and stress can all affect the healing process.
Having very slouched shoulders and upper back is a risk factor for POP. Standing with your pelvis thrust forward makes it harder for DRA to heal.
Seeing a personal trainer or a physio isn’t just about getting some exercises. The exercises will be individual to you, and you will become more aware of your alignment. And there are certain foods that are more healing (homemade broth or stock is one example I tell everyone about) and anti-inflammatory.
It takes a year+ for traumatised tissue to fully recover, so just because you can go to the gym, doesn’t mean you should. Be mindful of how you feel, and you won’t go far wrong.
Vanessa is a personal trainer based in Watford, specialising in postnatal fitness. She can be found at www.vanessabarker.com, on her facebook page, twitter, out and about in the local parks and toddler groups with her 2 boys, or taking postnatal classes for Mums of Steel.
Many thanks to Vanessa for sharing all this information with us. We really appreciate it. If you are starting to think about post natal fitness then why not get in touch with Vanessa and please feel free to share your stories with us too.