Mums often list strengthening their core as a priority when returning to exercise after baby. However before you get stuck into training your "core" muscles, there is one simple thing you can do to get you on the fast track to using your core effectively. Breathing!
You take approximately 20,000 - 30,000 breaths per day so it is easy to see how poor breathing habits may impact your health. While the desire to get stuck into core exercises may be strong, if your breathing is dysfunctional you won't be getting the most out of them anyway. Dysfunctional breathing could also make it more difficult to heal a diastasis (abdominal separation) and be putting unnecessary pressure on your pelvic floor.
So What Does Functional Breathing Look Like?
The picture below shows the connection between your diaphragm and the pelvic floor. They move up and down together with each breath. As you breath in, your diaphragm pushes down to make way for the air coming into your lunges and in doing so, pushes your organs down onto your pelvic floor causing it lower also. As you exhale, your diaphragm lifts and so does the pelvic floor.
Ideally, breathing should expand the rib cage in a 360 degree range. Your ribs should go out to the side, front and back to allow air to fill the chest cavity while keeping the shoulders relaxed.
There are three main ways that breathing can become dysfunctional:
1. Belly breathing
This is where the belly expands outwards with each breath (to look like you have swallowed a balloon) with very little movement of the ribs. This type of breathing is particularly detrimental if you have abdominal separation as the connective tissue is being stretched each time you inhale.
2. Chest breathing
This is where you breath high into your chest or shoulders. This is usually a tense, restricted breath that sees your shoulders rising and doesn't allow correct rise and fall of the diaphragm and pelvic floor. This style of breathing is also often related to 'sucking it in' (see below).
3. Sucking it in
If you are sucking in your tummy your breathing is going to be restricted (see point above). The air is going to have nowhere to go. In the video below, Harriet the chook demonstrates what happens to your pelvic floor when you suck in your tummy. Poor Harriet.
An Exercise in Breathing
Try this breathing exercise daily or whenever you think about it.
1. Place your hands around your ribs (like photo) Inhale and try to feel a 360 degree expansion of your lower ribs and into your tummy. Your hands should go slightly further apart.
2. Now exhale for 6 counts and feel your ribs lowering and coming together and tummy deflating. This should bring your hands slight closer together.
3. Repeat 2 x 10 repetitions.
If you have any concerns about your breathing there are osteopaths (and some physiotherapists) that specialise in dysfunctional breathing correction.
What happens when a group of trainers and allied health practitioners get together to discuss women's health? Inspiration, information and a whole lot of fun!
Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Women's Health and Fitness Summit in Melbourne. To be honest, this is the second year in a row I have attended and I would sell my left kidney to get there. But fortunately I had enough Flybuys Points to get me there and my sister put me up for two nights so no kidneys had to be sold.
The event opened with some inspiring guest speakers (all of which made me cry like a baby with heartache and happiness for their journeys). A real highlight was hearing Kerryn Harvey share her story of recovery after a minor bike accident in 2013 left her with an aggressive bacterial infection that resulted in the amputation of her arm and shoulder. Since then, she has rebuilt her body to achieve a silver medal in the amputees triathlon world championships. If that doesn't inspire you to overcome your barriers to exercise, I don't know what will.
We then got stuck into the sessions. There were a couple of real highlights for me. The first was a practical session by Kylieanne Farrell from The Movement Room entitled Moving with Prolapse. She talked about the impact that environmental factors such as sleep, nutrition and stress can have on a women's prolapse symptoms on any particular day. I think this is an important point, not only for women with prolapse but for all women. Training within our boundaries and being in touch with our bodies can have a great impact on the effectiveness of our exercise choices.
An eye opening session was conducted by Antony Lo from The Physio Detective entitled Stop Hurting Women with Exercise. Antony likes to challenge popular beliefs about exercise and encouraged us to challenge the status quo and think more broadly about how we train women. For example, he believes that physios and trainers "hurt" women with exercise by:
Over the weekend I also attended a much needed seminar on marketing (I much prefer to move than to market) but it was a great presentation and I promise to add the ideas to my long list of 'to dos'. I also attended a session on diastasis recti from a Melbourne physio. This a topic close to my heart (and stomach) and there was plenty I took away from this session. I also felt great admiration for the presenter as she kept her composure and diplomatically managed questions from accomplished physios in the audience that challenged her points.
Possibly the biggest difference to last year's event is that this time I was not in a room of strangers. Along with the connections I made in 2015, there was also a small contingent of Brisbane practitioners and trainers as well as other contacts I have made via social media in attendance. It was great to put a face to the names and we all enjoying talking at every opportunity we could get. Melbourne of course is never short of a good place to eat and we all braved the fashion police and went to dinner in our #activewear.
If you are a fitness professional that trains women, I strongly encourage you to attend this event. Feel free to drop me a line and I will connect with you there next year.
In our lives before children, we often don’t anticipate the chaos and overwhelm that one tiny human can bring! Without a doubt, the most challenging time I have ever experienced in my motherhood journey was the post-birth period.
As an organized, timely professional this rattled my usual calm and collected self. I suffered bouts of postnatal and antenatal depression with my first two non-sleeping reflux babies. When I was pregnant with my third child, I made a decision to be more deliberate and intentional with my parenting, based on my experience with my first two boys. This has let me be the mother I always desired, non-sleeping reflux baby, and all!
Here are some of the things that you can do to survive the post-birth period:
Own your parenting ability
We need to OWN our parenting abilities, and that we are the perfect mother for our baby. We know how they prefer to be held, where their ticklish spots are, the songs that make them smile and the exact furrows of their faces when they frown. This is the parenting skill that we need to trust – we are the person that knows our baby intimately, and therefore we are the best one to know their needs.
Release yourself from unrealistic expectations
We are often high performers, with equally high expectations of ourselves before we have children and place the same expectations on ourselves pre- and post-birth. The baby will sleep, we will finish ‘xyz’ project, have endless coffee dates and a spotless house. Our babies never read the memo!
It takes time, and more often than not, trial and error, to work out what works for your baby, and every baby is different – even in the same family. We cannot expect to immediately ‘get it all’. As new parents, like any profession or job, it takes time to learn the ropes.
I was always a classic over-committer, until my third baby came along. Like many new mums I was a tired, dairy machine struggling to keep up with my older children’s school and kindy activities. I learned to start saying ‘no’ or at the very least re-negotiate the level of my involvement.
My first step in setting boundaries as a new mum was to establish some breathing space so that I could rest, clear my head and determine what I had the time, energy and space to do. Once I became clear on what I could realistically manage, it became easier to set my boundaries without feeling guilty for saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’.
The other side of the coin is to know when to say ‘yes’. Offers of meals, running errands, dropping older children home – say yes! I used to think I would be imposing or asking too much of someone if I said yes, but from a practical perspective it’s rarely as much of an impost as we imagine it to be.
People offer because they want to lighten our load and give us a chance to rest occasionally, not because they think we cannot manage. It’s a sign of friendship and a genuine practical offer of support.
Ask for support
This is hard, and I have been guilty of going it alone, particularly with my first two babies. Ban “I’m fine” and “I’m just tired” from your vocabulary – particularly with yourself. Take out a piece of paper and ask yourself “How am I feeling? What do I need?” – write down your answer honestly.
It is normal to feel tired, upset and overwhelmed in the early days – the key is to know what you need to do to resolve these feelings. It may be a nap, a hug, a good cry or some strong emotional support. Reach out to your “no-judgment go-to person” and ask to be supported.
Importantly, if you find these feelings of overwhelm aren’t subsiding talk to your MCHN or GP for some additional professional support.
Lastly, Be kind to yourself
We are our own harshest critics, and it is easy to get caught up in what’s not working, rather than what is. Motherhood is exciting, joyful, challenging and fulfilling, all in the same day! Take time to savour each day and just enjoy the precious moments with your little one.
About the author
Michelle Keeffe is a mother of three boys and understands the highs, lows and chaos of balancing motherhood, business, study and life. She is a passionate life coach who supports expectant and new mothers in their transition to motherhood and beyond.
When she isn’t building Lego or chasing her youngest out the dog door, you can find her at www.speedoflifecoaching.com.au or www.facebook.com/SpeedofLifeCoaching
Photo credit: Emotive Images (http://www.professionalphotographybrisbane.com/)
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