By Ali Handley
You did it! You ran that race like a champ and you have your beautiful baby in your arms. Now it’s time to focus on your recovery – and this can start right away. Yes – the very day you get home from hospital, even just 10 minutes a day will greatly accelerate your healing and return to strength and fitness. But no matter when you begin your postnatal recovery, make sure you take your time and be patient. I didn’t rush my recovery – please don’t feel like you should rush yours!
Ok so wow your poor pelvic floor! No matter how you gave birth your pelvic floor muscles deserve some TLC. Don’t be put off if at first you cannot feel the engagement. The trauma they go through during childbirth can result in some numbness but the pelvic floor muscles are thinking muscles – the more you think about them, the more they activate and grow stronger. Activation of the muscles sends blood flow to the area and blood flow to the area means healing! Yay!
The pelvic floor muscles form a figure 8 around the vagina and anus – imagine placing a little pea right in the center. Inhale through your nose and imagine fully releasing the pelvic floor muscles. Exhale out your mouth and imagine you suck that little pea up a straw that goes up into your belly. Inhale and fully release the pea back to the start position.
TIP – From a seated position I like to always have something underneath my like the physioball – so I can imagine really lifting it up off a surface. If you are having difficulty feeling the engagement try doing the exercise from child’s pose position.
When you are pregnant your abdominals – your 6-pack muscle in particular – have to separate to make room for your growing baby. This is know as Diastasis Recti – it’s 100% normal and almost all postnatal women will have some degree of separation after birth. Repairing your Diastasis is the number 1 thing to focus on when you are postnatal. If you don’t close the separation you will undoubtedly have back pain in years to come and yes – the dreaded mommy tummy. Focusing on deep core breathing activation exercises is the crucial first step when returning to fitness. The Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is the only muscle that brings the two sides of the abs back together so doing exercises that target this muscle is really important.
Inhale through your nose and allow your belly to fill up with air and muscles relax. Exhale out your mouth and image pulling your belly button all the way to your spine. Hold that connection and begin to count out loud. Make sure to take small sips of air as you count. The goal is to be able to maintain the connection whilst breathing. Start out by counting to 10 and build to 25.
TIP – If you are having trouble staying connected as you count – grab one of the 1000 swaddle cloths you have, wrap it around your belly, crossing the two sides over at the front at your belly button. As you exhale, pull the swaddle or scarf tight around you and hold it tight as you count. This is called splinting.
Spine Twist stretch
When you are pregnant, particularly by the end, your upper spine becomes very stiff and your ability to rotate, turn & twist becomes less and less. Now is the time to focus of mobilizing the spine, and really target your ability to rotate the ribcage. Over-all there is so much tightness in the body after pregnancy and even more so now with your new bub so making sure you are consistently stretching will help relieve any pain and stiffness.
Reach your arms out to sides and bend your knees. Cross one leg over the other just above the knee. Allow your knees to fall to side of the bottom leg. As your legs drop to one side, let your head fall the other way, rest your cheek down and look along your arm. Hold for as long as you feel like your body has time to relax and settle into the stretch. Keep breathing a nice gentle rhythm of inhale and exhale throughout the stretch.
TIP – If your partner is handy – have them place pressure down on your hip and chest, encouraging a deepening into the stretch.
Hold your baby. Feed your baby. Rock your baby. All these activities, while lovely, are really wreaking havoc with your posture. The rounding of the spine you experienced during pregnancy is multiplied ten fold with all work you are doing now as a new mom. You need to focus on strengthening the muscles of the back and shoulders to help counter the rounding forward of the spine. I always say, just sitting up tall, chest proud, belly pulling in, is 100% an exercise when you’ve got a new baby!
This exercise requires a theraband – green or blue – and you can purchase them easily on amazon and they are so useful for lots of exercises and stretches you will do as a new mom.
Inhale through your nose, sitting up as tall as you can. Exhale out your mouth, draw your belly button to your spine, bend your elbows and draw them back in line with the body, and behind you, but without rounding the spine as you do. Inhale through your nose again, stay tall, and return to the start position.
TIP – Before I move my arms always first stabilize and support my spine by wrapping my abs around and pulling my belly button to my spine. This make me grow taller and resist any rounding of spine as I complete the exercise. I also like to imagine my elbows are digging a trench through sand as they move back.
You have never squatted down so much in your life when you have new baby – if they are anywhere not on you, it’s likely they are on the ground and the bigger they get the harder it is to get them up again. You need to learn the proper mechanics of squatting to ensure you are using your lower body strength, supporting your spine with your deep core and not using your back!
Inhale through your nose and sit back into the squat. Exhale out your mouth and first feel your belly button pull into your spine, keep this connection as you push through your feet and stand back up.
The best ways to get the mechanics of squatting right is by using any household chair as a prop and do your squats from and to the chair behind you. It’s actually harder than you think but it will get you finding the right hinge position and muscle activation.
Try this Postnatal Leg workout that focuses on squatting to strengthen the lower body, connect the core with the legs and get that heart rate up!