New mums share the reality of getting back into exercise after giving birth
‘I went to a local postnatal fitness buggy class, and the instructor had us running up and down stairs,’ says mum-of-three Eliza Flynn, 41. ‘I actually ended up injuring myself because my body just wasn’t ready.
‘When I chatted to other mums who’d gone to the same classes, they’d experienced similar injuries.’
Eliza, from London, is just one of the many mums who was keen to get back into an exercise routine after giving birth.
While there should be absolutely no pressure on mums to ‘snap back’ or ‘lose the baby weight’, for many women, regular work outs were a part of life before baby, and something they want to continue in motherhood.
But a Sport England survey has revealed that barriers like time, finances and lack of facilities were to blame for the three quarters of mums who said they wanted to be more active, but felt they couldn’t be.
For many the difficulties start with not knowing exactly when it’s safe to exercise post partum.
Although the NHS gives all new mums a six week postnatal recovery check-up, mums say these aren’t always very thorough, with many left confused about which exercises they can and can’t do.
Eliza, who is a pre and postnatal PT, says: ‘During my six week check, the GP told me just to wear a sanitary pad if I wanted to go running because I’d likely wet myself.
‘It was horrifying and absolutely sends the wrong message.
‘All the postnatal checks that I’ve experienced have been very light touch and haven’t covered much more than checking the baby and a tick-box exercise to see how I was feeling emotionally.’
Fellow fitness fan, Caroline Wilkinson, 42, was also given mixed messages when it came to returning to exercise.
‘I was very physically active before having my daughter two years ago.’ says Caroline, an animal behaviourist, from Gloucestershire.
‘I did PT sessions three times a week, two dog walks a day, and completed a 100K charity walk.’
But things changed for Caroline after she gave birth.
‘Due to a difficult labour resulting in forceps and an episiotomy, the hospital team and their physio department told me I couldn’t exercise at all for three months and should do no weight bearing exercise for six months.
‘I started a new mums fitness class after that, but then was advised by women’s physio to stop.
‘I finally got the go ahead to start exercising again about six months ago, when my daughter has just turned two.’
For others, finding the time to keep fit as a new mum is almost impossible. Almost a third of mums reported having less than an hour of free time to themselves a day.
After having her second child, Jodi Montilake, 45, from London, found it ‘extremely hard’ to get back to doing the exercise she loved.
She says that, despite teaching exercise for over 10 years, she struggled.
Jodi, who is a health coach, says: ‘The lack of sleep and looking after two young kids left me leaving myself at the bottom of my to-do-list.
‘The crèche at the gym was always booked up way in advance and in all honesty it wasn’t until both of my children were at school that I started to find time to exercise properly again.’
So what can be done to help new mums get back into fitness, if they want to?
Nicole Chapman, 40 from Beaconsfield, is a specialist in pre and postnatal fitness and designed her own ‘Power of Mum’ workout programme to help new mums return to fitness when they’re short on time.
When it comes to time constraints, Nicole suggests starting at home. ‘A postnatal online programme is great as you can fit the workouts in around your unpredictable schedule as a new mum, and you can follow them at home.
‘Then, find a programme or class that is designed for mums so that you can have that community feel and know you are not alone.’
Nicole also wants to see more open conversation about some of the issues women can experience when giving birth, such as pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence and umbilical hernias.
‘I get a lot of clients who approach with symptoms or a diagnosis of a prolapse, or urinary incontinence, and have been told not to exercise.
‘This has a psychological effect on many women – they don’t want to go about their everyday life and there is stigma wrongly attached to such a diagnosis.
‘To see change we need to start having more open and honest conversations surrounding this and start empowering women to seek professional advice and support them with physical activity.
‘There is so much you can do that will actually help your symptoms and that even includes lifting weights.
‘You do not have to accept this as part of your day to day life.’
For Eliza, her experiences have taught her to take things slow.
‘My advice is to take things gently,’ she says. ‘For example, don’t jump straight into running as your first exercise, and recalibrate what exercise looks for you right now.
‘If you’re the kind of person who used to run half marathons regularly, know that it’s likely this will happen in the future, but you’ll get there much faster if you build your strength and fitness up gradually.
‘It’s important to remember that a “recovery” from birth takes about two years.’
Eliza also thinks fitness should be given a higher priority by health professionals during pregnancy.
‘Fitness has a huge amount of benefits for mums, not just physical and it’s incredibly important that they get more support.
‘I would love to see a specific approved framework which health professionals and women are recommended to follow.
‘I’d also recommend that we follow in France’s footsteps where every woman has access to pelvic floor physio. For me, this is a critical part of rebuilding confidence in a mum’s postnatal body and returning to exercise with as few issues and challenges as possible.’
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