Great! So you’ve gotten that double thumbs up from your medical provider at your 6 week postpartum follow up appointment to start getting back to “normal life” again. They typically give you permission to resume normal daily and exercise activities “as you’re able.” YAY!!!
But then you find yourself asking…What does that exactly mean? How do I do that? Where should I start? How quickly can I progress myself?
Regardless of whether you delivered your baby vaginally or via C-section, your body and pelvis have been through A LOT the past 9 months. Pregnancy alone puts a lot of stress and strain on the body, and now your postpartum body is feeling significantly depleted and overwhelmed with trying to care for yourself and your newborn…not to mention any other household family members!
It is important to honor the postpartum healing and recovery process. Unfortunately, many women accidentally jump back into physical activity too quickly and end up injuring themselves or predisposing their bodies to chronic conditions such as urine leakage, abdominal separation, prolapse or even pain. We also see many new mamas on the opposite side of the spectrum, avoiding exercise altogether. Inactivity is often due to lack of guidance and understanding of what they should and shouldn’t be doing for exercise, but also can be impacted by fear, anxiety, lack of motivation, deconditioning, and feelings of overwhelm. Both of these scenarios of overactivity and underactivity are NOT ideal, and certainly do not allow the body to THRIVE.
Every woman’s postpartum healing journey is unique, but there are some foundational skills that all new mom’s should cross off the list BEFORE skyrocketing back into their normal routines.
The most important things to establish in your early weeks of postpartum is a connection to your diaphragmatic breath and core muscles. This means being able to connect and activate your deep core (and pelvic floor) muscles. Notice I didn’t say strength….ACTIVATION is different than strength. It is important to first turn these muscles back on before we can attempt building strength again.
No, not necessarily Kegal. We are focused less on strengthening in this phase, more on reconnecting, restoring function and healing. Did you know the pelvic floor is actually a part of your core? CAUTION! Many people do NOT actually kegal correctly, so make sure that you feel comfortable with the proper technique. When first beginning, practice in a still, comfortable position where you can focus on your technique. Start with positions of anti-gravity – laying down on back or belly, childs pose, or hands and knees Be sure to pair it with breath! For pictures of the Pelvic Floor, see our previous Blog Post on The REAL Core
Common everyday examples include standing up from a couch or chair, picking up your baby out of the crib, lifting your heavy grocery bags out of the car. Use your exhale breath to gently activate these muscles during the most exertional part of the movement. For example, if you are standing up from the couch, scoot to the end of the couch, INHALE lean forward (nose over toes), then EXHALE as you gently engage your deep core muscles and stand up. Use this technique every time you are lifting your baby.
Sprinkle your breath and activation techniques in throughout your day. Meaning, that you can practice on and off throughout your day and make it a PART of your day. Rather than having to set aside copious amounts of time to practice your “exercises.” Nobody has time for that!
Now, when you are first starting off with this you may need to set aside small amounts of quiet/private time for you to practice so you can concentrate on technique. This involves a lot of mind body connection when your body is not used to using these muscles. They have been turned off for quite some time!
Start with easier positions (on floor) and progress to more challenging positions (seated and standing). Examples of a progression:
Easy Positions: START HERE!
Advanced Positions: PAIR WITH MOVEMENT!
Make sure you can both relax AND contract these muscles. Often, we focus so much on activating and strengthening muscles, we forget that muscles need to be flexible and have moments of rest too. We don’t want our core muscles to be tight like a white knuckled fist all the time!
If you are struggling to know if you are doing these techniques properly, consult with a Women’s Health Physical Therapist. They are specialty trained to evaluate and help you progress your postpartum exercise and core strength on an individual level.