Postnatal Myths Busted: Finding strength through yoga

Hannah Barrett from Yoga Girl London is changing the way we think about Postnatal Fitness with her 16 weeks Strength Through Yoga, evidence based and yoga inspired postnatal guide. Here she busts some postnatal myths for us...

Postnatal Myth Buster: Finding strength through yoga

As mums we are surrounded with postpartum information and advice, and it can be so confusing to know what is actually true. Physiotherapist Finola Burrell and Hannah Barrett of Yoga Girl London uncovers seven of these common postpartum myths.

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Further information can be found in their postnatal e-guide ‘Strength Through Yoga’ which ensures a safe and effective journey to restoring strength, and to support you in both body and mind. It is a 16-week programme that is evidence based, co-written by a physiotherapist and has been reviewed by medical professionals.

Postnatal Myth Buster: Finding strength through yoga

MYTH 1. DON’T DO ANYTHING FOR SIX WEEKS

In most cases doing nothing is not necessary. Unless you’re specifically put on bed rest, for general health purposes you would never be advised to do nothing. You’re not sick, however, you do need to avoid strenuous or high impact exercise in this time to allow your body to heal.

The best three exercises to be doing in these initial weeks are:

–     Kegels (pelvic floor exercises) – imagine gently pulling up your front and back passages (as if trying to stop yourself passing urine and flatulence) without clenching your buttocks. You don’t want to feel a pushing down sensation. If this happens take a few deep breaths into the stomach to relax and try again.  Continue to breathe normally while holding for five seconds.  Relax and repeat ten times, a few times a day.

–     Deep abdominal engagement – lying on your back, exhale and imagine your hip bones are magnets and are being drawn in towards each other and pull in your stomach gently as though you are trying to put on a pair of jeans.  Hold for five seconds as you continue to breathe normally.  Repeat ten times, a few times a day.

–     Walk, walk, walk! – Put your baby in a pushchair or a sling and walk whenever possible. This is great for your cardiovascular strength and a gentle way to start losing weight.

MYTH 2. INCONTINENCE AFTER BIRTH IS NORMAL

Incontinence is common but not something that should have to become your new ‘normal’. Incontinence and prolapse can be really hard to talk about but are extremely common postpartum and in most cases can be easily treated.

Pelvic floor exercises, in most cases, are safe to start as soon as you’ve passed urine after birth and can actually help with recovery after tears/episiotomies.  A lot of women start with great intentions to do their pelvic floor exercises regularly, but they can easily be forgotten after a few weeks. Aim to continue with specific pelvic floor exercises for at least six weeks postpartum to ensure the muscles have strengthened. Following this you can start to incorporate them into your normal exercise routine.  If you are concerned please don’t be afraid to talk to a women’s health physiotherapist or your GP.

MYTH 3. POSTNATAL DEPRESSION WILL GO AWAY ON ITS OWN WITH TIME

This is unfortunately not true. Postpartum depression is a serious illness that requires professional help.  It’s estimated that it affects up to 20% of mothers (WHO) and it can also affect fathers and partners too.

Yoga encompasses both exercise and mindfulness which are popular and evidence based treatments for anxiety and depression. Coming to the mat and focusing on the breath helped me, and still does, during difficult times. It’s so important to get the help and support that is out there. Never be afraid to tell a health professional that you are struggling. I did and they pointed me in the right direction and it was the best thing I could have done.

MYTH 4. NEVER DO CRUNCHES IF YOU HAVE DIASTASIS RECTI

This is only true if you can’t correctly engage the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles (the transverse abdominals). If you can correctly engage these muscles, studies have found that crunches do not worsen diastasis recti.

We set out in myth 1 how to correctly engage these muscles.  We recommend avoiding crunches for six weeks and until you can engage your core muscles without doming your stomach whilst performing a small crunch (check by lifting your head and shoulders off of the mat and check if your stomach bulges out).

MYTH 5. THE ABDOMINALS WILL ALWAYS BE WEAKER AFTER CHILDBIRTH

For me, this statement goes hand in hand with the phrase ‘you will never get your body back post baby’. When I was growing up these are the messages I heard over and over again and I loathe hearing them now.

With motivation, consistency and the right exercises, your core can be stronger post pregnancy – mine 100% is. And in terms of ‘getting your body back’ – I don’t think it’s the right way of thinking about it. Instead think of loving your postpartum body, be grateful for what it’s given you and learn to love it unconditionally.

We created Strength Through Yoga to help mum’s safely exercise and get back their strength post birth. And the mindfulness, breathing and meditation in our programme will help develop your inner strength and self-love.

MYTH 6. THERE WILL BE NO TIME TO EXERCISE

It is true that a new baby makes exercising more difficult. Try to prioritise making some time for yourself each day and try and fit in movement around you and baby.

The things that helped me were:

  • I tried to walk whenever possible!
  • I worked out at home and did short high intensity circuits (from Strength Through Yoga) during nap time.
  • Sometimes nap time didn’t happen or just disappeared.  In these cases I would include the baby in my yoga practice.  It’s a really lovely way to bond with your baby and both my kids still love time on the yoga mat with me now.
  • Use feed times as opportunities to do your pelvic floor exercises. Getting into this habit means you won’t forget and you’ll feel really efficient.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you can’t complete the whole exercise routine because your baby has woken up from napping early, don’t worry, finish it later if you can. Otherwise start again the next day.

MYTH 7. BREASTFEEDING ALONE WILL HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS

Everybody is different. A study from the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group states that a combination of exercise and a healthy balanced diet is the best way to approach postpartum weight loss. There is no rush to lose weight after having a baby, it’s more helpful to focus on strengthening both the mind and body through a balanced health lifestyle which will in turn result in weight loss.

Yoga Girl London
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Strength Through Yoga is available for £39.99 at Yoga Girl London