Our culture is currently obsessed with "bouncing back" and the need to "reclaim" a certain body type immediately post-birth.
As the CEO and Founder of The Bloom Method, a globally recognized pre and postnatal fitness method, and an expert contributor to The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey, one of my missions is to help inspire a new kind of attitude around the concept of 'mom bods'. To reclaim our new bodies in ways that spark a level of strength that's both mind and body-related.
I understand why many women want to jump back into that pre-baby exercise routine, but as a specialist in this field, I see again and again that true healing and recovery is a process. Mama, it takes time. The more willing you are to take the time to rehab your core and pelvic floor, the stronger you will be well into your motherhood journey.
Two questions I often encounter are, "What should be the first exercise women do postpartum?" and "When can I start exercising again?" The answers are the same and yet are surprisingly simple:
That's it. It's that easy.
Okay, fine—not really, but the point is that many women expect the answer will be some fancy exercise move that gets them sweaty and addresses concerns around about the postpartum core. But it's not.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the first and best postpartum technique that women should do immediately after birth. Correct breathing lays the foundation for healing and restrengthening your inner core. With breath, you begin the healing process postpartum by simultaneously rehabbing both the deep core and the pelvic floor. Being able to "just breathe" in the early days postpartum also allows you to truly honor your body and your current experiences.
Pregnancy and birth have the ability to show us what real strength is, and how we treat our bodies in the days following this incredible journey sets the stage for our level of self-love for years to come. I want to help women feel capable and strong in their bodies while honoring what their bodies have accomplished. The need to "get our bodies back" has to shift to a mindset of "embracing the newfound strength that is a gift from pregnancy and birth."
So whether you are trying to heal diastasis recti or want to rehab your core in a smart and efficient way, the process starts with the breath. You can do this if you had a vaginal birth or Cesarean birth. And the best part is that tapping into your breath can begin immediately post-birth—just get the green light from your provider, and you are on your way.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
The diaphragm is the muscle below your lungs. To learn how to do diaphragmatic breathing, try this:
- Sit comfortably, and place one hand on your chest and one on your belly.
- Envision the diaphragm muscle moving up and down as you breathe.
- When you inhale, allow your belly to expand as your lungs fill with air, and your diaphragm moves down to accommodate your full lungs.
- When you exhale, feel your belly contract as your diaphragm moves upward.
You want to use diaphragmatic breathing as your main means of inhalation and exhalation. Not sure exactly what we mean by that? You can see in the illustration below that there is movement happening both internally as well as externally. Pregnant bellies do a beautiful job of visually displaying this action, so this can be a very helpful visual even for our non-pregnant mamas.
When we properly breathe via our diaphragm, we incorporate our entire inner core unit, which includes our transverse abdominal muscle (our corset shaped muscle) and the pelvic floor. This approach to core rehab truly sets the stage for rebuilding and restrengthening in the most supportive of ways. It addresses both the deep layer of abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor together, and it allows new moms to build the core foundation they need for daily movements and their favorite workouts.
What are the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing?
Aside from providing functional core strength, some of the other benefits that diaphragmatic breathing can offer are:
- Maintaining a more relaxed state by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system. (Think de-stressing breaths with each inhale and exhale.) This technique alone can provide incredible support.
- Providing a level of holistic healing and restoration to your inner core unit, as this form of breath can help drastically in assisting with the re-aligning of your organs back into their natural positions.
- Aiding in the overall healing of the core and pelvic floor can help to reverse common pregnancy-related injuries such as diastasis recti, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
- Allowing mom and baby to connect in an extremely calming environment. (Think of the connection to your breath as a form of meditation.) Mom and baby are so deeply inner-connected in the days following birth that this help can foster a deeper connection as these two (or more) settle into life together.
Diaphragmatic breathing should be part of your daily life. However, if you happen to be like most adult women where breathing in your chest has become your new normal, repatterning your breath to be more consistent in your diaphragm is a simple shift that happens with a little extra awareness.
Am I doing diaphragmatic breathing correctly?
When first tapping into this breathing technique and feeling into the natural movement that takes place, there is a high probability that the sensations you're looking for will feel off or that you'll spend some time overthinking what you're hoping to accomplish. The beauty of this diaphragmatic breath is that your body knows exactly how to breathe this way. In fact, your inner core system was designed to move harmoniously with each inhale and exhale of a diaphragmatic breath. It often just takes a little time to remind the body how to get back in-sync with the breath and movement.
Once you're breathing via your diaphragm, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it feel as though your breath and inner unit are in fluid motion with one another?
- Does the pelvic floor move with the transverse abdominal muscles and the diaphragm during each breath?
- Does all of this bring about a calming and natural sensation versus a stressed and more forced action?
Diaphragmatic breathing sets the foundation for true core function, healing and strength. Think of this simple form of breath as the building blocks to a strong core. This is why it is the first, and perhaps most important, exercise a mother can do after having a baby.
Once your breath is re-wired or turned on, you can progress your core awakening through deep core-based activations, functional movements and smart core-based exercises. You'll feel supported, empowered and strong in as little as a couple of weeks postpartum.
So, remember to "just breathe" in the days or weeks following your birth. Enjoy the early days of motherhood, release the pressure of getting back into those pre-baby skinny jeans, and trust that something as simple as the breath can bring about foundational results that will keep you strong and moving optimally for life.