by Kate Landete
Having a baby and becoming parents is both wonderfully exciting and terrifying at the same time, characterised by some of the most extreme highs and lows you are likely to ever experience.
With as many as 1 in 5 expecting or new mums and 1 in 10 expecting or new dads in Australia experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression, there needs to be more positive, open and honest communication about the challenges that parents face and support, encouragement and information shared about ways to look after yourself; body, mind and spirit during pregnancy and post baby.
Countless studies and research show that regular exercise and improved physical fitness is a vital tool for enhancing mental and physical health for new mums. Yes, regular exercise is a great way to physically recover from pregnancy and birth, but there needs be a shift away from focusing on how new mums look and more importance placed on how new mums feel. Exercise is one of the quickest, most effective ways of improving mental health and is considered a form of medication that can be used to prevent, manage and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression; both of which can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks, let alone meet the additional demands of looking after a new baby.
Exercise literally affects the chemicals in your brain, like serotonin, that are linked to depression and increases in body temperature from exercise can influence the brain chemicals that help ease depression. Exercise also releases endorphins which as Elle Woods taught us “endorphins make people happy” (Legally Blonde in case you missed the joke).
Now I completely and whole heartedly agree that motivation to exercise can be hard to come by when you are exhausted in ways you did not think were possible, leaving you unable to function past the basics of caring past your baby. Add to this the high expectations and pressure that women put on themselves to be perfect mothers, bounce back after birth, lose weight and do it all with a smile on their face whilst fitting into their post baby jeans and it is no wonder we become a little emotionally fragile sometimes!
BUT – getting up and moving when you are not feeling your greatest, can be one of the best ways to help to lift your spirits, be more productive and give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction that despite not feeling your greatest, despite being overwhelmed with all the things you need to do for your baby, you were still able to do something positive and worthwhile for your own health too and bonus – the world did not end while you focused on yourself for a short while.
The benefits of exercise on mental and emotional health for new mums are endless and all centre around an overall improved sense of wellbeing that comes from:
- Better sleep (quality, I cannot promise quantity but they do grow up and sleep eventually so hang in there!)
- Reduced impact of stress
- Increased energy levels
- More focus, awareness and a clear head free of the mental fog that so often comes with exhaustion
- Increased engagement with outside world
- Improved mood
- Increased enjoyment of life
- Improved relationship with yourself and your baby
- Increased ability to cope with the demands of motherhood
- Socialising and sharing your difficulties with other mums who understand because they are in the same boat as you
As not all exercises are suitable for postpartum women, it is very important to seek professional advice early from your doctor or physiotherapist before you start an exercise program and then do your research to ensure you receive expert care from an exercise professional with qualifications, experience and knowledge regarding pre and postnatal health and fitness.
Of course exercise alone will not always be all that is required to help new mums, or dads for that matter, navigate the ups and downs of motherhood, if you or someone you know is struggling with parenthood, please take a look at the information, resources and support available through PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. They are a specialist not for profit organisation that have been raising awareness of perinatal anxiety and depression for over 30 years and operates Australia’s only National Helpline for women, men and families struggling with perinatal anxiety and depression.
Mum of two, Kate Landete and her husband Les are the directors of fitness studio, Landete Health on the Central Coast. Landete Health focuses on massage, fitness and nutrition and specialises in post natal fitness programs for new mums. Ph: 0421 854 274 email@example.com www.landetehealth.com.au