StrongLikeMum: A guide to postpartum fitness

Shakira Akabusi is a blogger and fitness expert who has devised creative at-home workouts for mums and babies. Here, she shares her guide to fitness for new mums. Over to Shakira…

Shakira Akabusi

Photo Credit: Shakira Akabusi

Parenthood undoubtably means changes for both mother and father. However for women there is not only a dramatic lifestyle shift but also physical changes brought on by pregnancy and labour.

Often, postpartum is the first time many women have given thought to an exercise programme. However, with only 5.5% of fitness industry professionals being qualified in ante and postnatal exercise, finding the right information on how to train safely can be tricky.

As a health and fitness enthusiast, I was eager to regain a fit and active lifestyle after giving birth and found the benefits were much more then just physical. I’m sure every mother can relate to the demands of early parenting. As exercise is known to relieve stress, improve mood and aid sleep, what’s not to love about getting moving as a mum? You don’t need a personal trainer or expensive fitness equipment. You just need a little creativity, determination and the motivation to get started!

Busting the breastfeeding myth

The myth that exercise negatively affects breastmilk supply is one of the top reasons women avoid exercise in the first few months after labour. However, if you are a breastfeeding mother, take heart in knowing that to date there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that exercise negatively affects breastmilk supply. Exercising to exhaustion may have a slight effect on the content of breast milk but this is purely short term and will be replenished within 90 minutes.

A 1997 Study by Gregory et al., found that IgA levels (an antibody playing a crucial role in mucosal immunity) were decreased in breastmilk for approximately 10-30 minutes post strenuous exercise but that levels returned to normal within an hour. The only other known effect of exercise on breast milk is an increase in lactic acid buildup for 90 minutes after high-intensity exercise. These changes may lead some women to choose to express prior to working out. However, no harmful effects for the baby have ever been proven from nursing post exercise.


Mum & baby workout

Photo credit: Shakira Akabusi

Where to start

Although it’s advised that you wait until your 6-week check to engage in any intense exercise. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommends that, “if pregnancy and delivery are uncomplicated, a mild exercise programme consisting of walking and pelvic floor exercises may begin immediately”.

Your pelvic floor muscles run from your coccyx (at the back) up to your public bone (at the front) and form the base of your pelvis. Supporting not only your organs (bladder, urethra etc) but also your spine and helping to control bowel and bladder functions.

You may wish to begin working on your pelvic floor lying down and build up to a seated and finally standing position. Try to do this approximately 3-5 times a day for 5 minutes. In order to test the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, you should be able to stop your urine midstream. However this should be tested on rare occasions.

Get creative

Probably the most useful piece of advice I could give is getting creative with your workouts. The key to a successful fitness programme is to enjoy the process. Nothing makes working out less enjoyable than doing the same exercises over and over again!

I started by using everyday objects such as a cooking pot, can of beans or broom handle as weights and leavers. I jammed my broom between chairs and jumped over the top, practiced core stability by standing on a cooking pot with one leg and lifted tin cans (and wine bottles) as weights. However, as my son got older and more active, I started to workout with him, using his bodyweight as a dumbbell. Whether squatting with him on my shoulder, shoulder pressing him over my head or doing ab curls with him sat across my stomach, exercise became a great bonding experience. Most importantly, remember to vary the type of exercise you do. Stretching and complete rest days are just as crucial as cardio and weight training. Tight muscles don’t work properly. Keep hydrated and always refuel with carbohydrates and lean protein.

Inspire the next generation

The number of children under five who are overweight or obese has risen to 41 million, from 31 million in 1990, according to figures released by the Worlds Health Organization commission (WHO). The report, published by The Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO), stressed that many children are growing up today in environments encouraging weight gain and obesity and that guidance should be provided on “healthy diet, sleep and physical activity in early childhood” and that more should be done to “promote healthy habits and ensure children grow appropriately and develop healthy habits”. Although the report calls for increased political commitment, I really believe that to combat this issue we need to start at home. What better way to inspire a healthy lifestyle then to lead by example?

The key to sustaining a healthy lifestyle is to enjoy the process and realise that exercise is so much more then just dropping a dress size. Why not try this 15-minute at-home workout to get started (below), or for more tips on how to get active postpartum visit and check out my Instagram page for more clips of mum and baby workouts that you can do from home!

At home ‘Fit-Mum’ workout

Jog on the spot x 45 seconds
Burpees (or Knee raises for beginners) x 30 seconds
Travelling lunges x 12 (each side)
Squats (holding washing basket full of clothes) x 30
Tricep dips (using a chair) x 12
Press ups x 10
Lateral arm raises (using wine bottle or tin can) x 30
Ab curls x 10
Plank x 30 seconds

Shakira is a fully qualified personal trainer specialising in ante and postnatal exercise. Simultaneously working as a freelance journalist, writing health and fitness features for various publications, including Huffington Post, Baby Hampshire and FitPro Magazine. Founder of the STRONGLIKEMUM campaign Shakira has amassed a following on social media for her creative Mum and Baby at home workout ideas. She’s also on Instagram and Twitter.

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