Congratulations! Being a new parent is such an exciting time in life. The joys of first smiles, words, and steps are blissful. Despite these wonderful emotions, some questions are undoubtedly emerging in your mind: when will I get a full night’s sleep, how much will my life really change, and for many women, when will I get my body back? Whether you have experienced a vaginal delivery, a cesarean section, or the adoption process, the best thing you can do for your child is to take better care of yourself. Simply put, a happy, healthy individual is more capable of being a successful parent.
When is it Safe to Start Getting your Body Back?
According to the American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, moms can start postpartum exercise with their doctor’s approval as soon as they feel ready. However, most physicians clear moms who have had vaginal deliveries for exercise after their six-week check up and moms with cesarean sections at approximately five-to six months postpartum.
In those first few weeks I recommend taking lots of walks with your baby. Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, bond with your child, and get a few kinks out. However, if you are itching to do a little abdominal work before six weeks, here are a few safe and gentle exercises you can try to relieve stiff achy muscles and start finding those deep abdominals and pelvic floor again. These can be done anywhere with a yoga mat or towel with baby beside you (or even on you) as you exercise.
1. Kegels – These pelvic floor exercises can safely begin within hours of delivery. The goal of Kegel exercises is to improve muscle tone by strengthening the pubococcygeus muscles of the pelvic floor. The most difficult part of doing kegels effectively is correctly locating the pelvic floor muscles and engaging them without the gluteus or inner-thighs doing the work for you.
The Mayo Clinic has an excellent and thorough description of how to find these muscles on their website if you are having difficulty. A simple and common way to find them is to stop urination mid stream. While holding your stream of urine repeated can lead to health problems, a true kegel can, and should, be done often and regularly. The correct movement is an upward and inward contraction. You might try them at a rapid tempo, or slowly increasing in intensity over duration of time. The best part about kegels is that you can do them anywhere without anyone knowing – red lights, in line at the grocery, or while you check e-mails.
2. Imprint and Neutral – These are Pilates terms that describe the alignment of the lumbar spine and pelvis. When done correctly, these pelvic shifts will engage the abdominals in a low impact, safe, and deep level.
While lying on your back with your knees bent and feet placed on the floor, hip-width apart, gently begin to rock your pelvis forward and back.In Imprint, your lower spine (lumbar) should be in contact with the floor and your pubic bone higher than your hip bones (ASIS). As you shift your pelvis back to Neutral you will have a slight concave curvature in the lower spine as if you were standing. Each time you shift back to imprint think of pulling your navel in towards your spinal column and narrowing the waist to engage the deeper layers of abdominals (the transverses and obliques) and prevent the outer abs (the rectus) from taking over. You can add other fun elements to the exercise such as a playground ball between the knees to fire up the adductors (inner-thigh muscles) and incorporate your kegels.
3. Ab Prep. Also comes from a Pilates exercise in the STOTT method. By adding thoracic flexion (or forward bending of the upper torso) to the previous exercise you can increase the abdominal challenge. Begin by nodding the head to bring the chin a bit closer to the collar bones, then keeping your eyes at or slightly above your knees begin to lift the head and torso up off the ground into what you may think of as an ab crunch. What is unique about a Pilates approach to the traditional crunch is the focus on compressing the abdomen. So once again, pull your navel into the spinal column and think of synching a belt around your waist as you bring your sternum towards your pubic bone (never leading from the chin or shoulders).
Smart Options for New Parents
Once your doctor has cleared you for more vigorous exercise, you might consider incorporating some Pilates based exercises to help strengthen and narrow your midsection. Many new moms complain about abdominal separation or diastasis recti, in which the outer most abdominal fibers have separated. This can lead to poor core support and ultimately lower back and/or pelvic pain. Let’s face it, you’ve just lost several inches around your midsection, Your abdominals are stretched beyond recognition and you are twisting and ducking under car doors to get your child into their car seat several times a day. You might also have a toddler in the other arm as you attempt to do so. This scenario is a recipe for disaster. So what can you do to prevent injury and regain your abdominal core strength?
The Benefits of Pilates and Yoga in Recovery
A qualified and certified Pilates instructor can help you develop a routine to gain core strength and support. Through a series of abdominal exercises in both flexion and extension, Pilates builds deep core stabilizers while increasing mobility and range of motion in the spine and limbs.
Moreover, the focus on mind-body connectedness in both Pilates and Yoga can enable you to more clearly perceive what your body needs and once again regain control of your body. Most new moms feel very disconnected from their pre-pregnancy body. Remember, full recovery from childbirth can take anywhere from nine to 12 months, so be patient but consistent with whatever exercise program you choose.
Adoptive Parents and Dads too
Adoptive parents have their own set of stressors to deal with. You may have had a long road to adoption. Miscarriages, in-vitro failures, foreign travel, long wait lists, and sleepless nights are just a few of the many possible scenarios that adoptive parents face. And let’s not forget the Dads. Are you back to work juggling the delicate balance between family and career? Are you staying home to raise the kids?
It is admittedly difficult to practice, but extremely important that all new parents find time to focus on their needs too. The benefits of exercise are well documented and include increased energy levels, improved mood, and better quality sleep. What could be a greater gift to a new parent? It’s imperative that new parents refuel themselves so that they may become the best parent they can for the newest addition to their family.
- Written for bluetoad.com