The perfect time to return to exercise after having a baby

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Five top tips from a Physio mum – who has spent the last year negotiating the return to exercise journey – or the “not so much exercise” journey.

Firstly let me preface this by saying I was never an amazing runner! I was a reasonable athlete though, & did a lot of cross training prior to the birth of my daughter. I used to love my cycling, gym sessions, swimming & I would casually jog with my dogs 3-8km a day. My daughter turned one in January and honestly, it’s only been this last month that I can finish a scheduled workout.

The slow and steady path is truly testing me (I’m naturally quite impatient). Everyone told me “it took 9 months to deliver, it will take 9 months to get back to where you were” but, for some reason, I like to think the norm doesn’t apply to me! “there’s no way that well-researched, population-wide, clinical advice could apply to me” is completely logical for a scientifically minded adult isn’t it?

After completing some rehab in the SquareOne mums and bubs classes, I planned all sorts of workouts only to find that
a) I couldn’t complete that workout due to my fitness levels or
b) the workout didn’t happen at all because my daughter didn’t want to stick to my plan.

About a month ago I managed to do a full week of exercise, maybe a little too much (too much too soon), I ended up with a cold, Shingles and really sore feet! The end result: time on the couch and doctor’s bills. Since I’ve already paid the price for doing too much too soon while neglecting nutrition I’ve pulled together some advice to help you avoid many common mistakes (ahem my mistakes).

Tip 1: The most important things are not even directly related to physical exercise: Nutrition and sleep.
I was told “don’t diet while breastfeeding” and “sleep is more important than the ironing”. Your body needs a few extra calories and you need extra nutrients tending to a little one. Ask your health care professional if you need to take any supplements such as iron or calcium. A good GP, women’s health physio and dietitian combination is important! I’m lucky enough to have all of those people in my life, I just need to make sure I listen to them.

Tip 2: Timing is key.
Yes, you can absolutely breastfeed and be a runner. You will need to invest in a really good bra and also to feed or pump right before running. There are some not so flattering Park Run photos of my large chest which visually demonstrated these points to me if I wasn’t listening to my body and how it actually felt. Once you finish, be sure to rehydrate. If you’re not breastfeeding, it’s still important to stay hydrated in order to fend off premature feelings of fatigue and hunger. If you’re running or working out with bub with you, make sure they are well fed also! A hungry screaming baby will put an end to your workout.

Tip 3: Start slow.
Consider your fitness level and weekly activity in the weeks before delivery and use it as a rough starting point. Just because you ran 40km a week prior to your pregnancy and are once again non-pregnant doesn’t mean that you can jump back into this level (trust me). After getting cleared from your doctor and physio, starting with low impact cardio for 4-6 weeks, you could begin running the average kms you were at 7-8 months pregnant. Didn’t run in the weeks before delivery? No problem (I was wayyyy to big to run after 5 months). Simply start slow without a weekly mileage goal but rather by listening to your body and using rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Ask your physio to recommend where you should start on the scale and, as you are able, increase the time spent running while decreasing the time spent walking.

Tip 4: Be realistic.
How about trying to set aside 30 minutes a day for exercise, and also allowing yourself to miss a workout if you have to (not 7, just 1). I am going to start with my physio exercises to warm up, a 4-minute walk followed by a 1 min run and repeat until the 30min mark. The plan will be to walk 1 minute and run 4 minutes until I’m comfortable running continually. I also need to consider exactly how often I might be able to fit in activity, realistically 3 times per week is all I can manage without bub in my care, however I could walk every day, as long as it’s not raining or 45 degrees (no these are not “excuses” these are realistic considerations for my baby and our health).

Tip 5: Keep your eye on the prize.
The prize is actually your bub and your health! Yes, the workout is helpful in that you get to enjoy “me” time and mental clarity and peace but don’t become so focused on returning to pre-baby form that you go overboard and get so very worn out and stressed that you can’t care for you and baby.

Tip 6: Be patient.
Obviously, this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tip. At the end of the day, you will get fitter, faster, burn more calories, and be happier if you avoid injury and go slow. Do they run classes in being patient? I need to sign up if they do. ”

Which of Loz’s tips really hits home for you?


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