The Benefits of Postnatal Exercise

gisele + kike + (mateo)

Through the different stages of womanhood our motivation and reasons for exercising and eating healthily change over the years. As teenagers we struggle with the raging hormones of puberty; some of us are stick thin, some of us are still carrying our so-called ‘puppy fat’, and we are bombarded with pictures of beautiful people in television and magazines. As nubile, young twenty-something’s we want to look good to attract the boys and potential husband material, but the alcohol, late nights and junk food are probably starting to take their toll.  Then there’s the grown up things like careers, houses, getting married and having children that all continue to throw obstacles in our quest to achieve the perfect body.

So, you’ve just had a beautiful little baby. You and your partner are absolutely over the moon and madly in love with your little bundle of joy. Life is good and your body is a beautiful example of motherhood. Except…you are exhausted, you are emotional, your knees, hips and back are killing you, you have fat where you have never had fat before, your tummy wobbles when you walk, you don’t dare sneeze or cough just in case, you only have time to grab a quick packet of crisps and a piece of toast before the next feed and nappy change, and then there’s exercise, well, I don’t even have time to think about that!

However, probably second to being a bride-to-be, it is the one time in your life when you are completely and wholeheartedly motivated to change your body. You just don’t know how you will ever have time to do it. I am not going to get into that here, that is for another time. I want to talk about WHY you should do it.

Improve posture - pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the posture, resulting in an exaggerated curve in the lumbar spine often leading to lower back pain. Re-toning the deep core muscles enables them to support the spine and prevent long term back problems.

Increased muscular endurance - New mums often spend a lot of time carrying the baby, the car seat, the pushchair, so it is important to strengthen and tone the muscles so that the body can cope with all this extra stress.

Increased stamina and energy - Most new mums have lack of sleep so increased energy levels will help them to cope. In addition, they may also have another child to look after and require plenty of stamina. I know how this feels!

Increased metabolic rate and fat loss - postnatal exercise can work wonders for those that desire to get back in shape quickly, in particular, those that want their pre-baby figure back. Postnatal exercises have been developed to focus on the main trouble areas to be toned and reshaped.

Improved body image and self confidence - pregnancy takes its toll on a woman's body and many women feel negative about the damage it has done, rather than embracing the fact this is a symbol of motherhood. Along with the tiredness and stress that comes with caring for a new baby, self confidence can quickly disappear. Even small amounts of regular exercise will help restore self confidence more quickly.

Reduced anxiety - having a baby is a stressful event and research shows that 1 in 10 mothers develop postnatal depression. Regular exercise such as jogging, swimming and walking, is thought to help ease the symptoms, by improving the mother's well-being. Exercise helps to release endorphins into the system, which lifts the mood in the short term and helps to reset the brain patterns in the longer term.

Ok, these could be true for everyone who exercises, regardless of whether they have had a baby or not. But, there is one more benefit that I have not yet mentioned that means that as a postnatal woman there will never be a better time in your life to start a regular exercise programme.

Here’s the science:

During pregnancy, the cardiovascular system of a woman improves to support the needs of the growing baby. The amount of blood circulating through the body increases by 40% to 50%. Resting heart rate increases by about 15 to 20 bpm by the third trimester. The amount of blood pumped per minute is increased. The amount of oxygenated blood pumped in one heartbeat increases. The amount of air taken in per breath increases. Blood vessels are dilated and more relaxes, decreasing resting blood pressure and aiding circulation. In a normal, healthy pregnant woman, this elevated level of cardiovascular system does not have any adverse effects for the woman or the baby. In fact, this often results in a training effect of the cardio-respiratory system.

Phew! In plain English, while your hips, tummy and back are all being ruined by pregnancy, your heart and lungs are enjoying the benefits of an aerobic workout without you actually having to get off the sofa! BUT, after you have had the baby, you MUST get off the sofa to exploit this benefit.

After all I have told you, is there any reason not to do it?