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Dr Joanna Helcke (Interview & Review)

Dr Joanna Helcke very kindly gave me access to her fitness programme after the baby was born, the exercises are ideal for postnatal women and the programme has been carefully designed for this purpose. Joanna took some time to answer some questions for me, I will share them below.

  1. WHY IS THE PROGRAMME SO GOOD FOR POSTNATAL WOMEN? The online postnatal programme has been developed specifically to target the postnatal tummy and help strengthen the abdominal area in a manner which is safe for the postnatal body. You may well have heard of a condition called diastasis recti, where the outer abdominals separate and stretch outwards along the linea alba during pregnancy, leaving you with a very soft, weak patch above and below the belly button. This separation of the abdominals occurs to between 60 and 70% of mums-to-be. Postnatally it is important to get the abdominals to knit back together again so as to protect the back from the aches and pains which are so common in early motherhood. Essentially, the corset of muscle that wraps round the waist needs to be tightened up again and it is exactly this that my online postnatal Pilates programme progressively works towards, week by week.
  1. SOME OF THE EXERCISES IN THE VIDEOS WERE GOOD FOR DAY TO DAY USE (YOU KNOW, WHILE YOU’RE DOING OTHER STUFF LIKE WASHING UP), WHICH ONES ARE PARTICULARLY SUITED FOR THIS? Well there’s no doubt that pelvic floor exercises come under the heading of “must do exercise” for postnatal women.  Rebuilding pelvic floor strength constitutes the very foundations of your fitness – remember that your pelvic floor has the all-important job of keeping all your internal organs safely in position. So if there’s one exercise that can be done whilst changing a nappy, feeding or – if you ever get a moment’s peace – whilst lying on the sofa, it’s pelvic floor exercises. You can also start incorporating some gentle deep abdominal work into your daily life without taking a single moment out of your day. You mention washing up. Try this the next time you are working through a pile of dirty dishes: set your deep abdominals by gently drawing inwards and upwards on your pelvic floor muscles all whilst subtly feeling your deep abdominals working lightly. Now come up onto your tip toes and balance as your work your way through those mucky plates! Hold for a few seconds – remember to keep breathing – and then come back down onto your feet. Keep lifting up and down, all whilst using those deep abdominals to help you balance (rubber gloves and all!). And remember that both pelvic floor and deep abdominals can be worked whilst pushing a buggy around when you are out and about.
  1. I’VE REALLY STRUGGLED TO FIND THE TIME TO DO THE EXERCISES, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN TO DO SOME POST NATAL EXERCISE? I really do understand how you feel and sometimes being told that YOU MUST EXERCISE when everything already feels like one great long daily struggle to survive motherhood, is simply not helpful. On a personal note, exercise has been – and still is – my sanity saver, and it is so for many other mums too. Exercise releases those feel-good endorphins and can even help with postnatal depression. On the physical side of things, the right sort of exercise will help rebuild strength and protect the body from the very real strains of looking after young children. Motherhood in the early years is an incredibly physical job and it can take its toll on knees, backs and wrists – safe, tailored, postnatal exercise can genuinely help reduce and alleviate these niggles. Having said all of this, I believe above all else that it is truly important not to place added strains (no guilt trips please!) on oneself postnatally. If things are feeling tough and if the prospect of exercise feels like standing at the bottom of Everest looking up at an impossibly high summit, then now is not the time. Be kind to yourself because motherhood is one hell of a tough job and beating ourselves up because we haven’t done our daily quota of squats or haven’t created a three tier perfectly iced cake for little Johnny’s first birthday is just not helpful. So just say to yourself “I’m doing a great job and whatever exercise I manage to squeeze in is a lovely added bonus”!

I loved that while Joanna is supporting and encouraging, she does not make you feel bad if you’re struggling to fit exercise into your day. I hadn’t realised just how hard I’d find it with 5 boys to look after! The programme is online and with support which is great if going out to a class doesn’t appeal to you, it’s also easier to manage when you have a small baby.

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