5 exercises you can actually do while breastfeeding
Chatting about how new mothers can use breastfeeding time to improve their wellbeing and fitness with five simple and postnatally-safe exercises.
As all mothers can attest, trying to find the time to exercise post birth can be a bit of a challenge. There’s the sleep deprivation, the new baby, the postnatal body and leaky and full breasts to consider, not to mention the challenge of finding comfortable and functional maternity activewear. (but more on that later!) Add to the mix the fact that new mums spend a lot of time breastfeeding, and it’s beginning to feel like it’s all just too hard.
But what if instead of scrolling reams of Insta-feed while breastfeeding you could actually be doing some simple activities that improve both your wellbeing and post birth recovery at the same time? Now, we’re not talking about running a marathon here but there some very easy exercises we can all do, literally from the comfort of our lounge room.
Today we’re catching up with Dahlas Fletcher, founder of BodyFabulous and one of Australia’s most respected certified pregnancy and postnatal trainers on how new mothers can use breastfeeding time to improve their wellbeing and fitness with five simple and postnatally-safe exercises.
But before we get to the exercises, there’s a few general tips all new mums should consider, right?
Remember, just because your doctor or midwife gives you the ok to exercise at 6-8 weeks postpartum, it doesn’t mean you are fully healed internally and you should into an intensive activity regime. Take things slow and easy.
Easing into exercise is essential for any new mother. Your body has just been through the most incredible transformation during pregnancy and birth and your hormones are still doing backflips post birth. Your priority is healing yourself from the inside out and learning to pay attention to your pelvic floor, core re-activation, joint pain, tight muscles and postural changes.
So let’s focus on some exercises and activities you can literally do at the same time as breastfeeding. These exercises are safe to do from four weeks post birth if you have no complications.
1) Postural alignment
Firstly, make sure you have a comfortable and supportive chair, prop a pillow behind your lower back or use a breastfeeding pillow to support you if you have one.
Check your shoulders are down and away from your ears, your feet are even on the ground and posture is “stacked” as we just reviewed. Close your eyes as you are nursing and just focus on your breath.
I constantly cue and manipulate the alignment of all my pre and postnatal clients, so they achieve better functional movement. It is really important as when your posture is aligned, your core will work more effectively in everyday movement. Being a mother is full on, there is a lot of movement all the time, so it is important you become aware of how to “stack your posture” which will, in turn, improve your core healing process.
So, next time you are breastfeeding:
Sit tall both feet on the ground, relax your shoulders away from your ears and check that your shoulders aren’t concaving forward, which is very common for nursing mothers. Shoulders should be stacked over your hips (this can be tricky while feeding so also try this after a feed), soften through your belly and check you aren’t clenching your jaw or holding any tension in other areas. Now sit and breathe in this position. It's even better if you can see yourself in a mirror to get a good picture of how this looks. As you go about your other daily activities try to continually come back to this “stacked” posture when standing and sitting. It can be difficult, especially as you are doing so many anterior movements like bending over change tables, prams and cots. Be conscious about coming back to this re-alignment so you can avoid unnecessary strain on your posterior. Your core will thank you for this!
2) Diaphragmatic breathing
Now that you're sitting in this "stacked" position, slow your breath down - breathe in to the count of four and out to the count of four, ensuring you are drawing your breath all the way down to your belly, ribs expanding then slowly exhaling. These deep, long breaths are going to nourish your core and help to reactivate both your core and your pelvic floor. Without you consciously feeling it, on the exhale your pelvic floor will naturally rise. Let this happen organically without any clenching or sucking your belly in. Interestingly, by tapping into your breath, you are also effectively lowering your cortisol levels, and this is an essential element of fat loss postpartum. Make sure to check that you are not breathing into your throat orchest, but instead draw that breath all the way down into your belly.
3) Pelvic floor activation
Ensure your shoulders are positioned over your ribs and feet are flat on the floor. Take another deep breath in and as you exhale, imagine you are internally and ever-so-gently picking up a blueberry with your pelvic floor. Then as you inhale slowly release the blueberry.
Say what? Pick up a blueberry with my bits? Yes! This analogy can be really helpful as you don’t want to squash it! This is a very gentle and effective way to reactivate your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is the foundation of your core so it's critical that this muscle functions correctly. Dysfunction arises if this muscle is too tight or you try to clench. If your pelvic floor heals effectively you will also find your diastasis recti or abdominal separation, tends to heals much better too.
Using a visualisation is really helpful as we are trying to re-connect the neural pathways from your brain to this deep muscle group and forms part of you healing, not only physically, but also mentally.
4) Neck stretches
One of the most common complaints from new mothers is the dreaded neck pain. Much of this comes from postural strain due to misalignment, as covered earlier. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid this though, as news mums are simply exhausted and muscles become tighter as the hormone relaxin leaves your system.
To release and prevent neck pain…
Come back to your “stacked posture”, then simply drop your head to the side your baby is feeding on, and extend your arm long on the opposite side. Don’t strain, just allow gravity to do it’s thing and check your breath is long and diaphragmatic. Come back to the centre then repeat the stretch.
When your baby feeds on the other side, simply do this stretch to the other side.
Through this stretch we are trying to lengthen your muscles, so make sure you don’t clench your jaw or curl your toes while doing this.
5) Wrist and ankle mobility exercises
New mothers often complain of "crunchy" joints post birth. This is pretty normal as your joints were quite lax during pregnancy thanks to the hormone relaxin, which is now starting to leave your system.
It can take up to 12 months for your body to be completely relaxin-free again so new mothers need to take extra care as you are still very prone to sprains and strains.
To improve your joint mobility try this while nursing…
Sit in your “stacked posture” and simply pick up one foot and circle the ankle slowly, as you breath deeply, then simply circle the foot the other way. Do this with the other leg – slow breath, slow circles.
Then try this with your wrists, long slow circles in time with your breath on both sides. Repeat again – both ankles and wrists. This simple mobility exercise will also improve your circulation.
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