Many new mums are desperate to get back into shape following the arrival of their bundle of joy and for others it is the furthest thing from their mind!
However the real reason behind the importance of beginning to exercise after pregnancy is not widely known and often overlooked.
Claire Nutton is one of YMCA’s qualified pre and post natal fitness instructors and is based at YMCA Thornton.
Claire explains: “There seems to be a real taboo around the pelvic floor and ladies awareness about the importance of this muscle group is low. It seems to have almost become accepted that after birth you will suffer from a weak bladder but that really should not be the case.”
If we think of the pelvic floor muscles as like a hammock holding the womb, bladder and intestines in, then it makes sense that during pregnancy this hammock needs to stretch to take the weight and keep baby in too. Following birth this muscle then relaxes and becomes floppy and so once new mums are given the ok by their GP, it is vitally important to begin to strengthen and firm the pelvic floor to avoid discomfort and more severe complications such as pelvic organ prolapses.
Heather Chapman, 34 and mum of four from Hambleton (pictured above with daughter Darcy), began exercising again with YMCA in June following the birth Darcy at the start of the year.
Heather said: “There is a history of pro-lapsed wombs in my family so thankfully I do understand the importance of looking after the pelvic floor. My younger sister had a baby 6 months ago and I’ve been advising her to do the same exercises as me. She used to laugh at me and my friends when we wouldn’t jump on a trampoline with the kids for fear of a leak! Now she gets it!”
Claire adds: “Before attempting any exercise it is essential new mums have been given the ok by their GP. This is to make sure that the diastasis recti (the post pregnancy abdominal gap) has closed. Please ensure your pre/post natal qualified fitness instructor knows your post natal status so they can also check for this before proceeding with any advice or a programme.”
Claire’s Top Tips and Exercises for Gentle Strengthening after Pregnancy
- Ask for advice. We often leave the care of our midwife armed with tons of information including a sheet with pelvic floor exercise diagrams on. Let’s be honest the only priority on our minds is baby. Give yourself some time and then ask a fitness professional for help getting to know some of the basic gentle exercises and corrective positions.
- Squeeze the pelvic floor as you exercise. Because you can’t see your pelvic floor muscle tensing like you can other muscles, the best way to feel them squeezing and tensing inside is to clench your glutes (bottom). It should feel like the same sensation as when you stop the flow during a trip to the toilet.
- Exercise 1: Mini Crunch. (pictured right) This is a basic sit up which helps gently strengthen the abdominal muscles. Lie on the floor with knees raised with feet flat on the ground, tilt the pelvis so the small of your back is flat on the floor and place hands at the top of the legs by the hips and slide fingers towards to the knees lifting your shoulders off the mat. Repeat 5 – 10 times at the start. Squeeze in the pelvic floor as you go.
- Exercise 2: Superman. (pictured below) On all fours, making sure your shoulders are in line with the wrists and knees under hips, so don’t tilt the hips to keep a strong core position. Then slowly lift alternate arm to leg with a slight pause at the top and then return and alternate. Repeat 5 – 10 times.
- Exercise 3: Glute Bridge. Works to squeeze everything in. Same start position as mini crunch, but relax hands by the side and raise hips whilst squeezing the glutes. Slight pause at the top and slowly release back down. Repeat 5 – 10 times.