Pregnancy and labor can be very traumatic on the abdominals and pelvic floor. While most women are told not to do ANY exercise for the first six to eight weeks after having a baby, it’s important to begin to engage some key muscles very soon after birth. These three exercises are some of the most important things you can do to help your body heal and recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and they will also help prepare your body for its return to exercise when your doctor gives the go ahead.
The first exercise you’ll want to start with is a simple pelvic floor lift- often called a Kegel. This exercise is by far the most important and helpful thing you can do to being to heal and recover your postpartum body. Many doctors will encourage women to start doing these in the hospital. This exercise is especially important if you plan to return to exercise at 6 or 8 weeks- a functional pelvic floor is necessary for most forms of exercise.
How to do it: Imagine a large muscle that spans your hip bones, and reaches from pelvic bone to tailbone. Now imagine lifting that muscle up and holding it for 5 seconds before releasing. Some women find an easy way to visualize it is to imagine stopping the flow of urine. If you are less than 10 days postpartum, you may find it very difficult to perform this exercise– but keep at it. Once you are able to lift, hold for 5 seconds, and release your pelvic floor, you’ll want to come to the next stage: quick flicks. This is where you will fully contract and then fully release your pelvic floor. Think, simply: lift, lower, lift, lower, lift, lower. Alternate 20 seconds of quick flicks with 20 seconds of your 5 second holds. Try to perform this sequence 3 times a day- some women find it helpful to do these while changing diapers or feeding the baby.
2- “Hollowing Out” Your Abs
The second exercise that is safe to perform in the first weeks after pregnancy is a simple transverse abdominal contraction. Your transverse abdominals are the most interior abdominal muscles and are extremely important when it comes to core stability and posture. Getting these deep abdominal muscles moving is a great way to begin to repair core muscles that were overstretched and weakened during pregnancy.
How to do it: Draw your belly button up and back– imagine pulling it to your spine. To begin, hold for 5 seconds, and work up over the first few weeks to 20 seconds. These are great to do as you are feeding your baby, as they encourage correct feeding posture
3- Chest Stretches
Nearly everything you do as a new mom is going to have you hunched forward over your baby. These activities, along with enlarged breasts, means that most new moms walk around hunched over. Not only is it extremely important to stretch out your chest muscles– it will help improve posture and relieve back pain. You’ll also find that if feels great!
How to do it: Stand sideways next to a wall so that one of your shoulders is facing the wall. With a straight arm, place the palm of your hand on the wall next to you at shoulder height. Take a few steps forward. You’ll feel a stretch across your chest. Repeat on the other side. This can be helpful to do after you place your baby down in the crib or swing. It will give your chest a nice stretch before moving on to the next task of the day.
What stretches or exercises felt good after you had your baby? Did you wait until your postpartum checkup to do any exercising?