Experts have realised that regular moderate exercise not only helps your physical health but also helps in the recovery from and prevention of mental health illnesses. Exercise might be the last thing on your mind after you give birth and are suffering from depression or anxiety but it’s worthwhile and very beneficial. Always check with your doctor or health nurse before you start any exercise program.
What are the benefits of exercise to my mental and physical health?
- It gives you a natural energy boost, endorphins are released into your bloodstream during activity so you feel much more energised
- endorphins also make you feel happier.
- Regular aerobic exercise increases levels of seratonin and dopamine in the brain, which is linked with improved mood
- Helps you to relax
- Decreases tension, stress, mental tiredness and worry in the body and mind
- Improves your sleep
- Will give you a sense of achievement AND accomplishment
- Gives focus in life and motivation
- Less frustration or anger
- Gives you a healthy appetite
- Group or partner exercise increases social activity and decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Prevents cognitive decline
- Boosts brainpower & sharpens memory
- Improves self-confidence
- Weight loss and weight control
- Increased muscle strength and muscle mass (which helps burn calories and fat)
- Stronger bones
- Stronger heart, cardiovascular system and lungs
- Increased interest in sex
- More flexibility, movement, stamina & endurance
- Improved immune system
- Lower risk of some types of cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure
- It is a healthy behaviour and sets a positive example for your children
Get outside to enjoy fresh air and life outside the confines of nappies, feedings and spit up. Sometimes just a different view for a few moments can make a huge difference.
Get your doctor or health nurses approval before starting any exercise.
It is very important to talk to your doctor or health nurse before starting any exercise after giving birth especially if you had a C-section, extensive vaginal repair or a complicated birth, talk to your health care provider about when to start an exercise program and what exercise to do. If they or the hospital give you exercise advice you must follow it, you should also attend any postnatal exercise classes they advise you to attend or invite you to.
How long should I exercise for?
When you have physically recovered from birth you should work up to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week or 150 minutes a week as this is the recommended amount of exercise for most healthy women. You shouldn’t start at the full amount at the start especially if you are not used to exercising or haven’t exercised during pregnancy. Begin slowly and increase your pace gradually. Even if you did exercise before pregnancy you need to build up slowly. You can split up the time as well, ie do two fifteen minute slots a day. Stop exercising immediately if you feel any pain.
Exercise and Breastfeeding
You should avoid doing strenuous exercise if you are breastfeeding, this could affect taste and the production of breast milk due to your body producing lactic acid. Consider feeding your baby before your workout or you can pump before your workout and feed your baby the pumped breast milk afterward you finish exercising. This can also help you stay comfortable while you’re exercising. Alternatively, you can simply avoid breast-feeding your baby right after your workout.
What is moderate exercise?
Moderate exercise means being energetic enough so that you breathe a little heavier than normal but are not out of breath and that you feel warmer but don’t end up hot and sweaty. Stop exercising immediately if you feel any pain.
With your doctors approval and if you are physically able take a short, gentle walk outside, you just need a comfortable clothes and a comfortable pair of shoes, a bottle of water, a good support bra with nursing pads if you are breastfeeding, you can bring your baby in a pram – just remember to keep your back straight, you and your baby will get fresh air, you will be around other people and maybe interact with them and it’s free, the only constraint is the Irish weather.
When should I do more than walking?
When you are physically ready then look to take up more energetic exercise or sports, it is important however to choose an activity that you enjoy, if you choose an activity that you don’t enjoy it becomes a burden or chore to do it and more than likely you will not keep it up. You should check out this quiz to find out what exercise may suit your personality.
You could join up a postnatal exercise class or join a baby and me exercise class so not only is it geared for women who have given birth but you will also be in the company of mothers, many who will know what it like becoming a mum to a newborn baby so you will get an extra support system outside of your partner, family and friends.
You could also follow a DVD exercise program at home especially if the weather is bad. That way you can exercise with your baby beside you, just be careful you don’t start using this as an excuse not to go outside.
You should check with your doctor or health nurse before starting swimming or aqua-aerobics classes, usually it is after your 6 week checkup that you will get the all clear to do water sports like swimming.
If you are attending a class that is not specific to postnatal women then you should talk to your instructor before you start the class and let them know when you have given birth.
Remember to warm up and cool down slowly and drink lots of water.
Remember exercise after you give birth and are suffering from depression or anxiety might not be easy but it’s worthwhile and very beneficial both in the short term and long term.
You can find more information about exercise on:
- Rotunda Hospital Postnatal Exercises
- NHS UK
- EUMom exercise advice
- Rollercoaster.ie exercise advice
- Baby Centre UK
- Get Ireland Active
- Mental Health Foundation UK
Read more on looking after your Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing.