Post-baby fitness: a Q&A with Caroline Mackay

BEACHTEACH
Caroline Mackay of StrollerFit Saint John

Silas was almost 2.5 months old by the time I felt ready for more rigorous exercise than a walk around the neighbourhood. After a quick Google search, I found StrollerFit Saint John. The group met twice a week for a fun workout with babies in Rockwood Park.

I was eager to get back to my active self, and Caroline Mackay, a registered nurse and fitness buff who offers the classes, became my go-to source on postpartum exercise. Her classes got Silas and I out of the house and had me motivated to get moving again.

When you get pregnant, no one tells you about ab-separation or how your insides feel like they are falling out for the first few weeks. Or running with milk bags. Or peeing your pants. But exercise is important (and makes you feel good!). So where is the balance?

Here, Mackay, who has two children, aged 3 and seven months, offers a primer for moms looking to get fit while listening to their body – and enjoying their baby.

Watch for a second Q&A post tomorrow focused on post-natal running. 

What is the best way to ease into fitness after having a baby? 
Walking is the best way to start exercising again.  Your joints are still very loose and any lateral movement or heavy impact exercise can be painful and/or cause injury.  Six weeks is a good time to get back into exercise, provided your doctor has given you the thumbs-up to get moving again.  It may be longer after a C-section.  It is individual though and listening to your body is very important.  I use the phrase, “If you feel like your insides are falling out, it’s still too soon!” If you don’t know what this means, you are doing great. Things will come back together, but pushing yourself too hard too soon can delay healing.

What is ab separation and how can it impact getting fit after pregnancy? When can a new mom incorporate ab exercises in her routine? 
Abdominal separation aka Diastasis Recti is a natural separation of the rectus abdominal muscle that occurs with an expanding uterus. Some women will have these muscles return to their prepregnancy state within three months. Others will have a large separation for years and not know it. Repair can begin even after several years with proper exercises. A separation of three or more finger breadths (below the belly button) is a diastasis recti. You may notice “tenting” of the abdomen when sitting up or having the look of still carrying a baby even when you have lost excess weight.
Abdominal exercises should be done cautiously after birth so as to not make any separation worse.  Crunches should be avoided for this reason.

Instead, focus on the following:
1) Kegals, to be done day 1 after baby. “What?? I can’t even feel anything down there!”  It doesn’t matter, those muscles will gradually get stronger and help knit the lower and upper abdominal muscles together.
2) Posture. As soon as you feel like walking, do so with a long neck and straight spine with shoulders back and tummy muscles pulled in.
3) Core breathing. Place hands on belly and feel your lower belly expand on an inhale (so your goal is to inhale deeply into the lower abdomen). Inhale through your nose. Exhale and draw your belly button towards your spine or imagine a corset pulling the belly in. Exhale through pursed lips.
4) A few (4-6) weeks post-partum and if it feels okay without discomfort: total body exercises that use the core to stabilize other muscles. For example in table-top position, stretching opposite arm and opposite leg away from one another while pulling ab muscles in; bridge up on back (shoulders and head on floor); working up to a plank (on knees first, alternating straightening one leg then the other).

How important are kegel exercises? How often should a new mom do them?
Kegals, kegals, kegals. Your kegal muscles are essentially a sling that run from the front to the back of the pelvis, anus to vagina. Without proper tone, a woman can experience stress incontinence, loss of sensation during intercourse, pain in groin, and as stated above, it can contribute to a “mummy tummy.” It is a muscle so just like working other muscles in the body, exercises can be done every other day or every day, making sure to rest (read: *relax) the pelvic floor also.  I am learning more and more about many of us women who keep tension in their pelvic floor and the importance of relaxing.  A good stretch is getting into a low squat and concentrating on releasing kegal tension.

How does exercising impact your milk supply? What should breastfeeding mothers know about fitness?
Exercise can decrease your milk supply which is why it is especially important to pre-hydrate, drink throughout, and post workout. High intensity exersises causing the muscles to “burn” can lead to lactic acid in breastmilk. Your baby may or maynot notice a difference. If they do seem to object, waiting an hour should allow the lactic acid to flush out of the milk, with adequate hydration. If a mother has pain in the breast, this could be indicative of a blocked duct. If it’s painful, stop exercising. That being said, there is a noticeable difference running with milk jugs on your chest and having one good sports bra is a wise investment.  One mother told me she was going to make one out of chicken wire.
What are some good ways to stay fit with your baby through the winter?
Bundle up baby! Babies love being outside and until temps get really frosty, they will benefit from the fresh air. Having a workout area at home has been the best way for our family to stay active. Babies love watching mama’s arms and legs moving. They can be incorporated into the workout — using them as added weight in plie squats, overhead presses (adding in a tummy raspberry), placed under you in while doing push-ups and planks (adding in kisses and funny faces) and crawling around beside them/giving horsey rides is all good fun. I know moms who use a carrier/backpack for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with baby.
You are their role model and fitting fitness into the day should be done from early days.

Check out StrollerFit Saint John on Facebook.

Caroline Mackay is a long-time fitness junkie, group fitness instructor, YogaFit instructor and pre- and post-natal specialist. She has five years experience in the fitness industry, three of those teaching StrollerFit. She has also taught post-natal water fitness at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre, where she helped develop a prenatal fitness program. She is a registered nurse and is doula trained. She has two children, aged three years and seven months. Visit her blog Prison Food Mama
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April C

Writer, editor and mom in Saint John, NB.

3 thoughts on “Post-baby fitness: a Q&A with Caroline Mackay”

  1. Pingback: He’s 1 | Run on

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