Last week I wrote about the physical health issues new mums can face post-birth. In this week’s article I’ll talk about the healthy way to lose the pregnancy weight, including some effective exercises you can do at home.
While many women hope to fit back into their pre-pregnancy clothes soon after the birth, the reality is often far different and it is important to reassess your expectations in this regard. Slow and gradual weight loss should be the aim and strict diet regimes should be avoided at all costs. Restricting calories during this time can delay your recovery, cause nutrient deficiencies, reduce energy at a time when it’s needed the most and even increase susceptibility to postnatal depression.
Breastfeeding mothers should be especially careful of losing weight too quickly as your nutrient demands stay high for much longer. In general, you should simply listen to your body and eat to appetite—this is usually all you need to do to get the calories you need. Counting calories is rarely necessary unless you are having problems maintaining a healthy weight.
You can still lose weight gradually if you eat a balanced, healthy diet adequate in calories and nutrients. Avoid reaching for sugar when you’re feeling tired and focus on healthy, energy-rich snacks. A lack of time is often what contributes most to poor nutrition amongst new mums. Being prepared is the key to managing this period successfully. Filling the freezer with meals before the baby is born is a great idea. Also don’t be afraid to ask around friends for help!
It is also important to ensure you stay well hydrated during breastfeeding. It is not necessary to force fluids; drinking to satisfy thirst is sufficient for most mothers to stay hydrated. Pay attention to your body’s signals—busy mothers often ignore thirst if there is nothing nearby to drink. Try to keep a drink near where you usually breastfeed baby or at your desk at work. Signs that you are not getting enough fluids include concentrated urine (darker, stronger-smelling than usual) and constipation (hard, dry stools).
Exercising at home
No time to get to the gym? No problem! There are many simple bodyweight exercises that you can start to do in the convenience of your own home or outdoors, to help strengthen your body and increase your mobility. I often find my clients frustrated by sitting at home all day with baby, sometimes unable to even go out for a quick walk around the park. And not everyone has the luxury of a nanny or grandparents to look after baby a lot of the time! So below I’ve detailed how to do three functional movements that help strengthen your legs, upper body and core at the same time, with minimal equipment required.
Squats are a great compound exercise that will help strengthen your entire body, both your bones and your muscles (and your knees!), and increase flexibility.
The setup for the squat is incredibly simple. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Your toes should be pointed slightly outward—about 5 to 20 degrees.
Look straight ahead and pick a spot on the wall in front of you. You’ll want to look at this spot the entire time you squat, not looking down at the floor or up at the ceiling.
Put your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the ground. Keep your spine in a neutral position. This means don’t round your back, but also don’t hyperextend and over-accentuate the natural arch of your back.
Think about where your weight is on your feet—it should be on the heels and the balls of your feet, as if you were pasted to the ground. You should be able to wiggle your toes the entire movement.
Keep your entire body tight the entire time.
Now, breathe in, break (or bend) at your hip and push your butt back. Keep sending your hips backwards as your knees begin to bend.
Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead at that spot on the wall.
As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet (roughly tracking over your second toe). When they start to come inside the toes, push them out (but not wider than your feet).
Squat down until your hip joint is lower than your knees (what we call parallel). We are looking at your hip joint here, not your thighs. Depending on the size of your thighs, your squat may appear to be less deep than it truly is. You can go deeper than this; however, anything less than parallel is a partial squat.
Keeping everything tight, breathe out and drive through your heels (keep the balls of your feet on the ground as well).
Drive your knees out the same way you did on the way down, and squeeze your butt at the top to make sure you’re using your glutes.
Another great bodyweight ‘push’ exercise that works your chest, arms, shoulders and your core muscles.
Here’s how to set it up: when down on the ground, set your hands at a distance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Depending on your strength and experience, your hands should be angled in a way that feels comfortable to you. For me, my hands are set up so that my middle finger points straight up and away from me. You can also turn your hands inwards slightly if it’s less stressful on your wrists, or you can do your push-ups on your knuckles (as long as you’re on a semi-soft surface like a mat or carpet).
Your feet should be set up in a way that feels right and comfortable to you. For some, that might be shoulder-width apart. For others, it might be that the feet are touching. Generally speaking, the wider apart your feet, the more stable you’ll be for your press-ups. If you’re not at this advanced stage yet, make sure you come down onto your knees as I’ve illustrated in the photo. Ensure you bring your hips forward to engage your core and do not cross your feet as you will twist your pelvis this way. Feet remain relaxed on the mat.
Think of your body as one giant straight line—from the top of your head down through your heels. Your bottom shouldn’t be sticking way up in the air or sagging.
If you have a problem getting the proper form with your body, try this: squeeze your bottom and then tighten your abs. Your core will be engaged, and your body should be in that straight line. If you’ve been doing press-ups incorrectly, this might be a big change for you.
Your head should be looking slightly ahead of you, not straight down. Looking up helps you keep your body in line, but feel free to look down if that helps you concentrate.
At the top of your press-up, your arms should be straight and supporting your weight. You’re now ready to do a press-up.
Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. As you lower yourself, tuck your elbows, pulling them close to your body so that your upper arms form a 45-degree angle when your torso is in the bottom position of the move. Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time. Use your inhale to lower yourself down and the exhale as your power mechanism to push away the floor and drive up.
If your hips sag at any point during the exercise, your form has been broken. When this happens, consider that your last repetition and end the set.
If you need to work more slowly towards progressing to this version of the press-up, there are other modifications you can do, for example the box press-up (with knees underneath the hips), or coming away from the mat and doing press-ups against a wall.
The Superman exercise is a basic Pilates move that focuses on core activation with hip stability as well as balance.
Start in a four-point kneeling position, with your shoulders over your hands and hips over knees. Shoulders back and down.
Engage your abdominals by lifting your belly button in towards the spine.
Start with a basic extension with one leg, holding the upper body still and strong. Extend the leg back to straight whilst aiming to keep the core activated and hips stabilised.
When you’ve got that down, add the upper body into the mix by extending the opposite arm long in unison with the leg. Try to counterbalance the body going into the full exercise.
Hold the extension for 1 to 2 seconds and then return the arm/leg back down.
Repeat on other arm/leg.
Note: hip stability is the aim of the game here so keep both hips still and stable the whole time.