In the age of social media activism, postnatal bodies are controversial. The pressure to “bounce back” seems to be equalled only by the pressure to not get fit too quickly. For anyone with a profile, it’s a tricky line to tread, but even amongst friends and family, your postnatal body can be met with grossly unhelpful expectations and opinions. “It’s hugely personal,” says Tori Clapham, owner and director of Peaches Pilates. “The pressure for women to ‘get their body back’ needs to be totally removed. Instead we should encourage mums to learn and recover in their own time. Besides, your body isn’t ‘lost’, it’s in a transitory state. It has just accomplished an incredible feat, and needs the right love, care, nutrition and movement to continue the journey.”
Through Peaches Pilates, Tori has built a studio (online and in Sydney’s Bondi, Maroubra and Cronulla) that celebrates women’s bodies, especially in their postpartum form. She understands the huge impact of pregnancy and birth, respects the limitations it brings, and formulates tailored exercises that can enable an enjoyable return to physical function. With such a great outlook, deep knowledge and niche passion for educating women on ab separation (she’s even written an ebook about it), we asked Tori to answer all our postnatal workout qs. May this help you to feel positive, not pressured, postnatal.
What are the best physical goals to have postpartum?
“To feel strong! To have the energy you need to see you through the long days, and even longer nights of having a newborn. Other important goals are things like finding love and respect for your body, reconnecting with your core (and pelvic floor) to aid your abdominal muscles in coming back together post pregnancy, strengthening your arms for holding your baby and strengthen your glutes to help ease the inevitable back pain from being a walking carrier.”
Is it different for women who’ve had caesareans?
“Yes and no. Initially, we like women who have had c-sections to give themselves a longer period of rest and healing before returning to exercise. Major abdominal surgery is no joke, so we don't rush into certain movements and we keep a close eye on any pulling, or burning sensations in a caesarean scar. That said, the main goals for most postnatal mums remain the same. Besides some extra caution and longer stints before returning to certain movements (like weight-bearing moves e.g. planking), we offer all new mums a fairly similar routine.”
When should you start to think about working out again after having a baby?
“Deciding when to return to exercise after a pregnancy is so individual. Birth factors and possible complications in your delivery and during pregnancy will play a large role in when you feel ready. The general rule with gentle Pilates training is 4-6 weeks post birth, however a caesarean birth will push things back to at least 6-8 weeks post baby.”
Do you have any exercises you really like for first-steps postpartum recovery?
“Gentle activation of the core and the obliques are a great way to start to reconnect with the core, as well as aiding any evident diastasis. I also love to have women do postural work, lying on their stomachs and activating the posterior chain. It helps to correct any posture changes that occured during pregnancy, and aids neck, shoulder and back pain — it also feels amazing. Besides that, it's all about the glutes baby!”
Does ab separation affect the kind of exercises you can do, and are there exercises that can help minimise the gap?
“Yes and yes. While, in general, we avoid forward curling movements in our freshly postnatal clients at Peaches, those with separation need extra care, and so avoid these movements for longer. We like to focus on lots of side lying work that really harnesses the power of the obliques, as well as the transverse abdominis, to aid the rectus abdominis (your six pack muscle) in coming back together.
What advice do you give to women finding postpartum exercise hard?
“Firstly, be kind to yourself. Remember that your body is healing, and good things take time. Secondly, set attainable goals. There are going to be days when you've been up all night, or the baby is being a nightmare, or you have mastitis, and you just can't do a workout, and that's so OK! Then, start simple and small. Attending a mums ‘n’ bubs class means you'll get the therapy of chatting to other mums who are going through the exact same thing as you and a workout in a much more relaxed environment. Finally, as always, persistence pays off and consistency is key. Find an exercise regime that makes you feel energised and empowered, as well as held, and loved in your postnatal state. It will be so much easier to carve out that time for yourself if you actually enjoy it.”
What advice do you have for women looking for places to workout postpartum?
“Find somewhere with trained professionals, who know about the prenatal and postnatal body. This might not be the high impact gym classes you may have loved before pregnancy. I recommend finding a space that doubles as a community — something we do at Peaches very well, if I do say so myself! The postnatal journey is so much more than shedding baby kilos, or regaining your ability to do certain movements. It's about discovering a new side to yourself, and finding a respect and trust in your body that you may not have experienced before.”