Time for baby steps – fitness with a new-born
With a new baby by her side, Mary moves from pregnancy to parenthood and fitness and exercise take a back seat for a while
Our very prompt little baby boy was born right on his due date. We had now moved from pregnancy and planning to becoming grown up, responsible parents. A whole new daunting world lay ahead. For me, and I imagine most new mothers, fitness was certainly not top of the priority list.
Advice is widely given to start light pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible after the baby is born. Time-saving tips of combining exercises with feeding make perfect sense, in theory. In practice, this never happened in the early days for me. I was much too focused on getting comfortable feeding the baby, keeping my eyes open and adapting to life with a new-born.
No rush to run
I placed no expectation on myself to return to pre-pregnancy shape, weight or fitness. Like every new mother, my body was one that I now didn’t quite recognise, one that had been through significant trauma and needed time to repair, recover and rest. I quite liked the motto of “nine months on, nine months off” to allow the body time to adapt slowly to its new role. Taking advice from many post-natal fitness experts, setting unrealistic pressures would only set me up for failure, disappointment or maybe even injury.
Social media can place enormous pressure on new mums to return to a pre-pregnancy body quickly. Perceptions of what fitness can look like in these post-natal months are misleading. Mother and baby gym photos, flat stomach before and after shots and high intensity training plans can lead many women down a path that may not be practical, safe or healthy. In these very early days the body needs good food and not a diet. It needs rest and recovery not additional pressure and stress of high intensity training.
Where to start
Only very light exercise should take place in the first six to eight weeks after labour and significantly longer following a C-section. Before any move back to a pre-pregnancy fitness training, it is strongly advised to get checked for prolapse, abdominal separation and pelvic floor dysfunction. Our structural support system has been changed significantly throughout pregnancy and labour. Our six-week doctor’s check should address all these concerns, but not all doctors assess the mother as well as the baby in this check-up. Without a full physical check on mother as well as baby in this check-up, it is wise to attend a women’s health physiotherapist to give the all clear.
New aches and pains
Holding a baby, feeding, lifting a buggy and generally doing a lot of things one-handed places new strains on the body. Tight neck and back are common as we spend our days looking down and sideways at our bundle of joy. Wearing slings and pushing buggies without noticing where we are holding tension adds additional pressure too. Keeping mobile and becoming aware of what movements are causing the strain are essential. Some light stretches and taking time to lie flat on the floor and truly relax for a few minutes each day really helped me be aware of where I was holding tension.
Finding a mood enhancer
Having read a lot about Post Natal Depression (PND) and the “Baby Blues” when pregnant, I felt I was as likely as anyone else to experience it. For this reason, my fitness challenge for the initial weeks was not about physical fitness but more about mental health. My aim was to get fresh air every day for myself and the baby. The walking distance or speed was immaterial. It was the action of getting up and out that was important. I knew fresh air always made me feel amazing and hoped that would continue with the new baby in tow.
Fresh air therapy
Whether the fresh air helped me avoid those baby-blues, I will never know, but getting outside certainly became a positive focus for each day which I greatly enjoyed. Whether I was walking or sitting on a park bench, my head felt lighter and I felt stronger. Once outside I felt less tired, less stressed and it kept my eyes away from everything that I felt needed to be done. Arriving home with a clearer head and more energy made these early days more manageable.
Time for mum
It is easy to ignore our own needs in the early days and right throughout parenthood I can imagine as there will always be something else that needs to be done for the child. It may feel selfish to choose to do something for yourself and prioritise a walk ahead of laundry but in fact, now seven months down the line, its only now I’m realising that I will never get to the end of the things that need to be done, and getting out of the house is better for my mood and the baby in the long run.
Taking the time out
Pregnancy, labour and meeting our new baby has really made me appreciate the power of the body to adapt as required. There will be plenty of time for running and training in the future. Now is the time for rest, recovery and repair. In fact, it’s quite like the best part of marathon training. Having crossed the finish line, it’s time to celebrate, enjoy good food, assist recovery, rest up and admire the best medal of all.
(Next in series, April 2017, Fitness with a three-month old)
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury free. Mary is also the creator of all our Irish Times Get Running programmes – Beginners Get Running, Get Running 10k and Get Running Stay Running