When it comes to exercising after having a baby, it’s important to start at your own pace and build it up, says Aoife Hearne
IN THIS past month, I have, for the first time in five whole years, gotten back into exercise on a regular basis. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long. There were plenty of opportunities to exercise and excuses to avoid it in that time.
When I was 25 weeks pregnant in 2014 I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) which causes pelvic pain. It stopped me exercising at that point and for the past five years I’ve been avoiding exercise. I even managed to get out of every Operation Transformation 5k run during that time (shhhh!).
The reality though, is that I really didn’t feel ready or have the interest to get back exercising. The SPD was real, but while I was physically ready to exercise before now, emotionally I just wasn’t in a place where exercise was something I could manage.
For three years my husband and I did not get a full night’s sleep and my body was really in survival mode during that time. It has been the toughest three years of my life. My fun and feisty daughter Alva just didn’t want to sleep; I think she had FOMO!
Looking back I’m not even sure how we survived it. I’m even anxious as I type these words in case I jinx it, but it seems that since her third birthday in May we have finally turned a corner and for the past month all the little people in our home seem to have decided sleep is a good thing. To say Alan and I have welcomed this change is possibly the biggest understatement of the year, but it has been a game-changer for our family. I finally feel like me again. I’m glad I didn’t force myself to exercise these past three years in particular, my cup was completely empty and I was trying my best to survive. But now, now I feel ready and I actually enjoy the feeling of running again. This year I will run the OT 5k and I can’t wait!
So my bounceback to exercise has been at a snail’s pace, but I believe that taking it slowly actually wins the race when it comes to post-pregnancy recovery. Rushing back out to exercise at a very high intensity to shrink back to our pre-baby shape should not be the endgame for women.
When it comes to exercising after having a baby, it is really important to start at your own pace and build it up. If you had a caesarean section there will be some exercises that you won’t be able to do for a few weeks and you should talk to your GP who can guide you on this. For me though, I found walking to be the best exercise. I have such fond memories of those early weeks and months walking proudly with my buggy and newest addition tucked up inside.
I think walking is completely underrated and yet so powerful. In fact, as soon as I could start driving again when Dylan was six weeks old (born via C-section) the weight-loss that had been dropping steadily ran to a dead halt. That really emphasised for me how important that low-level exercise — getting your 10,000 steps a day — really is, especially in the recovery phase with a new baby.
In addition to the low-level exercise, The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week in the postpartum stage. As a motivator to help me achieve this, I have started using my Apple watch again — it pretty much sat in the box for the past three-plus years, like an unwanted new toy.
What I was pleasantly surprised to see is that despite my lack of moderate/intense exercise, my day-to-day exercise activity is pretty good. I am getting 10,000 steps, and more some days. This, I believe, is what has helped me keep in some kind of fitness without the higher-intensity exercise that I now feel ready for.
The exercise that I am guilty of not doing, and something I really need to get better at, is Kegel exercises (which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles).
My friend and our lovely doctor on Operation Transformation, Dr Sumi Dunne, introduced me to Squeezy App (the NHS pelvic floor exercise app). Of course, when she showed it to me, I was still in a sleep-deprivation fog and while it was probably more beneficial in the early recovery phase, I will now embrace it — because I really would like to bounce on the trampoline with the kids some day and right now the thought of that makes me squeezy!