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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!

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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:

Screenshot 2014-01-16 13.16.38

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.

Extra Information:

My Postnatal Exercise Program

Breastfeeding and Exercise

How to activate Transverse Abdominal

How to test for Diastasis recti or Post Pregnancy Abdominal Separation (Video)

How to Get Back in Shape Safely Post Birth Webinar

 

Published in Mom's Recovery
Sunday, 05 January 2014 22:50

How to Heal Your Your Mummy Tummy

Binding, Nutrition, Exercise & Posture

Are you getting conflicting information about the best way to fix your stomach muscle separation after the birth of your baby?

It's important to get the healing process started as soon as possible in order for you to not only get back in shape, but also to prevent back and hip pain during your recovery. It is not unusual to get different opinions from friends and family but also medical professionals.  

So let's have a closer look at the 4 main options that are often offered to women and see what really works. I will discuss the pros and cons of each one.

Binding

An old and ancient tradition of wrapping the stomach muscles to increase recovery and healing postpartum. There are now specific binders available which are more comfortable for women to wear and there are some that are suitable post a C-section.

Do they Work?

Using a belt/binder or wrap will work initially as it can help to bring the abdominal muscles together. It will also help support your torso during the first 7-10 days post birth. Following surgery it will reduce pain and help a women move around much easier.

How Long Should you wear it for?

Women will benefit from a type of binding post birth but you only really need to bind if your Diastasis is wider than 3-4 cm or you have had a C-section. I strongly advise wearing a binder asap post a C-section to aid recovery.

You should wear the belt for no more than 3-4 weeks reducing the amount of hours you wear it for each day over this time period.

Pros:

The belts can feel awesome on as they offer support and most are now comfortable. Healing is improved and there is reduced pain following a C-section. Other benefits include assisting with shrinking the uterus, supporting internal organs the lower back and hip muscles, reducing diastasis.

Cons:

Over wearing a binder can significantly reduce the the strength of already weakened abdominal muscles. Women learn to rely on the belt for support instead of contracting their own muscle belt.

Nutrition

How can good nutrition help heal a diastasis?

Poor nutrition along with excess weight gained during pregnancy will decrease how well the nervous system can connect with weak muscles in order to regain muscle strength.

An increase in abdominal bloating caused by either a food intolerance or excess weight will also prevent adequate contracting of the muscles. Diet definitely needs to be addressed in order to heal your stomach muscles.

Does it work?

80% of how we look is related to the food we eat. So the food you have eaten during your pregnancy and what you are eating now will definitely affect your results.

If you know you are still 10kg over your pre pregnancy weight then some of that extra pregnancy weight is going to be sitting on your stomach. So its not rocket science that you are still going to have a mummy tummy if you are 10 kg overweight.

Good nutrition also helps to promote cellular and muscle tissue repair, helping to heal a diastasis.

Pros:

Good nutrition postpartum will help return your body back to its pre pregnancy weight, will reduce excess weight and abdominal bloating speeding up the recovery of your separated stomach muscles. 

Cons:

Need to be prepared and find time to make and eat it! 

Exercise

Exercise post birth is essential for you to regain the strength and stability of your 'core'. If you can't contract weak core muscles then you are putting stress on the spine and hip joints which can lead to all manner of pain and discomfort.  39 weeks of being stretched as baby grows has serious side effects. Diastasis recti is one consequence of the stretching and must be healed properly if you are to regain your pre baby shape and core strength.

Does it Work?

Yes with specific postnatal exercises women can completely close a diastasis and regain core strength.

Pros:

Correct rehabilitation exercises done soon after giving birth will help heal your diastasis, promote better posture, improve pelvic floor muscle strength and general well being.

Cons:

Finding the time and also remembering how to do the exercises may prove challenging. The wrong exercises like crunches and frontal planks will prevent and cause further separation.

Posture

Poor posture pre and post pregnancy will increase diastasis and prevent it from healing. If you go about your daily activities constantly sticking your abdominals out, the muscles are not going to knit back together.

Any benefits of your exercise program will be undone if you are not thinking about your posture.

Does it work?

Yes, thinking about your posture during the day will help heal your diastasis but this alone will not heal a diastasis.

Pros

Improves recovery if following an exercise program and can reduce pain.

Cons

Holding good posture alone will not fix a diastasis

What You Need to Do to Heal Your Mummy Tummy

They all work together in helping you heal your separated abdominal muscles. You won't see the results by just doing one.

  • Binding certainly doesn’t work without contracting weak core muscles and activating your own natural muscle belt.

  • Good posture can’t work by itself unless the muscles are strong enough to offer support to help correct alignment.

  • The best nutrition won’t help strengthen weak core muscles.

  • Exercise can be undone without thinking about correct posture.

  • Doing a combination of the above will ensure that you heal your diastasis recti. Depending on the size and depth of your separation will effect how quickly it heals.

Give yourself time to recover as it may take anywhere from 6 weeks to 9 months to completely heal. I would suggest you follow a specific postnatal exercise program to ensure you are doing safe exercise which will promote recovery and healing. Have a look at the 12 week postnatal exercise and wellness program Birth2FitMum on my website.

Further reading: How Binding Helps Post A C-Section

Published in Mom's Recovery
Wednesday, 17 October 2012 15:39

BYOB

In this post first published at http://www.kimberleypayne.com/, I would like to encourage new moms who have clearance from their midwife or doctor to resume exercise—and those who will have the green light soon.

Exercise? Are you kidding me? When am I supposed to have the time?

The good news . . . The following exercises can be done when your wee one is awake. I know how important it is for you to rest when you can; when your munchkin is napping, it’s great if you can do the same.

Don’t be fooled by the title of this post. I’m not suggesting you take up drinking—though at times it may be tempting. BYOB stands for “bring your own baby.”

These exercises can be a bonding time for you and your little one. Just make sure (s)he can hold her/his head up without support.

Of course, walking is great. The fresh air and sunshine will do you both good. And for you super ambitious types, there are those nifty jogging strollers.

Activities that raise your heart rate, like walking and running, are important for your cardiovascular system, but it’s vital to include regular resistance training also.

The following six exercises can be done with Baby (or hand weights, if your little one is content to look on).

Begin by doing each exercise 12 times if you’re able. Work up to two or three sets of 12.

Kiss the Baby Push-ups

This exercise is best done when your baby is super content. Lay her on her back on the floor. Straddle her on hands and knees. Walk knees back—unless you’re adept at doing push-ups. In that case, you can come up on your toes. Lower your body toward baby and give her a kiss. Straighten arms and return to initial position.

Little One Lunges

This is great if your little guy likes to snuggle. Hold him close. Take a step forward. Keep your feet parallel. Drop the back knee toward the floor. Stop when your knee is a few inches above the floor. Be sure your front knee doesn’t jut out over the toes. Return to standing position. Repeat 12 times on first side before stepping forward with the opposite leg and repeating.

No Squawk Squats

You can hold your baby close (if balance doesn’t become a problem) or slightly in front of you. To maximize the benefits and work your inner thighs as well as your hamstrings and quads, take a wide stance and turn your toes out slightly. Without bringing your knees over your toes, sit back. Come down only as far as you are comfortable. Push into your heels and return to standing position.

Baby Bicep Curls

Hold your baby in front of you. Lower and straighten your arms as much as possible. Keep your upper arms by your sides, your elbows next to your hips. Bend at the elbows and bring your baby toward your face.

Duo Dips

Time to work your triceps. Sit on the floor, feet flat and knees bent. Seat your wee one on your tummy, back against your legs. Place your hands on the floor, fingers pointed toward heels. Straighten arms and come up on hands and feet. Bend elbows and dip down until backside just grazes the floor.

Cheeky Chest Presses

I’ve found this is the favourite of many babies—and mommies too. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Lay your little one face-down on your chest, holding him with both hands. Press him straight above your chest. Return to starting position.

Before beginning or significantly changing your exercise routine, check with your midwife or doctor.

Steph Beth Nickel is a CAPPA Certified Labour Doula and is working toward her certification as a Pregnancy Fitness Educator. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer Specialist.

You can read more about her eclectic interests on her blog.

Steph also invites you to join her on Facebook or Twitter.

Published in Postpartum Health

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