Top 5 Postnatal exercise tips: how to get back in shape after giving birth @EveningStandard

As the Duke and Duchess welcome Charlotte into the world, Camilla Lawrence shares her advice, for The Evening Standard 2nd May 2015

Pregnancy and birth take a massive toll on the body, but you can get back to feeling great again with gentle exercise. Aside from getting back to pre-pregnancy exercise levels, these low-impact moves can help you sleep better, bond with your baby, and get your sex life back on track. Kate Middleton, take note.

Camilla Lawrence, women’s health physiotherapist at Six Physio shares her expert advice on what women should be thinking about to ensure they stay safe and get the most out of their exercises:

It’s a personal thing
Every woman has a different experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and postnatal rehabilitation is no different. The common problem areas are back muscles, abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor. Thirty per cent of women experience ongoing urinary incontinence, 50 per cent have some form of prolapse and 40-60 per cent of postpartum women complain of ongoing back and pelvic pain. The good news is that these issues can be
prevented or fully treated through tailored rehabilitation.

Not sure you’re doing it right? See an expert
Thirty per cent of women who try to contract their pelvic floor muscles, do so incorrectly. Common mistakes include tensing the buttocks and thighs instead of the pelvic floor muscles, breath holding, or pushing down instead of squeezing in and lifting up. At best this will mean your pelvic floor strength won’t improve, at worst it could mean that you could actually be straining and weakening your pelvic floor further. Be sure to seek advice before starting.

Don’t overdo the kegels
It’s not just muscle weakness – sometimes the pelvic floor can become ‘overactive’ or overtense (like a muscle spasm). Kegel pelvic floor exercises for these women can actually be detrimental and worsen the spasm, causing symptoms of pain, urgency and difficulty emptying the bladder or bowels. It is therefore important to have an assessment to enable you to learn the correct exercises.

All those hormones may be putting you at increased risk of injury, so take it easy
The hormone relaxin increases the flexibility of your soft tissues and joints and can remain in the body for up to six months after delivery, making you prone to joint strains or sprains. The hormones produced when breast feeding can also have an effect on your soft tissues which is why it is important to really build up your muscle strength and core stability before you return to impact exercise.

Start out slow with low-impact activities
You can start addressing the weaker areas such as core, back and glutes at six weeks postdelivery (or up to eight weeks after a C-Section), if your doctor or physio is happy with your recovery. Postnatal Pilates and yoga, or light weights would be ideal for this. You can also begin low-impact cardio work such as static bike, swimming or using a cross-trainer.

Try to gradually optimize your core stability and strength before re-starting high-impact exercise (such as jogging and aerobics) at around three to four months post-delivery. Do not push through any pain at any stage – see a specialist physiotherapist who can treat any niggles before they become bigger issues.

Camilla Lawrence is a women’s health physiotherapist at Six Physio;

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