Last week we had a really interesting chat with Vanessa Barker who is a personal trainer and Pilates instructor specialising in postnatal exercise. We talked about ways in which we can navigate through early months to enable women to make a successful recovery after birth of their baby.
How long does it take to recover from having a baby?
Vanessa explained that it is not the case that a woman will be back to her pre pregnancy body fitness at 6 weeks, it will take time and exercise should be progressive. Although you have a 6 week check with the GP it does not necessarily mean that your body is back to normal again.
Vanessa felt that post-natal exercise was not really discussed at her 6-week check and moreover in these Covid times the 6-week check may be an even briefer experience with the focus being much more on the baby than the mum.
Women can actually harm themselves by doing the wrong exercises too early. Even though Vanessa was a fitness specialist when she had her baby she no idea that this was the case.
Everybody’s recovery is different.
There are lots of variations to the recovery that each woman makes according to the type of birth that they have. Obviously, a Caesarean section being a major operation and one in which your abdominal tissues are traumatised is bound to be a longer recovery. Similarly vaginal births can also cause trauma to the pelvic floor which will need several months of recovery and exercise.
If you have a baby who feeds and sleeps well allowing you to do the same then you are very lucky! Many women find that just getting enough sleep, remembering to eat and have a shower will take up all their time in the early days. Therefore it is important to do things at your own pace.
Common health recovery problems following birth
Vanessa explained that it is very important to discuss the pelvic floor as it supports all of our abdominal organs. Pelvic organ prolapse can occur in various degrees to 50% women without them really realising what has occurred. The pelvic floor can be strengthened but the exercise should be progressive and start slowly
Diastasis Recti is another condition that is not always picked up. The abdominal rectus muscle which naturally softens and separates during pregnancy should have come together by 8 weeks. If it has not it will need intervention from a specialist. Even if it is not a complete diastasis then it may still need strengthening.
Another condition to be aware of is incontinence either urinary or faecal and frequency of urine can indicate a problem with the pelvic floor. This often occurs if you experience leakage of urine when you pick up your baby up, cough or sneeze. Additionally painful sex can be something that presents following birth and is not normal. Pelvic floor exercises are important but women need more detail in how to perform them. Vanessa recommends connecting to the pelvic floor using the breath and demonstrates this exercise in a video on her website.
A Women’s Health Physio can perform a detailed assessment of the pelvic floor and Vanessa will often suggest this to her clients. GPs can refer through the NHS however this often takes some time. In other words, it could be worth paying for this privately for ease and speed. Womens health physios will also recommend the correct exercises to get the body back to full working order and avoid, most importantly performing the wrong exercises and making things worse. It can also be an investment for a woman’s future health for example when reaching the menopause when the pelvic floor may become weaker.
It very common to get a stiff neck and shoulders from sitting feeding baby for long periods similarly you might be only feeding baby on one side so that that you become very stiff in one shoulder. Vanessa recommends self-massage using a small spiky ball, she often uses a dog ball! Other pointers are to ensure that your baby is well supported and that women pay attention to their posture when standing upright. Furthermore, try to avoid always carrying your baby on one hip.
What is the best form of early exercise following birth?
Vanessa says never underestimate the benefit of just walking even for instance just walking up a hill with your buggy will give you a decent workout. She suggests that gentle glute bridges and body weight squats will be enough to start with. In short fairly gentle exercise with correct breathing avoiding sit ups and plank as these can cause problems if performed too early. Vanessa suggests doing small amounts of exercise to fit it in where you can in this period which will help to reconnect your body again.
Investing in self-care is key to in the early days.
Finally, Karen and Vanessa discussed the pressure felt by women in the post-natal period which can come from seeing perfect images of other women on social media. On the other hand, women themselves are often the ones who struggle to ask for help and end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Karen mentioned that in other cultures the 4th Trimester is actually seen as a period of recovery for a woman and it was expected that she would receive help to care for herself and her baby. As many couples do not have this support it may be something that would be worth paying for to ensure that families come through the birth of their baby feeling healthy and happy.
Karen had a client recently who rather than spend lots of money for the most expensive pram etc decided to spend it on helping herself and the family. She invested in Karen who was able to assist with caring for the baby enabling her client to have the rest that she deserved. She spent quality time enjoying her baby while being well looked after by Karen rather than struggling every day. This in turn takes the pressure off partners too. Karen looks after the whole family.
Likewise investing money with someone like Vanessa in the first 3 months will undoubtedly make for a better recovery and a return to good health and function of the body as it was before birth.
Asking for help
Karen and Vanessa both agreed that asking for help was the most important thing a woman could to give themselves and their family the support they deserve at this stressful time. In short, the investment is well worth it.