Using babies as weights while exercising
The concept of strapping baby to mum’s chest while exercising has been around for a few years and appears to be growing in popularity. However, the trend is not without potential problems.
The first and main consideration is the strength of the mother’s pelvic floor muscles. Remember, Pelvic Floor First principles advise performing pelvic floor safe exercises initially without weights, until the woman’s pelvic floor strength increases. Adding baby as a weight is similar to adding weights before a postnatal mum is ready.
For any mum who has pelvic floor weakness, low endurance or a degree of laxity, loading the pelvic floor during standing exercises while continually holding a baby may increase the likelihood of pelvic floor problems or a pelvic organ prolapse. Holding a baby can also make it harder to concentrate on the exercise and maintain good form. This can contribute to fatigue and poor technique, which can further load the recovering pelvic floor.
Having said that, mums returning to exercise often understandably want to keep their babies close and enjoy bonding time while they keep active. And some mums might not have babysitting options to enable them to take an exercise class without their bub.
For these reasons, it’s important to provide exercise options that satisfy the physical and emotional needs of both mother and baby. Babies can be made welcome in a pram, on the floor or a mat, or in a rocker, so that mum can join in the program or class without needing to hold her baby throughout.
If a baby is unsettled, providing a mother with ways to continue to exercise with her child can be helpful, such as sitting on a ball while holding the baby. Allowing some extended mat-based exercises is also a good way to allow time for cuddles without overloading the pelvic floor.
For some mums, coming to a class or group training session gives them time for themselves while knowing that their baby is safely nearby. Some mums may not want the continual contact with their baby during a program, so when formatting your plans, consider variations of exercises that include baby and that can be done with baby nearby. If babies are asleep, providing an option for doing a mum and baby exercise without bub is also important.
Structuring your class with Pelvic Floor First principles and these considerations in mind should enable a satisfying and safe workout for all concerned.
Practical tips for postnatal exercise classes from fitness professional Michelle Scott
I often have mums in my postnatal exercise classes who want to hold their baby while they exercise. They say their baby is only small and they enjoy the close contact, however I respond to them in this way:
- Ensuring good pelvic floor strength long term is important, and it’s better for their pelvic floor to exercise with their baby in the pram.
- I emphasise the 1 in 3 women statistics – this fact highlights to mums the importance of pelvic floor care.
- I also use about 10 minutes on the mat when they can have their baby with them. Most often the babies are asleep from being pushed in the pram, which is good because then the mums can concentrate more on their pelvic floor and their form.
- There is time after exercise for cuddles, unless their baby is unsettled and needs to be held. As an instructor, I can also hold a baby so mum can concentrate on her exercises if the baby is crying.
Written by Physiotherapist and Pelvic Floor First ambassador Dianne Edmonds