After welcoming your baby into the world it is important that you rest & recover, as much as possible.
So, the day arrived – your little ones’ birth day. Whether the date was early, on time or overdue, you likely headed to hospital, both nervous & excited adrenaline pumping, labour pains gaining pace.
A few (hopefully) hours later, you hold your new bundle of joy, having polished off the midwives’ customary reward of tea & toast – the last thing on your mind is exercising. It was my furthest thought too, but the following day I resolved to get moving.
Don’t worry, no need to pull out those trainers and workout clothes just yet – I am referring to ‘exercise’ in its’ easiest and most accessible forms.
Bear in mind that in the first week (or so) postpartum, your priority is, to tending & feeding your baby. It is also important that you rest & recover, as much as possible. I did nothing but this for the first 7-8 days. Finding yourself constantly under your baby (especially if exclusively breast-feeding), will make it very challenging for you to do much else.
While the general line of advice with relation to returning to ‘exercise’ is to wait until your 6 week check-up and / or your Doctors’ clearance, there is no need to wait that long to start these hugely beneficial exercises. In fact, the sooner you start the following simple exercises, the better. I mentioned in my last post, ‘of expanding your idea of what ‘exercise’ was’.
The short ‘exercise routine’ below, as simple as it seems to be, was just the right amount for me to manage in that first week or so. I concentrated on remembering to do them daily and on doing them well.
For the exercises, assume a lying position as shown, with arms by sides and tilt your pelvis toward the floor (effectively flattening your back). You may do this in your bed, or if you are comfortable enough, on the floor as pictured. If supine position is too uncomfortable, you can adopt a side-lying position.
1. Abdominal C (Diaphragmatic) Breathing Exercise, 1 sets of 10 breaths per day
During pregnancy, the growing uterus expands up into the ribcage, causing the ribcage to flare up and out, and the muscle underlying the ribs & lungs, the Diaphragm, to become pulled up and slightly restricted (remember that pregnancy-related breathlessness?).
Now, we need to retrain the Diaphragm to descend and the ribcage to relax. Deep breathing allows oxygenation of the muscles & organs (which is vital for healing), as well as offering the new mum some moments of centring, relaxation, stress control and/or anxiety management.
When we inhale, the Breathing Diaphragm* contracts & pulls downward (allowing the lungs to fill); when we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes upward.
- Inhale – feeling the lungs, ribs & belly expand naturally and visualise a downward swell of the Diaphragm;
- Exhale – feeling the lungs, ribs & belly deflate naturally and visualise an upward swell of the Diaphragm. Gradually increase the fullness of each breath, without it being forced.
* the Pelvic Floor Diaphragm, mirrors the action of the Breathing Diaphragm, lengthening & dropping when we inhale; contracting & elevating when we exhale.
2. Abdominal Compressions (or Transversus Abdominals activation), 5 sets per day.
- Remain in the lying position from A… Begin with a Diaphragmatic breath (inhaling)
- Exhale, drawing navel into your backbone and lengthening your spine. Hold this position for a count of 20-30 (still breathing!).
3. Pelvic Floor Exercises / Kegels, 3 – 5 sets of 10 reps daily
Kegels are probably the most commonly prescribed Pelvic Floor strengthening exercises. They are often instructed as ‘pulling the muscles up, holding, and lowering back to starting position’ and a way to find them is to stop the flow of urine midstream.
The cue of ‘pulling up’ will mainly activate the anal and vaginal sphincter muscles of the PF and vaginal wall muscles; The PF forms a kite-like shape from the pubic bone to tailbone to sitz-bones.
To correctly or more efficiently exercise the Pelvic Floor, perform the following:
- Form a mental image the Pubic Bone & Tailbone…. and Inhale…
- Exhale imagine actively drawing your tailbone and pubic bone toward each other. Focus strictly on a back-to-front or front-to-back line of contraction.
- Hold contraction for 5-10 seconds, relax, imagining the 2 points spreading apart
- Form a mental image of the R Sitz Bone & L. Sitz Bone and Inhale..
- Exhale, imagine actively drawing your sitz bones toward each other. Focus on feeling a line of side-to-side contraction.
- Hold contraction for 5- 10 seconds. Relax, imagining the 2 points spreading apart.
- Now form a mental image of all 4 bony points.. and Inhale
- Exhale, draw all 4 points together. Do not squeeze buttocks, inner thighs or abdominals. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds, relax. Perform this 10 times.
Retraining abdominals & pelvic floor this way, is about taking baby steps. You may well feel like you are doing nothing at all, as it takes a few days (patience) to start regaining some feeling, especially if you had a long pushing phase in labour, or assisted delivery (by episiotomy, forceps or vacuum).
Blood circulation to the areas of the perineum, genitals or C-section incision site is promoted by these simple exercises, encouraging healing. Women who had C-sections (whether planned or emergency), still need to rehabilitate their pelvic floor, as the growing uterus would have created added pressure to the area during pregnancy and labour, causing stretching or weakness.
This simple initial workout, will also initiate the re-alignment of the pelvic bones and the rehabilitation of Diastasis Recti, if present.
On Day 4 (after leaving the hospital), I took an outdoor gingerly-paced walk of 10 minutes. By the time my baby was 2 weeks old, I had built that up to 25-30 minutes (about 2.5km) each day, and had rediscovered the joy of the simple walking! – Walking to me is always a sprinted walk to get somewhere, and rarely a leisurely walk anywhere!
Walking should be your go-to exercise if you want to amp things up just a little bit more.
Walking, in these early days postpartum, will encourage circulation; help reduce lower extremity swelling and fluid retention; promote mobilisation and stability of the hips, pelvis & low back; retrain the deep core muscles of the abdominals; help elevate energy levels and lastly, will help manage your stress levels and mental health.
Things to Remember
- Be posture aware – Walk tall, chest up, eyes up. Feel length in your spine & torso, imagine yourself lifting up out of your waistline.
- Move from your hips not your arms – whether you have snuck out of the house solo, or are out with the stroller, use those butt muscles! Feel each buttock propel you forward & up slightly. Avoid your arms pulling you through your walk or pushing your stroller forward too much.
- Watch your pace – resist the temptation to hare off too quickly – it may cause the pelvic floor muscles to fatigue too soon, compromising their ability to support the pelvic organs and the structures of the pelvis, lower back and hips.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day, as well as eating well, especially as you begin to increase the distance (no matter how moderate).
Check in for my next post this week, which outlines the additional exercises to incorporate, to help
Restore your Core and Reconfigure your Figure