What you need to know about postnatal exercise
Postnatal exercise can make magic happen or create a total disaster!
As you may already know, there’s a big gap in the fitness world making new Moms vulnerable when returning to exercise. Pelvic floor issues, ab separation and back pain are too often ignored. Core work and “Kegels” seem to be the answer to everything. Umm…
Let me be honest with you! Kegels on their own do nothing to address the real underlying issues like core instability, abdominal separation, and improper pelvic floor function. Plus, since crunches are now a well established “no-no exercises”, note that even commonly accepted safe activities like Pilates or yoga can be harmful when resuming an active lifestyle - if resumed before completing a comprehensive ab and pelvic floor re-strengthening program.
A harmful postnatal exercise journey…
I’m here to help you AVOID the same mistakes I made, and approach postpartum fitness with strategy and care to heal and recover properly. Your body needed 9 months to grow your baby, it will need some nurturing and affection to recover properly and re-build fitness and strength.
I wish everyone could read the postnatal exercise tips bellow while pregnant or right after childbirth. Of course I realize this won’t be the situation for all of you! If you have already past the immediate post-pregnancy period and had no idea about the “correct” things to do right at this time of your life, please don’t feel discouraged or guilty. I made so many mistakes after the birth of my first son, my own postnatal exercise plan was a disaster, but my education and recovery after this time should give you hope!
As a first time new Mom, I was really itching to “get my body back” and I jumped right back into front planks, crunches and high-intensity exercises as soon as I got the green light to exercise from my Doctor! I wanted to feel myself again - or simply wanted to feel more comfortable in my body. I had NO Idea that postnatal exercise was supposed to be approached differently and I did everything wrong. I didn’t ask any questions because I didn’t know there were questions that needed to be asked!… After all, wasn’t I just cleared to exercise by my all knowing Doctor?!
So at 6 weeks I thought that I could simply jump back into whatever activity I wanted! I had never heard a word about easing into a fitness or how to re-strengthen my core after having a baby… I wish I would have known about “intra abdominal pressure”, “diastasis recti” or “pelvic floor”, but my postnatal workout was led by “no pain - no gain” philosophy and crunch challenges!
My body was still healing after growing and birthing a little human and I definitely damaged my pelvic floor and ab mid-line after delivery. Peeing while sneezing or running became “normal” to me (Hello black leggings!) and I had no idea that the big gap on my ab mid-line was something to worry about!
BUT… I did heal properly after my 2nd baby and I even managed to recover from all the damage I unknowingly did after his big brother’s birth! I had learned that stress incontinence, mommy tummy and ab separation were NOT suppose to be part of the "motherhood package"... and I finally knew how to start my recovery and strengthening journey.
POSTNATAL EXERCISE TIPS
Let’s define 2 specific time periods with different action plans – I called them:
Immediate postpartum exercise plan (0 to 6 weeks)
Postnatal exercise plan… any time after 6 weeks!
Immediate postpartum exercise plan (0 to 6 weeks)
Have you ever taken the time look back and acknowledge what your body has just accomplished? It’s just amazing when you come to think about it! Your body has been able to change and adapt to extreme changes! Unfortunately, in our appearance oriented culture, a woman who just had a baby faces tremendous pressure to get her “body back”, or look brand new as soon as she returns home. I know, it’s challenging (especially when scrolling down social media), but try to ignore that and focus on how to recover properly. You are supposed to look like you just had a baby! Simply cherish this body, it will repay you and you’ll feel yourself again, sooner than you think!
Performing appropriate post-pregnancy exercises and having the right mindset will help you tremendously. Of course, one thing you want to avoid is rushing into a punishing fitness regimen to “bounce back”! Your body is different now but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing! The immediate postpartum period is a very sensitive period for new mothers – in so many ways.
A postpartum exercise plan should include several dimensions. Let’s see what you can start doing right now!
+ Sooth your pelvic floor!
Pregnancy and delivery don’t only modify the abs position, but also organs and other muscles. When you’re pregnant the growing baby forces the abs to make some room. Your 6-pack muscles need to stretch lengthwise, but also width wise (to an extent) to allow your baby to grow! Then, during delivery your abs work extremely hard to push this precious baby out, some also get split apart during a C-section. In short, your core really needs some love after these full 9 months of adaptation and hard work. So tune into your body and really listen to what it needs. Your cervix is still open and I recommend you lay down more than you stand during the day. If you feel pressure on your pelvic floor, elevating your pelvis can help: get on all fours, child pose, or lay down on your back with a little pillow under your butt. The goal is to unweight your pelvic floor.
+ Mind your posture
Good posture is a struggle for most new Moms, unfortunately, most them go back home with no posture or immediate postpartum belly exercises tips to recover properly and avoid long-term damage on the core. We teach Mothers techniques for the baby to latch properly, but what about the Mom’s posture while breastfeeding? The most common recommendation they get is to “wait” for the doctor’s green light to start exercising. “Wait” - what does that really mean? If you’re reading this there’s a good chance that you’ve been there, and you know that we are actually doing many things during these first exhausting weeks! The demands of today’s world means that there is no rest for new mothers. Plus, I remember perfectly the constant breastfeeding sessions, getting up from bed 3 times a night, taking the stroller out of the trunk and then putting the car seat on the stroller, without mentioning caring for any other children too… Regular daily life can be way more demanding than a postpartum workout plan should be, and lack of proper form can have long term impacts! So, lengthen up, keep your shoulders low, don’t let your belly drop or back arch. It’s very frustrating to see that many of us end up with severe diastasis recti that could have healed postpartum with the correct guidance. Walk, stand or sit tall Ladies, be proud of your new temporary shape!
+ Breathing in your daily life
Something as simple as breathing matters, tremendously! If your breathing pattern isn’t correct it can have a devastating impact on your ab mid-line and pelvic floor (not to mention stress level and digestion too). Observe your baby breathing when he’s asleep, you'll notice that the belly rises on the inhale and falls on the exhale. Is your technique the same? Lie down on your back with your knees bent, empty your mind and simply breathe in and out without thinking about what you’re doing. Rest your hands on your belly. You should notice that your hands go up when you breathe in... and down when you breathe out. Sounds simple right? You would be amazed by how many Moms forget how to breathe properly, especially right after childbirth. It would be ideal if simply practicing breathing in a quiet and peaceful environment could be part of your immediate postpartum exercise routine. On another level, meditation would be very beneficial too!
+ Practice gentle basic abdominal breathing exercises
When easing gently back into exercising we’re certainly Not talking about exercises like running, jumping jacks or crunches! Once baby is here, gentle postpartum belly exercises involving pelvic floor, diaphragm and the deepest layer of ab muscles are crucial, not only for esthetic reasons but also for healthful ones! If you didn’t receive tips on what an immediate postpartum exercise routine may look like, please ask questions, show pictures or videos to your doctor or mid-wife, and get their approval, and then you can start as soon as you feel like it. A postpartum workout routine should include basic abdominal breathing exercises. Make sure you perform them properly and always avoid pressure on your pelvic floor and ab mid-line.
+ Rest and accept help!
You’re already a super hero… you’ve created a life! The first few weeks are exhausting, so don’t feel guilty to sleep as much as you can, and accept any help offered by your husband, friends, neighbors and family. They can make your life easier by delivering food, helping with the house and other children. I know this can sound banal, but it’s key for your well-being, health and bonding with your newborn. The first few weeks are oh so challenging, but precious. Try to focus as much as possible on yourself and the baby.
+ Last but not least… mind what you eat
If postnatal exercise and posture are key, our body also requires nutritional replenishment to recover, reach your fitness goals and stay healthy. All calories aren’t created equal (ex: donut vs. avocado), so try to stay away from highly processed food and think “real” food. What was on a tree, in the ground or on a farm yesterday is always better!
Postnatal exercise plan
Yes! This time has finally arrived! You got the green light to resume exercising by your Doctor. There’s a good chance you have no clue about the correct way to return to an active life or get back in the gym! In addition to the previous tips, a proven comprehensive postnatal exercise program can be a life-saver at this stage of your life.
Remember to be kind to yourself - make some “Me-time” and self-love happen! All too often, Moms trick themselves into thinking that they have no time to take care of themselves… but self-care is an essential component of motherhood. It isn't selfish to make the time to exercise and give your body some attention – it’s not a luxury either.
A healthy happy Mom makes for a healthy family!
+ Be sure that your Doctor test you for diastasis recti and pelvic floor function
If he/she doesn’t, Ask! Abdominal muscles don’t always snap back into place after having a baby. Diastasis recti is still under-screened and under-treated, but it affects at least 60% of Mothers (and 66% of them also suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction). Give yourself the best chance to recover. You are more likely to heal entirely when you treat these issues early.
+ Stick to abdominal breathing exercises, but ramp up the difficulty
I hear you… you may want to hear about a “real” postnatal workout now… You may also think that you need something more dynamic than breathing exercises to recover, heal your DR, and flatten your tummy! Unfortunately, we often underestimate the importance and effectiveness of breathing exercises, and the fact they appear so passive doesn’t do justice to their stunning efficiency! Stay with me and you’ll realize the incredible impact that these postnatal exercises can have in your life. I’m not just talking about external changes, they will also lead to tremendous internal changes and well being improvements. You may become addicted to them. To give you an idea I have over 80 different abdominal breathing exercises – and I still practice them daily!
+ Re-train your body to do the things you love – start slowly and progressively
Your core and pelvic floor cannot cope with high intensity, weight lifting or traditional yoga classes right now – even if you think you can handle it, you may realized later that it was a very bad idea!
Let me give you an example: if you tore a knee ligament, you wouldn’t start running right after a surgery. It’s basically the same here: consider your return to exercise as if you had been injured! First you need to focus on your pelvic floor and ab strengthening to build strong foundations, then you can slowly make your way back to your favorite activities. If you love running, a great way to start is power walking. This is a much more gentle form of cardiovascular exercise for you to begin with after childbirth with far less gravity pulling on your joints and organs. Session after session you can increase the duration and intensity of your walks to get back on track progressively. Then once you feel comfortable, you can start a walk-run program by simply alternating intervals of power walking and running. Going progressively is key.
+ Don’t compare your body to other Moms
Some of you will “bounce back” quickly by losing the belly and all the extra weight in a blink! Others will need more time and effort… Every post-pregnancy is different! I understand that this period may be frustrating for some of you and you may even be tempted to skip the steps… Please don’t do that! You would just get further away from your fitness goals.
+ Tune into your body
Don’t ignore little discomforts, leaking urine, aches or pains. You should always feel better after your postnatal workout. Incontinence is common after pregnancy, but it’s not “normal”! Take it seriously and address the issue. Always remember that a single drop is a drop too much, so be sure you don’t suffer from stress incontinence, and if you do, take a few steps back. Keep focusing on your daily posture, abdominal muscles and pelvic floor re-strengthening before ramping up the intensity!
+ Continue minding your posture
Isolated postnatal exercises have a limited effect IF the Mothers don't adjust their alignment in their everyday activities. We too often rush to sooth a crying baby and pick him up with an awful form! Well… it takes no more than 2 seconds to bend properly and save your abs, hips and back for the many years to come. Proper daily posture combined with a proven postnatal workout plan go a long way towards your goal.
Once you become a Mother your pelvic floor and abs have been stretched and will stay fragile areas… forever! I know how frustrating this sounds, but these changes may be for the best: what an ideal opportunity to re-set and re-tune into your body to build a strong core foundation for a pain-free, durable, attractive and well-functioning body!