by Jen Milligan
I must admit, exercise was not high on my list of priorities with a newborn. As the months passed, however, I was feeling a bit frumpy, and felt like I wanted some energy and self-confidence back.
Walking, with the ever-increasing weight of a pram or baby carrier, is a brilliant form of exercise. The sunshine, the fresh air and the increase in heart rate will do wonders for your mental health as well as your physical health. Furthermore, the fresh air and change of scenery for your little one can help put them to sleep after a tough night and help to press reset on a grumpy day, all whilst building their immune system and giving them a fantastic dose of Vitamin D to help their sleep quality.
But what if you want to do more than a walk? The key with exercise after having your baby, is to take it slowly and gradually increase the intensity.
For intensive abdominal work, it’s always a good idea to chat to a postnatal physiotherapist before you get back into workouts. Belly bands are fantastic for support after the birth and they are a great help with abdominal separation. Be careful not to do your standard crunches too soon after giving birth. The tight abs you are hoping for may actually be made worse by this. Again, joining a postnatal Pilates or yoga class is your safest option.
After a caesarean section, remember to wait for 6 weeks before any form of exercise that requires heavy lifting.
For cardio exercise, try and time your exercise for just after a feed, for the comfort of your breasts and for the minimal transfer of lactic acid from you to your milk. If you weren’t a runner before you had your baby but you’re keen to give it a go, it will certainly get you fit faster that other forms of exercise. Having said that, it’s best to wait until your baby is about 3 months old before you start running. Until then, just walk to gradually increase your fitness and allow your body time to heal.
Anaerobic, or high intensity exercise will increase the amount of lactic acid running through your body, hence the suggestion to exercise straight after a feed so the lactic acid can move through before the next feed. Within an hour of finishing exercise, lactic acid has returned to its normal levels. For a cardio workout such as running or a gym class, you need to consider your production of lactic acid and its transfer to your milk supply. It is in no way dangerous to your baby, but it may upset some baby’s tummies.
So, am I exercising before or after a feed? If you are doing mild to moderate exercise, it doesn’t really matter, but you might feel inclined to feed first so that your breasts are comfortable. If you are doing intense exercise, feed first so that your breasts are comfortable. After you've fed, do your exercise and then wait an hour after exercise to allow the lactic acid to leave the body. Then, feed again.
Any form of moderate exercise is a wonderful inclusion in your day and will not have any significant effect on the production of lactic acid in your body. It will help improve your overall health and boost your energy levels, without hindering your production or quality of breast milk.
So head outdoors for a lovely walk with some friends and don’t forget to hydrate!
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Jen is a midwife with almost 20 years experience in a Sydney birthing unit. She now lives & works on the Central Coast, supporting new mothers as they transition into motherhood.
Ingrid is a birth & postpartum doula, living and working on the beautiful NSW Central Coast.