Let’s approach birth as we would an injury, like an ankle sprain, because it is, after all, a physically traumatic event from which your body needs to recover. Like that ankle sprain, the typical recommendation is 6 weeks off of regular activity. You’ll most likely begin rehabilitative exercises at some point to compliment the healing process and increase chances of returning to full function.
The same process applies to your post-birth body. You take appropriate time off of regular activity and at some point (keep reading) you begin rehabilitative exercises to enhance your healing process to give your body the best chance to be ready for full function without risk of reinjury or new injuries occurring.
For women who need their exercise fix, I recommend they start doing Core Care movements when they stop postpartum bleeding (lochia). They can also start walking outside with the stroller and performing simple household chores. Your stretched out core is not stabilizing your spine like it used to so you’re at increased risk of injury, be smart please!
Let’s first talk about what you SHOULDN’T be doing if you want to feel good and help your body heal as best as possible:
- Sitting up in bed, sitting up off the couch, sitting up anywhere!
- Holding baby only on one side (switch sides, frequently)
- Only sitting to breastfeed. You can try different holds, props, and laying to give your body a break from a hunched posture.
- Sitting for long periods of time without standing/walking or at least stretching arms overhead/side to side/opening chest
- Not stretching or working on mobility
- Heavy lifting
- Eating crap foods and drinking crap drinks (Read Ashley’s article for help on healthy postpartum nutrition!)
- Isolating yourself (have visitors you love being around or get out in public to a moms support group!)
Now onto the things you SHOULD be doing!
- Check your abdominal gap to give you an idea of your starting point so you can track progress.
- Breathe! Big inhales, slow exhales feeling your belly expand and contract. Simply by breathing and contracting your core muscles, you’re rebuilding their function and strength.
- Brace! Along with your exhale, tighten your core muscles and breathe. This rebuilds the mind-body connection and fires up these muscles into action!
- Pelvic tilts! Standing, laying, cat/cow. Pelvic tilts re-engage your pelvis and all your lovely muscles that have been stretched/tightened/weakened. Rebuilding mind-body control will lead to healthier progression and healing. Gently work through full range of motion and focus on using your obliques to tilt posteriorly/tuck tailbone.
- Stretch!!! As new moms, you’re doing a lot of isolation work! And remember your body is a chain so if your hand is tight, your wrist aches, your forearm locks up, your should is immobilized and your chest tightens. No fun! Stretch/yoga/foam or ball roll EVERY DAY.
My biggest recommendation: Adopting the mindset that rest is not negative. Your body did magical things! It grew a human for ~10 months and birthed it, now it needs time to return to normal which will not be happening in 3 months. Here’s a secret: if you see women who appear to have lost their baby weight at week 10, it’s probably genetics. The stress of being a new mother, high caloric demand of breast feeding coupled with low caloric intake, can also impact weight loss but they are NOT healthy ways to lose weight and I absolutely do not encourage them. The way you nurture a postpartum body is to feed it lots of healthy, saturated fats and whole foods. Drink lots and lots of clean water. Practice meditation or deep breathing daily to manage stress and anxiety. Remind yourself that this state is TEMPORARY. You need to allow your body to heal first before you start stressing it with exercise. It’s already under a lot of stress, and sleep deprivation, so be kind to your amazing bod!
With this mindset, you will lessen your anxiety about not exercising. Your body will tell you when it’s ready to move. Listen to it instead of forcing it. With force can come injury. By doing things that make you feel good, you’ll increase your joy and healing progression.
If you’re truly chomping at the bit to “exercise” and you’re between 6-12 weeks postpartum, here’s what I recommend. Perform these movements slowly with control, squeezing the working muscle, core bracing, and on your intentional inhales/exhales. No holding breath, no rushing, no speed.
- Core Care – performed daily
X10-14 x2-3 sets of:
- Standing mini band circuit for glutes and upper body
- Lying Glute Bridges
- Table Top
- Super Women (You may want to avoid if you had c-section)
Rehabilitation is SEXY! Not only now, but for the rest of your life. Yes, lifting heavy and going fast make you feel like a total bad ass! Without the recovery (ie. healing), mobility, stretching, and “less sexy” exercises, you won’t be as powerful or strong as you could be. Think of these elements as the keys to unlocking your full potential as a fantastic mover and woman!
Again, if you’re unsure of how to modify/substitute any movements or routines, please contact me. I teach a CEU coach seminar on Pregnancy and Postpartum Strength Training, created a downloadable PDF guide, offer remote programming for women, and support professionals in a variety of ways on how to keep clients moving safely! If you or a client is suffering from a core or pelvic floor issue, please encourage them to see a women’s health physical therapist to get the proper care they need to heal their issues. If left untreated, they have the potential of negatively affecting the woman’s exercise routine as well as increase her risk of surgery. With proper treatment, most issues can heal with consistent effort and time. But we don’t want any of this to happen! We want women to stay smart and safe through pregnancy and postpartum to have a healthy body and the amazing return to exercise she deserves filled confidence, power and support!
Colleen flaherty is a strength and conditioning badass who empowers women through their motherhood journey (www.fit2prokreate.com). Colleen and her boyfriend Adam Cristantello, ATC, CF-L2 created the first Crossfit & NSCA CEU Pregnancy and Postpartum Strength Seminar and eBook for coaches and women (www.prokreate.co). They taught around the world last year educating over 40 coaches and professionals. She owned a studio in Rochester, NY for 3 years before recently moving to San Diego to be in sun and sand with new friends on new adventures!