Babywearing and postnatal excercise

How to get back into exercise safely WITH your baby

Exercise makes us happy!
But being a mum can make prioritising time for you and your well being difficult, especially returning to exercise.  Often we lose days in a sleep deprived blur of feeding, helping your baby to sleep and the hundred other things that get on our to-do list.  We all know the benefits of exercising but doing it can be another matter!

Babywearing and postnatal exercise really is a perfect match as not only is your baby happy being with you (and often sleepy), you don’t have to worry about finding a baby-sitter and you can do it at any time. The other advantage is the exercises that you can do safely while babywearing are also perfect postnatal exercises that don’t increase your risk of injury following pregnancy and labour.

Before you get started there are a few things to consider in terms of you, your baby and your baby carrier.

FOR THE MAMA
When to start exercise is a very common question and the answer really depends on you – your pregnancy and labour, your recovery and any recommendations from your health professional.   Generally this is about 6-10 weeks following a vaginal birth or longer following a caesarean section.   This can seem like a long time however it is important to respect your body and give it adequate time to recover as pregnancy, labour and the day to day life with a baby has a major impact on our bodies.  If you are uncertain about when to start, I would recommend seeing a Women’s Health Physiotherapist as they will be able to give you advice for your circumstances.

Next is determining the type of exercise that you can do that is safe in the postnatal period and doesn’t increase your risk of injury.  There are two main factors that impact your return to exercise while babywearing – your pelvic floor and your hormones.

If you had the same experience as me, I heard a lot about my pelvic floor and how overstretched and weakened these muscles became during pregnancy and how important it was to start exercising them as soon as possible.   It’s not only important to start rebuilding these muscles but to also make sure you aren’t adding strain or pressure to them before they are ready, as the risk of incontinence and prolapse is higher in the postnatal period.    To protect your pelvic floor, avoid exercising too early (just enjoy gazing at your baby), avoid high impact activities such as running, jumping, sport or wide stance exercises such as wide legged squats or ballet.  All of this can put pressure on your pelvic floor and no matter how fit or toned you are (or were), engaging in these activities too early or before you have restrengthened your pelvic floor, actually can reduce your pelvic floor muscle strength and cause long term bladder and bowel problems or pelvic organ prolapse.  Considering that 1 in 3 women have bladder leakage after a baby, it is very important to take precautions.

The other factor is hormones or more specifically the hormone Relaxin.  Relaxin increases elasticity and impacts joints and ligaments which is great in pregnancy and delivery (think everything moving out of the way for your baby) but it does stay in our bodies for up to 6 months postpartum (or longer if you are breastfeeding).  This means that (again) your risk of injury is increased if we over-extend our joints or engage in high impact, fast or twisting movements.  And trust me, having an injury with a baby is not fun!  Because of Relaxin, low impact exercises are the way to go; low impact means keeping one foot on the ground at all times, which includes walking, low impact aerobics, dancing or specific postnatal classes.   But don’t worry, you will still get a great workout without all the risk factors!

FOR YOUR BABY
One of the great things about babywearing and exercise is that all the above factors that determine the type of exercise for a postnatal mum is also perfect while wearing your baby.  If you are wearing your baby, it is important to keep all the movements’ gentle and low impact so to protect their delicate body especially their head and neck.   You also want to make sure that all the exercises that you do while babywearing keep them upright to ensure adequate head and neck support.  So avoid any floor exercises or exercises that put you and your baby in a horizontal position.

You also want to achieve an optimal position for your baby while wearing them.  An optimal position allows your baby to be safe while they are also being carried in a way that is natural and assists with a baby’s physical development of their hips and spine.

Optimal Position Checklist
- keep them in an upright position (always)
- ensure that your carrier and baby has adequate head and neck support
- their back is rounded and is supported to make sure that their airways are free
- have their knees at belly button height
- thighs supported from knee to knee and their calf’s are hanging free

BABY CARRIER

Make sure the carrier that you are wearing is safe and comfortable for your baby.

A good, comfortable baby carrier is just as important as everything else we have mentioned as if you and your baby aren’t happy with it, you probably won’t use it!  It is important to ensure that your carrier is ‘safe’ which basically means that it holds your baby firmly and their airways are open and unobstructed and there is no risk of falling. Checking TICKS is a great tool to make sure the carrier is safe for the baby.

As mentioned above, we want baby to be safe and in an optimal position and the most common carriers that achieve this are woven wraps, meh dais and half buckles and soft structured carriers (eg Emeibaby, Kokadi, Manduca).

There are carriers to avoid wearing while exercising which include:

  • Narrow Based Carriers as they don’t put your baby in an optimal position.
  • Forward Facing as an optimal position is not possible and while forward facing there is limited head and neck support.
  • Ring Slings as there is not even distribution of your baby’s weight over your body (just on one shoulder) and this can lead to balance issues and an increased risk of injury.
  • Stretchy Wraps as it is difficult to achieve and maintain tightness and support for the movements that occur while exercising.

Please note that these and all other safe carriers are perfectly fine to use day to day, just not while exercising.

WHAT EXERCISES TO DO (OR DON’T DO) WHILE BABYWEARING

Suitable Exercises:
Walking
Low impact aerobics or dance
Kangatraining
Body weight exercises such as squats (close stance), lunges, standing arm movements

Avoid:
High impact exercise such as sports, running or jumping.
Any equipment eg steps or weights as you could trip or drop them and could injure your baby (or yourself)
Any exercises that put you and your baby in a horizontal position

While it seems like there is a lot to think about when you babywear and exercise, it really is a great way to return to exercise!

With benefits such as no need for a babysitter or having to leave your baby, that your baby will often sleep (or at least be happy), you can attend to them as needed, you can do it anywhere or at any time and your strength increases as your baby grows!  Honestly I don’t think I would have ever returned to exercise if I couldn’t wear my daughter.
If you also want to meet new friends while exercising get in touch with your local Kangatrainer