I can’t talk enough about how important it is for you to REALLY think about you and your little one, when it comes to those first tentative steps back into fitness postnatally.
Whether you’re 6 weeks pp or 6 years, the length of time doesn’t matter.
If you haven’t addressed the issues you may now be facing, back ache, weak core, stomach separation, incontinence, prolapse to name a few, then it’s essential you start your road to recovery safely, suitably and in the hands of someone who really knows how to aid recovery in the early postnatal period.
Wall press ups are a great modification for the early postnatal period to gently start to rebuild strength in all areas.
With more and more fitness options becoming available (we don’t even have to leave our homes now!) it means there is so much more choice out there for us, however, it also means there is more to navigate when you try to decide which option to go for.
Mum and baby fitness classes are also now becoming prevalent in so many areas of the UK, which is AMAZING to see, but again, please do your research before putting you, and your baby’s, safety into the hands of someone else.
So what should you look for?
🔸 Relevant Qualifications
You don’t have to be a Personal Trainer to run group fitness classes, but you do need to hold a minimum Level 2 fitness qualification.
You also don’t need to be specifically trained in pre/postnatal fitness to run classes for Mums, however I would encourage anyone teaching to have that minimum qualification to ensure you understand the pre and postnatal body in the detail needed to safely look after your Mums!
Certain insurances may ask that the instructor have this particular qualification and also will have a set guideline or the number of Mums and children in each class.
Be mindful of any classes that seem overcrowded and relatively cut price, it may seem like a bargain at the time but…
A genuine business should always choose quality over quantity and prices should reflect the level of service and expertise offered.
A great instructor will always keep up to date with new training, techniques and research and invest in their own professional development.
🔸 Modified Exercises and 1:1 Guidance
Classes should NOT be ‘one size fits all’.
The instructor should show you different variations of exercises to suit your ability and postnatal recovery. There should also always be a low impact option available and that you’re made aware of and no pressure to ‘keep up’ with the rest of the group from your instructor.
The old saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is completely outdated, and quite frankly, more harmful than good.
In fact, if ANY form of exercise is causing you pain, please stop IMMEDIATELY and make the instructor aware.
During the class, does the instructor help guide you through the exercises - are they offering advice on posture, technique and form?
Are they spotting people who need an extra hand with completing exercises and demonstrating things properly?
A crucial part of postnatal rehabilitation is learning to breathe correctly again after the faulty breath work we are likely to face during pregnancy as a result of the many internal changes our body goes through.
Diaphragmatic breathing, suitable TVA (deep core) exercises, rebuilding strength particularly in lower body, back and core along with gentle stretching should be a main focus for any postnatal fitness class, especially if you are under 6 months pp.
🔸 Health Forms
Is the instructor aware of your medical history? Do they know if you’re suffering with a mild prolapse? Have they asked about your pregnancy, birth and recovery?
Do they know how many weeks postpartum you are - and are they aware of the official guidance around this?
I would always make sure the instructor is showing an interest in your individual recovery to be able to tailor exercises to your medical and health needs.
A good instructor will ask for an in-depth health form before your first session to assess your suitability for the class - it might be that the class isn’t actually right for you at this moment.
Have confidence in an instructor that turns you away for good reason - it shows they are putting your recovery above their financial gains.
If you haven’t been asked about medical history, don’t be afraid to ask the instructor some questions or tell them anything that might be concerning you.
A good instructor doesn’t have to know everything, but they should have an awareness of the more common postnatal issues. More importantly, they should be aware of how to cater their particular class to you.
If their knowledge seems vague or you don’t feel confident that they truly know how to correctly integrate you into their style of class, it may be worth getting a second opinion or going elsewhere - better to be safe than sorry!
Something as simple as how much sleep you’re getting and what your diet looks like, or if you’re breast-feeding, will also have an impact on your capabilities and progress.
An instructor that cares about the WHOLE picture is one you know will look after you, and your baby.
🔸 Safety first!
It’s wonderful to be able to bring your baby along to a fitness class with you… but there are serious safety considerations that need to be addressed first.
Has the instructor thought about both the participants and the children’s safety needs?
Have potential accident or near-miss situations been addressed?
Is the room set up safely to keep workout area and baby area as separate from each other as possible?
Are the exercises safe to complete around children and equipment clean, suitable and free from damage?
For example, where heavy equipment is being used, especially if being thrown or swung (kettlebells or slam balls), it should be well out of the way of little ones.
Also, if heavy equipment is being used… is this suitable for you and is there a lighter alternative?
I would definitely recommend either no weights or a light resistance band for new Mums first starting out - that option should be given as standard at the start of any class.
Don’t forget that all instructors should also be fully insured and hold risk assessments - and be prepared to show you these should you choose to ask about them!
🔸 Are babies part of the workout?
Personally, I’d stay away from attending classes that use babies/ children as ‘weights’ and/ or part of the workout, for so many reasons.
There are classes out there that do offer this option and I can understand from a comfort and bonding point of view how it seems like a great option, but please ensure the below considerations are in place, if you choose a class like this.
Firstly, babies under the age of 6 months shouldn’t really be held whilst completing exercises of any kind, simply because their necks are not strong enough (or designed!!) to be moved around in a jerky manner.
This ALSO goes for buggy/ pram fitness classes where baby is in the pram (regardless of make or model or if it’s an actual running buggy!) because of the unsteady movement of the pram when running with it.
Of course, if you want to hold your unsettled baby whilst squatting, this is your own choice - but shouldn’t be encouraged or ‘part’ of the workout!
There is also more risk of you falling or losing your footing with a baby in your arms (a squirming baby is much harder to hold than a light dumbbell!) and therefore accidents occurring that might hurt you and your little one.
Try to ensure there is a safe space to leave your little one whilst you workout - or better still, an instructor willing to give an unsettled baby a cuddle - it’s the best perk of the job!
So, dangerous for baby - and also for you if you fall… but don’t forget your postnatal body as well!
If you’re suffering from a weakened pelvic floor, then adding a baby (extra weight) to exercises that are already asking a lot of your pelvic floor and core might be a step too far.
Another, and crucial consideration, is a class that suggests using your baby as a weight may not have reflected on the enormous differences from one baby to the next in terms of size, weight and development… and again, how that directly impacts the safety and suitability of exercises for you both.
*The 4th trimester is a special time for Mum and baby but remember baby is constantly changing… every baby is different and medical and developmental needs will affect them individually.
Any form of stimulation or activity involving them (particularly if it involves swinging or raising them in the air!) should be led by a qualified baby practitioner - which most fitness instructors are not!
Babies with additional needs such as those with a congenital heart defect, those born prematurely or those with respiratory issues would also need medical consent to take part in a class using them in this way to ensure it’s suitable for them - is this something the instructor is aware of?
🔸 Trust your gut and do your research!
Lastly, always trust your first impressions or general ‘feel’ (your gut instinct!) for a fitness professional, a particular class or brand/ company.
If something doesn’t feel quite right, do your research!
What do others say about it?
Is there a website or reviews you can read to make you feel more comfortable in your choice?
Can you ask the instructor for a chat to settle your fears - are they happy to talk over anxieties/ worries or concerns with you and put your mind at ease.
Our gut instinct is there for a reason, always trust it.
Word of mouth, trustworthy reviews, professional and personal recommendations, suitable accreditations and a general good reputation and genuine passion for what they are specifically offering, is a great way to easily spot a suitable and safe class to join.
Choosing your Mum and Baby Fitness class shouldn’t feel overwhelming but it should be a considered and informed choice, like anything else in life!
I wish you every success in your postnatal recovery journey, just remember to take it gently, listen to your body and never compare yourself to anyone else!
*With kind thanks to Claire-Louise Duddridge, Perinatal and Infant Well-being Practitioner at Little Pips®️for her input into this article regarding the safety of using babies within a fitness setting.