Recovering your body after birth is extremely important on many levels. Unfortunately, many common issues tend to go unnoticed and may come back to haunt you only later in life. Caring for a newborn and prioritizing their needs can often result in the woman putting off and neglecting the recovery of her body which may lead to unnecessary prolonged period of discomfort and pain. Getting pregnant again before your body has recovered may compound the issues and make it more difficult to recover in the future.
Pregnancy and child birth affect your body in many ways. During the pregnancy your body changes gradually to prepare for and adapt to the growing baby and as it grows and changes so does it have to adapt to the pull of gravity. Common postural changes would be: an excessive curve in the lower back (concave) and the upper back (convex), forward dropped shoulders and forward tilted head as well as locked and possibly hyper extended knees. These physical and postural changes will undoubtedly lead to many muscle imbalances with some muscles ending up stretched out and weakened and others tight and stiff.
Typical pregnancy issues may lead to separation of the abdominal muscles through the midline, weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, instability and pain at the front and/or back of the pelvis and a number of other issues that affect daily life and activities. Clearly, strengthening and rebalancing the body is key for full recovery and return to an optimally functioning body.
Here are a few tips to follow in the immediate period after the birth and when you have been cleared to return to ‘normal’ exercise:
Most women have a degree of abdominal separation following pregnancy and birth. A separation will often exacerbate problems such as lower back pain, pelvic instability and pelvic floor dysfunction. It’s a good idea to know the extent of the separation by self checking and to do the appropriate exercises to encourage healing and strengthening. Please follow this link to check your separation-abdominal separation in pregnancy.
- If you had a C-section it would be a good idea to gently stretch and mobilize the area as soon as you can to avoid formation of scar tissue that may limit your movement in the future and inhibit the engagement of your abdominals. Place a warm towel (or bean bag) over the scar and gently reach your arms up and away from your centre so that the tissues of your abdomen stretch. Reach as far as you feel comfortable and see if you can reach further every day.
- You can start strengthening your pelvic floor muscles immediately after giving birth as long as it feels comfortable. Do 5 pelvic floor contractions every time you feed your baby and 5 more every time you change their nappy. Attach pelvic floor contractions to other activities you do regularly so that you do them little but often.
- Pay attention to how you sit and stand and even how you lie down to sleep. Try to assume balanced positions and notice if you habitually tend to twist or bend in a particular way. Try to sit on your sit bones and not on your tail; to make sure your lower back isn’t excessively hollow and when you think “upright”… do not stick your chest out… simply sit straight without over doing it.
- As soon as you are cleared to exercise by your health care provider, start making the necessary arrangements to clear small chunks of time to exercise. Exercising 10 or 20 minutes 3 times a week would make a huge difference! You will feel better, have more energy and feel motivated to do more. Don’t wait until you have a whole hour to exercise… this may take a while and will discourage you.
- Also after your 6 week check up, as long as its pain free, it’s perfectly safe to get down on all fours (hands and knees) and take some deep breaths into your tummy. As you inhale allow your tummy to drop down away from your spine (yes… drop down…) and as you exhale pull your tummy back in towards your spine, feeling your waist getting narrow and long (if you visualize it then it will happen :)). Follow that by some ‘Cats’- rounding your spine as much as you can as if you try to see your tail between your legs and then releasing the spine back to normal. It will mobilize your spine and make you feel better. You can also try to “find your tail” by looking to the right and “wagging your tail” to the right and then the same to the left. This will mobilize your spine from side to side.
Post natal programs should be specific to your needs and should take into account the fact you may be breastfeeding. Your exercise program should focus on core strength, pelvic stability, lower back stretches, posture and upper body mobilization and strength. It will take months for your body to recover but the right kind of exercise can do wonders!
Take every opportunity you have to sneak in some movement into your daily routine. Simple things like getting off the bus a station or two before your destination, being active with your child in the playground and doing some small squats or gentle stretches while on a walk in the park will all add up and make you stronger and feeling better.
Your body knows how to recover and get better, but it does need your help… and it asks for some ‘me’ time in the midst of all the rushing and running and caring for others. Spending a bit of time to make YOU better will benefit you, your newborn and your whole family! Happy exercising