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From baby yoga to walks in the park, here are our expert tips to kickstart your postnatal fitness journey
It’s only natural that exercise slips down the priority list after having a baby. Your sleep-deprived time is spent concentrating on burping rather than burpees. But gentle activity can be a valuable component in your new mum self-care toolkit – it helps relieve stress, can improve sleep and boost mood and energy levels, while helping you to build the strength and endurance you’ll need for life as a parent.
‘At a time that is scary, exhilarating, emotional and often stressful, it is important to find an activity that releases endorphins and makes you feel that you are doing something for you and not just your baby,’ says pre- and postnatal exercise specialist Belle Amooty, founder of Buggy Belles. ‘While exercise can help with weight loss, the psychological benefits tend to become more important to new mums than the physical benefits.’
Mum-(or dad-)and-baby exercise classes can really help with bonding, too. If you can’t make it out to a local class right now, don’t worry – there are plenty of things you can do closer to home, from live online classes to getting a sweat on in your local park. Below, you’ll find some of our favourite baby-friendly workouts, with expert tips to get you started.
‘No matter how active you were before and during pregnancy, your body has been through the trauma of giving birth, so starting slowly with low-impact cardio like walking is important,’ Belle advises. ‘You’ll need a strong pelvic floor for any exercise you take part in, so do your pelvic floor exercises throughout your pregnancy and as soon as you have given birth.’
She advises not starting exercise until you have been signed off by your doctor at your 6-8 week check, or waiting until 10 weeks after a C-section to allow the body a bit more time to heal. ‘Resistance training with light weights and high reps, postnatal Pilates and yoga can all be undertaken at this stage, but please make sure that your teacher is postnatal qualified,’ she says.
Popular London physio and Pilates studio Four Sides can give you a post-natal ‘MOT’ either online or in-person. They also live stream weekly postnatal workouts, which focus on the pelvis, tummy, back and pelvic floor to strengthen your body from the inside out.
Family fitness club Busylizzy offers a variety of live and on-demand classes for new mums, including Postnatal Pilates, Postnatal Yoga, Postnatal Aerobics and Postnatal Bootcamp. Their Mummy & Me classes include options for your baby to join in where safe and appropriate. Powerplate also offers a 12-week video-led Healthy Mums Programme – perfect for busy parents who are short on time, it’s designed to strengthen you from the inside out.
Pushing a buggy is a great way to get those steps in, with just five minutes of exercise in nature proven to help boost mental health. ‘The beauty of a buggy fitness class is that the baby is with you,’ explains Belle. ‘Being outdoors, mum and baby both get some essential vitamin D, fresh air and a chance to connect with nature.’
Belle is now running a reduced summer schedule in London’s Clissold Park and Highbury Fields, but if you can’t find any classes near you, there are still plenty of benefits to be had from rolling solo. Try Belle’s top tips for turning your daily walk into a workout.
Babywearing workouts are growing in popularity, with research pointing to numerous benefits for mum and baby. ‘The benefits for mental health are huge,’ notes CARiFiT founder and dad-of-two Vern Hill. ‘CARiFiT participants report feeling happier, more available and better able to cope with the demands of parenting, and having more energy to interact with their babies.’
Developed in collaboration with doctors, physiotherapists and postnatal fitness experts, CARiFiT provides a cardio and resistance interval programme suitable for mums with babies aged 6 weeks to 18-months-old. Live CARiFiT classes are now running in London, while livestream and on-demand classes continue online. To take part, you’ll need a sturdy baby carrier (Vern recommends the Ergobaby Omni 360). A Pilates ring (or small sofa cushion) and light hand weights (or tins of beans) are optional. For a taste of what’s involved, try this online CARiFiT workout created in collaboration with The Body Coach.
‘Babywearing strengthens the bond between mum and baby, stabilises baby’s heart rate and body temperature, promotes calmness and encourages optimal physical and emotional development, including early language and neural development and respiratory and gastrointestinal health,’ adds Mamma Method co-founder and mum-of-two Camilla Hollweck. ‘It can also boost breast milk production – and the added weight of baby provides an extra challenge for mum!’
Developed by two mothers – both Pilates instructors and postnatal fitness experts – Mamma Method is a challenging low-impact babywearing workout taught to upbeat music. ‘The class is recommended by doctors and physiotherapists and guaranteed to improve strength,’ says Camilla. ‘It’s designed to be safe, but incredibly effective, strengthening all the postnatal target areas – back, legs, glutes, core and pelvic floor.’ Camilla and Keziah are currently offering private and small group classes, which can take place in your home or a location of your choice, as well as pre-recorded online classes. To get started, you’ll need a good baby carrier (Camilla recommends Baby Bjorn and Ergobaby) plus a Pilates ball or cushion and a pair of light hand weights, tins or water bottles. Resistance bands are optional.
Yoga is great for new mums, combining mindful breathwork with gentle stretching and strengthening sequences that let you (re)gain strength and flexibility at your own pace. ‘It allows you to start to feel in control of your body again after labour and nine months of pregnancy,’ explains Nadia Narain, self-care expert and co-author of Self-Care In Self Isolation. ‘Yoga helps you tap into breathing and posture, and connects you back to yourself. Moving the body and connecting with your baby and other new mothers can help to prevent postnatal depression.
‘I let new mothers return to class after their 6-week check if the birth or C-section was straightforward,’ she adds. ‘You will generally know when you feel mentally and physically ready. It’s important to start slowly – a good postnatal yoga teacher should focus on building strength for those who are new to yoga, and remind more experienced people not to push too hard.’
If local classes aren’t up and running in your area yet, go online. ‘I do baby yoga over Zoom with Natalie Sutherland,’ says Charlotte Buckley, gym instructor and mum to Freddie. ‘Before lockdown, Freddie and I attended lots of different baby groups, so when it all stopped it was really hard for us. It’s so hard not to be distracted by phones, television or the big pile of washing you haven’t done, so it’s great to know you can switch off and spend a whole hour of your day focusing on yourself and your baby. After the class, I always feel a lot more calm and relaxed. We sing songs while moving different parts of their bodies, and Freddie loves watching me do different poses and making shapes over him.’
‘Mum and baby yoga is really bonding for mother and baby, and for the women with each other,’ says Nadia. Along with her sister, wellness practitioner Katia Narain Phillips, she is offering advice through myTamarin.com, a baby concierge service that gives new and expecting parents access to the best midwives, maternity nurses and parenting experts. ‘Whether you have questions about sleep, colic or breastfeeding, you can simply log in for bespoke guidance and support at any time,’ says Nadia.
You can search for a mother and baby yoga class near you on the NCT website.
We recommend you consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise programme.
Main image: Charlotte Buckley