MOV­ING MUMS

CASEY MCPIKE talks to phys­io­ther­a­pist Stacey Law to find out the best way to get back up and run­ning after baby

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

Sen­si­ble steps to­wards reach­ing your post-baby fit­ness goals

The pull to get into ex­er­cise after hav­ing a baby is strong for some women, while for oth­ers the thought of even lacing up a pair of shoes sees them want­ing to hide un­der a pile of un­folded laun­dry. There’s no doubt that phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity is some­thing moth­ers need in their lives, but get­ting started can be a daunt­ing prospect. Here, phys­io­ther­a­pist Stacey Law from Leto Women’s Health of­fers some sage ad­vice to new mums.

Set­ting the record straight

If there’s one thing that gets Stacey’s hack­les up, it’s when she sees images of post­na­tal women in the me­dia with head­lines about them ‘get­ting their body back’. As Stacey ex­plains, “Your body has done an in­cred­i­ble thing: it has grown and birthed a whole new hu­man – or hu­mans! – so it’s not the body it was be­fore you got preg­nant. ‘Get­ting your body back’ places un­due pres­sure on women. Your body has changed, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing”. As frus­trat­ing as it is to not be able to get your pre-baby jeans past your knees, a fo­cus on how your body func­tions in­stead of just how it looks, is the mind­set to strive for.

One size does not fit all

There’s no hard and fast rule to ap­ply for all women when it comes to get­ting ac­tive again. It’s tempt­ing to ask the ly­cra-clad mum in your cof­fee group who was play­ing beach vol­ley­ball in her bikini six weeks after giv­ing birth for her ex­er­cise plan, but what works for her might not be what works for you. “If you had a dif­fi­cult birth, or is­sues dur­ing preg­nancy, then the path to fit­ness is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent than for a mother who had a straight­for­ward time,” says Stacey. “Ev­ery­one’s ex­pe­ri­ence of preg­nancy and child­birth is dif­fer­ent, as is ev­ery­one’s unique ge­netic make-up and mus­cle tone. Com­par­ing our­selves to oth­ers is some­thing we as women need to stop do­ing, be­cause our ex­pe­ri­ences and phys­i­cal com­po­si­tion vary so much. Ide­ally, ev­ery new mother should have an ex­er­cise pro­gramme tai­lored to their strength and abil­i­ties put to­gether by a women’s health phys­io­ther­a­pist.”

What’s so dif­fer­ent about pre- and post-baby bod­ies?

Preg­nancy sees hor­mones ca­reer­ing through your sys­tem, al­ter­ing the bal­ance of es­tro­gen and pro­ges­terone, along with a hor­mone called re­laxin, which helps the lig­a­ments in your pelvis ex­pand. While re­laxin’s in­ten­tions sound

good, for some women it opens the door to a world of pain in their pelvis, hips and back when their lig­a­ments soften too much to of­fer ad­e­quate sup­port. In ad­di­tion, your ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles stretch like never be­fore, some­times re­sult­ing in a di­as­ta­sis recti (sep­a­ra­tion of the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles). As Stacey points out, “If you’ve strug­gled with back/ hip/pelvic pain dur­ing preg­nancy or have a di­as­tat­sis recti, then a cau­tious and per­son­ally-tai­lored ap­proach to fit­ness is an ab­so­lute must. Launch­ing into a regime with­out first be­ing as­sessed and taught the cor­rect tech­niques can cause so much dam­age. Hips widen and mus­cles move dur­ing preg­nancy, mean­ing that you’re not ex­er­cis­ing the same body you were be­fore. You may no­tice a bit of a ‘land­slide’ ef­fect on the shape of your bot­tom, as glutes of­ten lose strength and form when your pos­ture shifts to ac­com­mo­date a preg­nant belly. When your glutes aren’t work­ing, the ten­dons around your hips and knees take the load. Back pain is also a com­mon com­plaint as ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles and the pelvic floor need to be re­trained to sta­bilise your core”.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Stacey is a strong ad­vo­cate for a sen­si­ble and steady ap­proach to get­ting fit. “Set­ting fit­ness goals and meet­ing them sen­si­bly is the way to go. I try to strike a bal­ance be­tween be­ing mo­ti­vat­ing and cau­tion­ary, so that the fo­cus is on putting a strong body to­gether while avoid­ing in­jury. Ex­er­cise is im­por­tant for both phys­i­cal and emo­tional well­be­ing, it keeps us strong and fit enough to keep up with our busy lit­tle ones, and show­ing an in­ter­est in fit­ness sets moth­ers up as pos­i­tive role mod­els for their chil­dren. There’s noth­ing I love more than see­ing moth­ers out there be­ing ac­tive with their kids”. Even women who were sporty prior to hav­ing a baby are not ex­empt from the sen­si­ble and steady route: “women who have run or par­tic­i­pated in high im­pact sports still need to re­train cor­rectly after preg­nancy and birth. I of­ten see women who were run­ners who’ve thrown them­selves back into it and been fine for a while, then be­tween 6-12 months, in­juries start to hap­pen”.

Mix it up

Run­ning and walk­ing are the go-to ex­er­cises for many mums, as it’s some­thing that can be done while push­ing a buggy (bonus: the baby might ac­tu­ally fall asleep), and doesn’t in­volve sig­nif­i­cant ex­pense (un­less you start en­ter­ing events and lust­ing after high-end run­ning shoes). Stacey stresses that adding va­ri­ety to your ex­er­cise regime with com­ple­men­tary ac­tiv­i­ties is vi­tal to sup­port your body. “If you’re only do­ing one thing, such as

‘Hips widen and mus­cles move dur­ing preg­nancy, mean­ing that you’re not ex­er­cis­ing the same body you were be­fore’

run­ning, mix it up with some pi­lates, yoga, and strength-train­ing at a gym or at home. Make sure you’re work­ing on your core and glutes, to help avoid in­jury to your back, hips and knees. And please stretch! Stretch­ing can be done at any­time – you haven’t missed your win­dow if you don’t do it di­rectly after ex­er­cise”.

Set­ting off on the right foot

The best way to get on track is to have a post­na­tal as­sess­ment done by a qual­i­fied Women’s Health Phys­io­ther­a­pist (check out phys­io­ther­apy.org.nz for their list on where to find one). “See­ing a phys­io­ther­a­pist means you’ll be armed with the knowl­edge of where your body is at, and then you can work to­gether to de­velop a plan that’s right for you”, says Stacey. “At a post­na­tal check, we dis­cuss and eval­u­ate: Details of your preg­nancy and birth Con­di­tion of your pelvic floor Any di­as­ta­sis recti sep­a­ra­tion (sep­a­ra­tion of the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles) Your breath­ing tech­nique Pos­ture General well­be­ing. All of this in­for­ma­tion en­ables us to rec­om­mend what you should (or shouldn’t!) do. We work on see­ing how you use your mus­cles, and teach you how to ac­ti­vate them cor­rectly, so that you can get fit while avoid­ing in­jury.” See­ing a Women’s Health Phys­io­ther­a­pist isn’t as costly or time-con­sum­ing as you might imag­ine, and can help pre­vent frus­trat­ing and painful in­jury set­backs. “You may only need a cou­ple of vis­its: one for the post­na­tal check where we’d help you de­velop a pro­gramme, and then an­other in four to six weeks to check on your progress and adapt your take-home plan,” ex­plains Stacey.

What about all the on­line pro­grammes out there?

“There are a lot of on­line pro­grammes avail­able, and while some of them are re­ally good, they’re no sub­sti­tute for a phys­io­ther­a­pist check­ing your tech­nique in per­son. We’re al­ways happy to help our clients eval­u­ate pro­grammes they’re in­ter­ested in, and help them with their tech­nique to make sure they’re fol­low­ing the ex­er­cises cor­rectly and safely”. While go­ing along to group ac­tiv­i­ties (such as pi­lates classes or fit­ness cour­ses) at set times might seem like an im­pos­si­ble moun­tain to climb when you have a small baby, they have their ben­e­fits. “There are some great cour­ses out there run by trained in­struc­tors who un­der­stand post­na­tal re­cov­ery. Go­ing along to ses­sions is a chance to be so­cial with other mums, so can be won­der­ful for both your phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing. Some peo­ple find it more mo­ti­vat­ing to ex­er­cise with other mums in­stead of on their own” says Stacey. 

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