Do you really need to wait 6 weeks until you can exercise or until you have had your postnatal check up by your GP?
Why is it that a 6 week waiting time to exercise is still actively promoted to women when there is no reason to wait this long? You actually get weaker the longer post-birth you wait to exercise.
I don’t want you to be misled as I know what you may be thinking……”So soon after I have given birth, are you mad? There is no way I’m rushing back into an exercise program, I don’t feel up to it!"
I’m not suggesting you start doing chin ups and walking lunges around the lounge or going hard in an aerobics class. Instead, I am advising easy rehabilitation exercises, which can promote recovery. Waiting will actually prolong it!
The first 6 weeks after birth are an intense time for any mum, experienced or not. New mums can put a lot of pressure on themselves to do everything right, it can be a very stressful time but the right kind of exercise can help with this.
5 Benefits of Specific Postnatal Exercise:
1: Faster Recovery Post Birth:
If you don’t exercise soon after birth, muscles stay weak for a much longer time period. This limits how quickly your body can recover. The longer you leave the weak connections the harder it is for the nervous system to re-connect.
2: Reduced Pain- Especially in the Lower Back and Hip Areas:
When the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles have been significantly stretched in pregnancy they become much weaker. The weakening of these important core stabilizers will lead the nervous system to rely on the muscles in the lower back instead. This is why this area often aches.
Strengthening these core muscles quickly will improve functional strength, allowing you to be able to lift and carry your baby with less pain.
3: Improved Posture
Your posture changes during your pregnancy. As your baby grows it places many demands on the muscular and skeletal system. Exercise will help to address postural muscle imbalances which may have caused pain during pregnancy. Poor posture will also prevent healing of abdominal muscle separation, known as diastasis recti (see below).
4: Prevent those little accidents!
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with the exercises below helps regain control of urine flow. If you want to prevent those potentially embarrassing little accidents then you certainly don’t want to ignore pelvic floor muscle exercise for 6 weeks!
5: Heal Diastasis Recti – Post Pregnancy Abdominal Muscle Separation
Diastasis recti occurs frequently. A large diastasis can be very hard to heal and can also take a long time. The right rehabilitation exercises ensure healing of this condition, but crunches and frontal planks will make this condition worse!
When Can I Start?
If You Do Not Have Medical Complications:
You can start by doing a couple of exercises that I recommend as soon as you feel ready post birth. Even after a C-section you can start to follow a rehab program around 7-14 days post.
Women who exercise within 4 weeks after pregnancy feel good about themselves and it also gives them the personal time they may be craving.
The exercises I recommend you do will allow you to connect with weakened core muscles which will help prevent lower back and hip pain, improve pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, reduce diastsis recti and promote recovery.
Here are the two most important exercises to start with:
Transverse Abdominal Muscle (TVA) Exercises:
How to activate your TVA’s:
Do this by drawing your belly button in towards your spine; it’s a very subtle contraction. I think about either trying to zip up a pair of jeans or imagine you have a corset on and it is being pulled tighter. You should see your belly button actively draw in and your stomach muscles contract; if you can see this happening, you are activating the correct muscles.
To help you further and to ensure correct activation of TVA, click here.
Pelvic Floor Muscle (PFM) Activation:
As soon as you can after giving birth you need to make sure you visit the bathroom to both urinate and have a bowel movement. This ensures everything is working correctly and you are recovering well.
Once you have had a couple of bathroom visits, test out your Pelvic Floor Muscle strength by trying to stop your flow half way. This will give you a good guide to see how pregnancy and birth has affected the strength of your muscles.
Exercise: Start by contracting your PFM and at the same time draw the belly button in (TVA muscle activation) holding for 5 seconds and then slowly releasing, repeating 4-6 times, 3 times during the day.
Try to do the 2 exercises a few days after giving birth, if you are pain free and without complications.
Following on from the initial exercises you can advance to other exercises as you progress and get stronger over the following weeks. It’s best to follow a specific and safe program which targets strengthening the glutes and abdominal muscles promoting hip and torso stability, and diastasis recti healing.
A Word of Caution: Less is More!
Women who know me through my website and blogs know that I actively promote ‘less is more’ regarding intense postnatal exercise. I learned the hard way that going too hard too soon only has negative effects. Pushing yourself when your body is tired can actually prevent recovery and you will do further damage!
Make sure you pay attention to your body and rest often. Avoid fatigue and keep hydrated. Check that your urine is pale to clear before and after exercise.
Exercise should promote and enhance relaxation and well-being: it should feel good! If there is soreness or fatigue following an exercise session then you have probably done too much or the wrong type of exercise.
Start as early as you can and increase slowly. Listen to your body and enjoy your postnatal exercise it will benefit both you and your baby.
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