Baz Moffat, mother of two, former medal-winning rower for Great Britain and women’s health exercise instructor, talks about the importance of individualised post-pregnancy exercise
Pregnancy can feel like a marathon of physical endurance. So after nine months of carrying a growing baby, and the various physical challenges of delivery, exercise may be the last thing on the mind of many new mothers. For others, it may be something they are anxious to return to – with a run or yoga session a tantalising reminder of independent living.
So how do you know when it’s okay to get back to the gym or dig out your old running shoes? In the UK, one marker used by personal trainers and health professionals is whether or not you’ve had your “six week check”.
This GP assessment is held to make sure women are healing well after the birth and generally coping with the new world of motherhood. Most personal trainers won’t accept a new mother onto a Buggyfit session or postnatal yoga class without it.
But some experts believe the six week check is not enough. To begin with, for many women the appointment at a busy doctor’s surgery may be surprisingly brief, and surprisingly vague. It may or may not involve an internal examination and will vary in depth and detail.
Added to this is the fact that everyone has a different definition of what “exercise” is. For some, it’s an occasional walk in the countryside, for others it’s returning to ultramarathon running.
Finally, every woman has a different body which deals with childbirth in a different way. Just as with sportswear, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
According to one fitness instructor, a more bespoke approach is vital.
It’s not a race
Baz Moffat, a former medal-winning rower for Great Britain who specialises in women’s health, says: “There are an awful lot of personal trainers out there who know their stuff, but there are also a lot who don’t.
“So even if a woman has been signed off by her GP, the personal trainer won’t know any more of the important detail about that mum’s recovery process. They therefore won’t be able to make the return to exercise personalised and specific.”
She adds: “There are some women who, because they’ve had the thumbs up after a brief meeting with their GP, just try and go back to whatever level of exercise they were doing before pregnancy.
“This can cause serious long-term health problems.”
More informed decisions can be taken after an in-depth appointment with a women’s health physiotherapy appointment, suggests Baz.
“A woman’s health physio is highly skilled in working out exactly what the impact of pregnancy and giving birth has been. They can really advise about the best approach for you, where to start and how to progress.”
These sessions almost always involve an internal examination, other physical checks, as well as detailed discussion of the mother’s pelvic floor – a part of the body too often ignored after child birth.
“A woman’s pelvis requires some TLC after pregnancy,” stresses Baz.
“Just because you can’t see it, we shouldn’t forget the impact the birth has on the inside of a woman’s body
“Every mother should have a women’s health physio appointment. It should not be seen as a luxury, it should be seen as an essential.”
“It’s to do with the level of expertise and the time spent on focusing on that woman as an individual – assessing the situation, giving detailed advice and instructions about pelvic floor exercises, and providing personalised expertise.”
Baz says such an appointment makes an original and highly valuable baby shower gift.
Physical and mental benefits
She also thinks many women overlook the physical stress of pregnancy and childbirth, saying: “Regardless of how the baby comes out, a woman will put on between 10 and 20 kilograms over the course of a pregnancy.
“If you’re carrying around that load all day every day, you’ve already stretched the muscles and the ligaments of the pelvic floor. We also need to acknowledge the impact giving birth has on our bodies, whatever kind of birth that is.”
She goes on: “Getting back to exercise is a great goal to have.
“Motherhood is really hard and getting back into exercise gives you a sense of self-worth.
“It means you can go and be you, move and be free, and do the things you used to be able to do. It’s so important for your mental health.”
But Baz, a mother of two, believes it is impossible for health experts to recommend generic types of exercise or goals for women who have recently given birth.
“The important thing is to start exercise at a level where you’re not gripping things tightly, and you’re not holding your breath,” she explains.
“But it’s so personal. Every body’s body is different. The best advice I can give is be respectful of what your body has been through.
“It’s really important to know how to self-care, and to give your body time to heal, recover and rest.”