Exercise, Mom Wellness

Postpartum Exercise and Movement: 5 Ways to Build a Solid Foundation Before Starting a High Impact Exercise Routine After Baby

I remember being in the thick of the fresh postpartum period, not being able to relieve my stress through cardio or exercise and focusing too much on how I didn’t like my body. I know from experience, it can be a miserable if you constantly focus on what you can’t do versus what you can do. I also remember awaiting that 6 week appointment to get cleared for activity so I could start “bouncing back”, as “they” say. What I didn’t realize at the time, is that getting right back into exercise full force could do more harm than good and can lead to even more serious issues. I just thought leaking urine, pelvic pain and back pain was just a part of mom life. Society creates norms through these commonalities. While these mom issues may be common, they are not normal, and you do not have to live in misery.

It was only after taking multiple certifications specific to perinatal exercise and yoga that I realized the lack of education for mothers in this topic. I remember searching the internet for pre and postnatal exercise information and came up very short when I was pregnant and after birth. What I didn’t know is that while I was sitting waiting to have an exercise plan, there were tangible and quite necessary things I could be doing within 24 hours of birth to help build a strong, healthy foundation before getting full force into a routine. Taking a gentle, loving approach to healing your postpartum body is not selfish it is essential to your health. The little things you do during that fresh postpartum time period will determine how your body feels and functions later. If you aren’t in those early days, it is never too late to heal and having a strong foundation is still very important.

Reasons to Practice Mindful Movement and Exercise After Baby?

  • Reduce Back Pain –
    • Research has estimated that about 50% of pregnant women will suffer from some kind of low back pain at some point during their pregnancies or during the postpartum period.
  • Reduce Risk of Injury
  • To prevent or treat any pelvic floor issues.
  • To improve sexual function, sexual pain, and sensuality.
  • Helps strengthen and tone abdominal muscles
  • Boosts energy
  • May help prevent postpartum depression
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Relieves stress
  • Can help in drawing back pelvic bones that shifted during pregnancy
  • Can assist in losing fat that can be gained during pregnancy (although shouldn’t be the focus in early postpartum time.)
  • To find our center of gravity
  • Improve blood flow circulation to promote healing and healthy reproductive, gastrointestinal, and urinary systems.

What you can focus on to set your body up for proper postpartum healing…

Whether you are 24 hours after birth or 2 years postpartum you can always come back to these foundational basics to improve how your body looks and feels.

Changing Perspective

Just as I discussed in my last blog, Nourishing Nutrition to Heal the Postpartum Body After Baby, it is important to focus on the way your body feels, rather than how it looks. Mindfully moving and exercising to reward your body, rather than punishing it by exercising. It took 9 months to create, carry, and birth your baby, allow time and grace to rebuild and heal your body. Goals I focus on with my clients are switching physical appearance goals to functional goals. Momming is tough on the body and just as we train for marathons and competitions, we should be training our bodies to handle Motherhood like a Champ. Mothers don’t have time to be ill or injured and the best way to prevent that is to have a manageable, appropriate plan.

Self Awareness and Posture

Self awareness is key to having a strong mind body connection. It is also what gives us signals for what’s going on with our bodies so we can stay ahead of any problem. Adding children into the mix, especially early on in postpartum, our self awareness can become distant due to the mental load that is now happening. This is a practice that needs to be consistently done to stay in tuned.

A quick and easy way to check in with yourself is a posture check. Are you continuously slumped over, feeding baby, sitting in an odd position? Are you tired, not feeling your best? If yes, your posture could be lacking. If you are constantly in a bad posture, it keeps you shallow breathing which keeps you in a stress mode. This enables anxiety and low mood. So just a quick alignment check can make all of the difference.

  • You can sit or stand.
  • If you are sitting, make sure both hips are seated evenly with both feet on the ground. If you are standing, grip the ground with feet, spread the weight evenly, with hips stacked over ankles.
  • Then, stand or sit tall, allowing your spine to elongate.
  • Head over your heart, heart over your pelvis.
  • Chest open.
  • Draw your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Focus on your breath.
  • Check in often with this alignment to keep optimal health.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing can be done anytime, anywhere to ease any emotion; trauma, anxiety, stress, grief, irritability, or just because…life. There really doesn’t need to be a reason because there are so many benefits to a regular breath work practice. There are also many different breathing techniques but diaphragmatic breathing is a great starting place. It has been studied that this type of breathing can have beneficial effects on physical and mental health, stress and negative emotions can be counteracted, and can enhance sustained attention.

Not only can diaphragmatic breathing lower stress responses the body produces but it can also improve pelvic floor musculature which should be a focus for a postpartum mother. The diaphragm and the pelvic floor are synergists, they work together with inhalation and exhalation. They are both hammock like muscles that do the same thing at the same time. So, with inhalation, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor both drop, creating space in both the lungs and the pelvis. With exhalation, these muscles lift with the vacuum effect that takes place in the body. These two important muscles work best when the body is properly aligned. So, this is where posture becomes important for the pelvic floor and lungs to work autonomously.

To learn how to take a Diaphragmatic Breath, go to one my older blog posts, Diaphragmatic Breathing: The Most Under Utilized Tool to Counteract Stress.

Proper Body Mechanics

A few rules to move by…

  • Always use your legs when lifting. Bend at the knees, not from the waist.
  • Squat down or kneel to pick up your baby and other items off the floor.
  • Hold objects close to the mid line of your body as you carry them.
  • While holding your baby (or other items) in your arms, avoid twisting from the waist. Turn your entire body instead.
  • When seated, be aware of posture, tuck chin, elongate spine, avoid hunching over and anchor both hips to seat.
  • Avoid carrying your baby on one hip. This creates poor posture.
  • Adjust your stroller and work areas, such as changing tables, to a height that allows you to stand up straight without leaning over. *Use a step stool to ease low back pressure.
  • When breastfeeding, bring your baby to the breast (not your breast to the baby). Use a pillow or arm rest so that you can sit upright in a relaxed posture without slouching.
  • Exhale and tighten your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles as you lift.
Left- Improper body alignment with holding baby. Right- Correct way of holding baby. Notice the tall spinal alignment.
Wrong way to hold baby carrier, notice the shoulder alignment.
Proper baby carrier holding

Pelvic Floor/Core Exercise

This can be started within 24 hours after birth. The pelvic floor muscles take the brunt during pregnancy which is why it should be the epicenter of proper physical healing. It takes a delicate approach to stabilize the pelvis after delivery. The pelvis and core needs to come back together after widening and that takes an intentional approach. The pelvic floor is a made up of many muscles and just like any other muscle it needs strengthened, stretched, and softened. It is vital to address, prevent and heal pelvic floor issues such as pelvic floor weakness, incontinence and pelvic floor prolapse before returning back to high impact running, jumping or lifting.

  • Kegels or Pelvic floor activation and release. This takes practice and the release is just as important as the contraction. The pelvic floor is comprised of both slow twitch (for endurance) and fast twitch muscles (for quick bursts) just like the rest of the body. They have different exercises for each
    • Slow twitch exercise: Starting with a 1:2 hold to release ratio working your way up to a 10 second hold/ 20 second release.
    • Fast twitch exercise- fast, pulsating contractions for up to 10 seconds with double the time in release and relaxation
    • Goal- repetitions of 15, 3 times a day
    • For video instructional guidance: Kegels Part 1 and Kegels Part 2.
  • Core Exercises
    • Mula bandha engagement– Engagement of the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis muscles. Can start this within the first 24 hours after birth.
    • Cut out ALL flexion exercises such as, front planks, crunches, push ups
    • Focus on lower abdominal/transverse abdominis exercises such as mula bandha engagement, pelvic clocks, cat cow yoga flow, table top posture with mula bandha, etc.
    • Make sure to get clearance on more intense core exercises but when cleared start with oblique exercises like side plank, side plank with hip dips, side plank with cross body row, russian twists, band walk outs, band pull in and out. *cutting out flexion exercises is key and will also help with any diastasis recti, if any.
  • First 3 months Postpartum- Focus on drawing in pelvic bones and muscles. Avoiding any lateral side leg stretching

Contraindications for High Impact Exercise Include…

  • Urinary or fecal incontinence prior to or during high impact exercise
  • Pressure/bulging/heaviness prior to or during running
  • Vaginal bleeding (unrelated to menstrual cycle) during or after physical activity
  • Musculoskeletal or pelvic pain before or during activity

Always consult your physician or a Women’s Health Physical Therapist if you have any of these issues.

Going straight into an exercise routine that you did prior to getting pregnant will increase your risk for injury and no Mom has time for that! Doing these 5 activities can greatly improve your physical body and create a stronger mind body connection, improving your mental state as well. Moms have a big job and training for it will give your mind and body the upper hand.

If you are interested in a custom postpartum healing and exercise plan contact me HERE.

For more detailed information about Postpartum Exercise and Movement, check out the Ultimate Postpartum Wellness Recovery Online Course.

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