Getting back into kayaking can be daunting after any period of time out, but even more so after such a massive event as giving birth to a baby. As you will know, your body goes through huge changes and it takes a great deal out of you! Hopefully my experiences will help make the transition back to kayaking easier for you. I would love to hear from you though if you have also had a baby and have any additional tips or even questions! Give me a shout on facebook or on the river!
Having a baby is really quite hard work, and then you have to settle into a whole new person being part of your life. As much as I was itching to get back into exercising and boating it is well worth taking the time to just recover and settle into your new routine (or lack of it depending on your parenting philosophy)!! It is probably a good idea to follow the current medical advice and make sure you take at least 6 weeks to chill out before you even think about doing anything else!
I think that this applies to many aspects of being a new mum – such as being on top of the endless list of chores which come with the territory – try to be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t out there doing things as quick as you thought you would beforehand!
There is a reason why women in France are all prescribed twenty sessions of physiotherapy after they give birth (see here: theguardian.com/french-mothers-bladder-incontinence-nadia-sawalha). Although much focus is on the pelvic floor (which by the way is an extremely important muscle for kayaking, even though you probably wouldn’t think of it as one!), something that I hadn’t realised before having a baby is that your abdominal muscles also separate during pregnancy. The NHS six week check-up does not usually include checking whether your stomach muscles have grown back together again. Actually, many women’s abdominal muscles take much longer than six weeks to knit back together (the average is around six to twelve weeks).
If you can afford it, I would recommend doing some specialist physiotherapy to help the process and also to make sure that you don’t start kayaking before your stomach muscles are ready for it. If you did start too early, you could do yourself permanent damage. It is certainly better to be patient now than do give yourself a long-term injury!! Also, my physio tells me it makes your stomach flatter.
Maybe this does not apply to everyone, but I lost a lot of fitness during the final months of my pregnancy. I found that it was very helpful to do some low impact workouts to bring my general fitness up before trying to get back into boating. Swimming is particularly good – or (as is mostly the case) if you can't leave the house, how about a fifteen or twenty minute Joe Wickes low impact workout when the little one is napping? Just search on YouTube, there is loads out there.
Once you are physically ready to go kayaking, make sure you pick something quite a lot easier than your normal difficulty level. It isn’t just about mental state, for me all the months out of a kayak meant that my kayaking-specific muscles were pretty rusty. Even something really easy meant I was sore for days!
I will be the first to admit I was pretty nervous boating for the first time. Will I remember how to do it? Will my roll still work? Make sure that when you go back to it, you are in the most comfortable situation you can be – go somewhere familiar. Take your own boat and kit or make sure you use the club boat that you normally use, etc. Make sure all your favourite people are there to support you. Some might find it helpful to build up confidence by starting back via a coached course. Anything you can think of to make sure you are squarely in your comfort zone will help you get back into the sport happy and enthusiastic for more!
Finding a good babysitter is essential! Your partner can be very supportive in making sure he/she is close by with the baby if you need to breastfeed or are anxious about being away from the baby for too long. The artificial courses (Lee Valley, HPP, Trweryn) can be great for this because they have an on-site café that your other half/mum or whoever you have roped in can be looking after the little one but still be close by.
Fun is the most important thing, don’t forget that, and please say hi to me on the river so we can swap stories :-)