I remember the moment when, at my 6-week postpartum check-up, my OB said I could resume exercising again. Part of me wanted to slap him; I was so sleep deprived and constantly covered in spit up that exercising was the last thought on my mind. However, being an avid exerciser beforehand, I knew that getting back into the routine would be healthy for my spirits and ultimately, for my energy level.
BUT I felt disconnected from my body, specifically my abs, low back, and pelvic floor. When your insides feel like jello, where do you start? Could I go back to the same exercises I was doing before I gave birth? Is my body ready? What was most important for me to focus on first?
Here’s what to focus on during those first few weeks after you have given birth.
The most important exercises in the first few weeks after birth are pelvic floor exercises. The pelvic floor muscles are those in your deep core, low back, and pubic region that get most impact throughout pregnancy and birth. Start doing them as soon as you can. Strengthening your pelvic floor will also help to protect you against having accidental urine leaks! Pelvic floor exercises will also help your perineum and vagina to heal more quickly. That's because the exercises improve circulation to the area, helping to reduce swelling and bruising. If you have stitches, exercising your pelvic floor won't put any strain on them.
Pelvic exercise prescription: Try to perform 5 lifts (or Kegels) while you are feeding the baby…every time you are feeding the baby. Make sure you are dropping your pelvic floor completely between each lift. Dropping means completely relaxing your inner core.
You may find that you can't feel your pelvic floor muscles working or that nothing is happening. Keep working as the feeling in your pelvic floor will return; in fact this will expedite their return.
In addition to the Kegel exercise, try to connect to your lower abs (below the belly button). This is your transverse abs (TA), part of your core. Reconnecting to this area will protect your low back and help shrink your mummy tummy. The connective tissue for your lower abs are connected to the pelvic floor muscles. Try to feel this connection as your perform this work. To find your TA, put your hands to the sides of your belly button. Inhale fully and on the exhale, loudly say “shhhh.” Feel for a tightening beneath your fingertips; these are your transverse abs.
Pelvic exercise prescription: Feel your transverse abs being activated every time you do a Kegel. If you feel intense pain when you perform a Kegel, get up from sit to stand, or when moving around in bed, talk with your doctor. While we want to increase circulation of the pelvic floor, even in the very early days, be kind to yourself. Check with your doctor to ensure the sensation you feel is normal.
Also, try walking with your baby as soon as you feel ready. Pay attention to your body mechanics if you are pushing a stroller or using a baby carrier. You don't have to bend forward too far with hunched shoulders when pushing a stroller or push your body against your baby in a carrier; let you baby conform to your body instead of vice versa. In the first few days/weeks, your perineum or pelvic floor may feel uncomfortable, swollen or very heavy. Start with short walks of about 10 minutes, building to 20 minutes. Try to make a walk with your baby part of your daily routine, so that you're more likely to do it.
Red Flags: When Should I stop Exercising?
- Pain (check with your doc if you aren’t sure if the sensation you’re feeling is normal)
- Peeing your Pants…your babies do it; you shouldn’t have to! Urinating with exercise is a clear indicator that your core support system is not balanced. The pressure of exercise is exceeding the ability of your pelvic floor to keep you dry.
Try to find a core stability basics program, which is the foundation of deep strength for your abs. A program that features high intensity, high impact activities may be fine for you in a few weeks but immediately post-partum respect the new body you have – take the time to understand the changes that have occurred, get re-connected to your abs first. A pelvic floor therapist can also help you find and build this connection!
Photography by Justin Borucki.