Postpartum Exercise: The DOs and DON'Ts with Taryn Watson from FitRight Physio
Recently on Instagram LIVE we spoke to Taryn Watson from FitRight Physio about postpartum exercise, physical health, and the importance of Women’s Health Physiotherapists. If you missed it, we’ve put together the most important points below!
Taryn Watson is a Perth based Women’s Health Physiotherapist and the Founder of FitRight. She has been a physiotherapist for 12 years and early in her career became enamoured with the areas of women’s health, and pelvic floor health. Taryn worked on maternity wards both here and in London:
“I loved the fact that I could do physio but it was with a population of women who weren’t sick or injured, it was just a happy time of life and I could assist them through that.”
A self-described ‘pelvic floor guru’, Taryn has spent the last 12 years treating women with issues such as incontinence, prolapse, abdominal muscle separation, and joint and muscle pain in pregnancy. She is the founder of FitRight which offers physio led exercise classes for pregnant, postnatal and beyond.
“I’ve kind of niched down into the pre and postnatal area of exercise. I started FitRight about 5 years ago as I was running exercise classes for my clients but as a one-off. My classes were really full, with a waitlist, and other specialist physio led classes were few and far between. So I started training other physios, and created all of the backend admin so that they could come on board as a FitRight physio and I could provide them with the booking systems, ongoing education, and suggested class outlines. Then there was a lot more variety around Perth for really high-quality exercise classes.”
Many women don’t realize that there is a women’s health specialty in physiotherapy and how important seeking their health can be when they are in the pre and postnatal stage (postnatal being ANY time after baby!).
“We’ve divided the Online classes into pregnancy, new mums, and then ladies – which is a mixture of mums with toddlers, school-aged children, and then also women in their fifties and sixties. You don’t stop being postpartum as six months – once postnatal, always postnatal! The reason FitRight exists is to provide pelvic floor healthy options for exercise classes, I started the business to be for women in general, not just pre and postpartum.”
So why is it so important to exercise in those postpartum stages?
“There are probably two main drivers that get people to sign up for a postnatal exercise class. Wanting to get back to the ‘pre-baby body’ -which is a term I really dislike, but it often just means that women are wanting to lose some of the weight that they gained and feel strong again. But I also think that there’s that social-psychological aspect of feeling connected to other mums and having something that you attend each week with the same people. There are physical reasons and benefits, but also psychological reasons and benefits, and there is so much good evidence about exercise and mental health, in particular exercise in new mums and preventing and managing postpartum depression.”
“On the physical side, pelvic floor wise there are big benefits if you exercise in a certain way and don’t put excessive, repetitive pressure on that area, you can really make a big difference to your lifelong pelvic floor health with what you do in those early postpartum months. Losing any bodyweight you might have put on has also been shown to be one of the biggest ways to positively affect pelvic floor disorders like prolapse and incontinence.”
So what ARE some of the things we should be focusing on exercise in our postpartum stages? Taryn provided us with some guidance on the basic things that you can start with, even if you are also attending FitRight classes.
“Pre the six weeks mark, and then progressing after as well, stretching is really important, especially through the upper back and neck, the muscles around the hips, and the torso, especially if you’ve had a c-section, making sure that area isn’t stiff. Making sure you maintain good posture through daily activities too.”
“Ideally any pelvic floor work should be taught by a physio but starting those on a regular basis is important, and then incorporating them into lower tummy and core work.”Taryn recommends seeing a women’s health physio for guidance on this if you can, but FitRight does offer resources to help with this.
“Cardio is also really great to be doing on a daily basis, whether that be going for a walk with the pram or a little home workout to get your heart rate up, gradually working up from only a few minutes at a time immediately post-birth, to being able to achieve 30 -60 minutes a day would be wonderful. And then general strength exercises, especially leg work like squats or lunges.”
Taryn explained how these kinds of exercises can be beneficial in real-life settings, and why they can be so important in the postpartum period.
“When it comes to putting pressure on your pelvic floor in daily tasks, there is good evidence that shows that the straining that can happen, like when you’re picking something up off the floor, can be the biggest risk factor when it comes to causing a prolapse. Whereas if you had trained for that and had regularly lifted things in a controlled way, then when you do it in daily life it is not abnormal and a lot less likely to cause strain.”
When it comes to postpartum exercise, however, there are a lot of naysayers and a lot of confusion online when it comes to what you should and shouldn’t do when your body is in such a fragile period. We asked Taryn for her opinions on this, and what we SHOULDN’T be doing.
“There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to what you shouldn’t do. Yes, there are some higher load things that shouldn’t be your starting point, like sit-ups, planks, burpees, Russian twists. They’re not the enemy, but if you go back to a large gym class as your first postnatal exercise experience, you’re probably going to be given these exercises without knowing the appropriate regressions. This is something I am really passionate about when it comes to FitRight classes, sending women back to the exercises they love knowing the regressions if they need them, and knowing when they can safely progress.”
“In the first six weeks I wouldn’t recommend doing anything abs wise that wouldn’t be appropriate for pregnancy – like most of those mentioned above – and from then on you can slowly build up to those again. There are so many things you can do though to help to strengthen your body to get back into ab exercises, as well as running and sports like netball – and it's not just pelvic floor stuff!”
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the FitRight classes are still running, but have now gone online, something that Taryn wants to continue.
“We had to create and put these classes up in only about a week and a half, and I am lucky I have a really great team around me to do that. But we’re still doing 6-week courses, still doing physio led classes and pre-requisite pelvic floor assessment is highly recommended, and we’re still having that connection before and after class by turning everyone’s mics on so we can all have a chat. We’re trying to make it as close to the normal class setting as possible.”
“What we’ve realised quite quickly is this is something that is going to stay. FitRight online is not just a Covid-19 thing!”
Home classes are definitely highly favoured for many new mums, and the FitRight online courses have also seen participants from around Australia and the world logging on and enjoying the benefits that physio led, postpartum exercise can bring.
FitRight is now taking bookings for further courses so you can head to their website for more information.
The team at FitRight also host a private Facebook group where community members can discuss, ask questions, and have access to a vast library of exclusive workouts and education resources created by Taryn and the FitRight team. Currently the FitRight Mums -- Members Only group is only $1 per month (usually $19 per month) and you can find more info here: FitRight Physio Member's Only
You can also find FitRight on Instagram at @fitrightphysio