Each Friday on the blog, we are lucky to have a guest post from a leading expert in weight loss, exercise, diet and motivation. In this week’s blog, we have physiotherapist, personal trainer and group fitness instructor, Gillian McMinn, with 13 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, chatting to us about taking control and the quest for the pre-baby body.
You’ve just endured pregnancy, and invariably, nine months of relentless commentary about your size. You’re small-for-dates, large-for-dates and then exactly-the-same-size-as-my-friend-mary-who-had-a-death-defying-labour-experience-for-dates, and all before lunchtime. Then, you give birth and manage to keep the (beautiful) little demanding human alive for a few weeks. One glorious mid-morning, you realise that both you and baby are fed and clean and dressed, and you head out into the world. You think you deserve a medal. You also hope you won’t run into anyone you know, because you prioritised leaving the house for a stroll to the shops over washing your hair.
Then the woman at the post office gives you a high-five(!) for “getting out there,” (obviously for the sole purpose of) “trying to get your Pre-Baby-Body back!”
Of course it’s healthy to lose the extra weight you gain during pregnancy. This first-time mother to her five-month-old son, however, was walking to the shops because that’s how she gets to the post office; on a quest to purchase stamps, not to transform herself! I knew that the magazines were full of the who’s-who’s apparently-3-days post-partum fad-flattened, photoshopped tummies but I was not prepared for all the comments about my size (both pleasing and upsetting) that I would receive, from people I barely knew! It’s no wonder many women I speak to tend towards an obsession with the ideal return to The Pre-Baby Body.
It also surprised me that I cared so much.
I’m a health and fitness professional. I had a complicated and unpleasant pregnancy and for the last few months ended up leading extremely sedentary days, despite keeping up as many exercise sessions as possible. I love my work, I love being outside and active and I usually exercise as much for the freedom it brings in having some control over what I can physically do with my body as for the outlet for stress it is for me. I couldn’t wait to get back into my normal activities again, and I knew exactly the type and amount (read: lots) of rehabilitation and training that would have me moving without pain and back on my road bike within a manner of months. I felt I had a responsibility to be a “good role model” for my clients and somehow just fit it all in, to “bounce back”; “no excuses!” as they say.
5-months on, I’m back at work part-time and I’ve had to accept that I can’t exercise as much as I’d like to. Months of round-the-clock, time-consuming seated breastfeeding created new musculoskeletal problems. Interesting, healthful meals take planning and preparation and when family leisure-time is precious, it seems like more of an effort than ever to choose health over convenience.
This is not a complaint; rather a list of observations. My husband and I have a wonderful child – and only one! I am grateful to be back at work as I enjoy the challenge as well as the chance to contribute financially to my family. My son and I are (at last!) enjoying breastfeeding, so I am choosing to continue, but the feeding and then expressing milk at work equals more inactive time to compensate for.
I was planning to blog about finding balance in life as a busy health professional, wife and mum, but I think that the correct balance is different for every person. I know, though, from my own clinical practice and personal experience, that making time for therapeutic exercise is possible and also absolutely necessary in order to get some control back over how your body works after pregnancy. I’m talking about more than weight loss, rather, how to get the most out of the only body you have, one that’s just been through nine-months of the most incredible change possible.
- You don’t have much time or energy when wrangling a newborn.
- Newborn wrangling, however tiring, is essentially pretty sedentary (unless you have other kids to run after, and even then it’s active, not exercise)
Let’s get real – housework and laundry, tidying up after children (incessantly) and even walking at your normal pace (even pushing a stroller whilst pulling along a toddler and the scooter he insisted on bringing, but refused to ride) are activities. They are NOT exercise. Being active, rather than sedentary is really great, it has enormous power in terms of preventing disease and keeping muscles as strong as they already are. But it has no therapeutic power in improving cardiovascular fitness (much), maintaining bone density, affecting (much) weight loss, and all the other benefits that (therapeutic) exercise has to offer.
I know. That’s upsetting to hear! The good news is, specific exercise, if you’re mindful to take it at a specific dose, is as good as medicine for helping to get your strength, fitness and figure back after pregnancy.
Taking control of your body after pregnancy:
1. Heal thy pelvic floor first, or get help to do this. Not only will this reduce your chance of developing urinary incontinence now or later in life, but it’s essential for your core strength and you need it in order to get toned-up abdominals. Skip the usual abdominal exercises, challenging weight training and high impact activities until your pelvic floor function is good enough to cope. Some great, evidence-based information and example exercises for pelvic floor and abdominals are here http://www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au/pages/returning-to-sport-or-exercise-after-the-birth.html and here http://www.thepregnancycentre.com.au/post-pregnancy/exercise/postnatal-exercise-guidelines. Make sure your fitness instructor has read this information too. I love fitness instructors(!), but some aren’t aware that you can train your abdominals to compensate for a weak pelvic floor and set yourself up for a lifetime of problems. The plank is a particularly problematic exercise!
2. Avoid sitting. If you’re breastfeeding, most of your feeds will be in sitting. Sitting time makes for a sloppy tummy, a weak pelvic floor (yes, again!), weak glutes and a sore back. In the first 6-weeks especially, you need to rest, but try to lie down some of the time rather than sit.
3. Get time-efficient. If you’re already active, you can afford to skip the long, slow low-intensity aerobic training. Whilst you don’t need to (and ought not to in the early days post-partum) head straight into tabata (thanks Ray!), a mix of moderate intensity exercise with some high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions will give you excellent benefits in short sessions. Until your pelvic floor and core recovers, you need to avoid high impact and challenging resistance exercise though, so running in a pool, intervals on a bike or exercise bike or walking up hills or stepping on/off a step (not if you have any ongoing pelvis pain) can get your heart rate up, safely.
4. Still no time? Don’t bother stretching. This is not as controversial as you may think – there is good research to suggest that it’s usually a waste of time! Do be mindful of good posture generally and note that yoga-type flexibility exercise is very useful, since it includes mastery of postures that use muscle activation to achieve flexibility in other muscles, and that stretching can (sometimes) play a role in recovery from injuries.
5. Instead of taking time for a special warm-up, use an activity instead. Quickly hang the washing, or do a chore you have to do anyway, then get stuck in. And if you’re healthy (no heart disease or diabetes), don’t bother with the warm-up and cool down at all before resistance training.
6. Since you won’t need a warm-up, do your resistance (including weights) and core stability exercise in 2min sessions here and there during the day. Even at work! You will need some sort of plan and a system to remind yourself though, else you’ll forget. I diarise a couple of sessions into my work-day, but do what works for you.
Once your body has recovered (read: pelvic floor and abdominals are working properly!), slowly transition your exercise to include some high impact training (jogging, running, jumping or aerobics-type exercise) and some higher intensity weight training. Loading your muscles and bones during the childbearing years and beyond is essential for setting up good quality muscles and bones before the ageing process starts to break them down.
If you’d like some examples of effective 15min aerobic workouts and 2min strength training sessions, and my tips for making the time for exercise, leave a comment for Susie and I’ll be happy to share!
How do you make time for exercise around work and family?
About the author - Gillian McMinn APAM. B.Physio, Cert IV Fitness
Gillian is a physiotherapist, personal trainer and group fitness instructor with 13 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry. She teaches into the Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of Newcastle in advanced exercise science and gerontology. She works clinically as a senior physiotherapist for NSW Health in the Transitional Aged Care Program in the Hunter Valley, assisting her elderly clients to remain independent and active in their own homes and communities. She loves the fact that her work keeps her out of the hospital and the office and in the real world!
The focus of her practice is exercise therapy and functional rehabilitation and she has a background in cardiopulmonary and neuro-rehabilitation. She has a special interest in women’s health and continence physiotherapy. She has presented seminars on exercise for general health, women’s health, exercise as medicine for in chronic disease and ageing, and cancer treatment and recovery (for the Leukaemia Foundation).
She is a keen cyclist and has raced on the road in the Australian National Road Series, loves to waterski and needs to work on her green thumb. She can’t wait to get out on Lake Macquarie this coming summer with her husband and new baby son.
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