When you were pregnant, your body made way for the growing baby. Skin was stretched, organs were rearranged and major hormonal changes were taking place (and continue to take place after birth). After birth, it takes time (and a little effort) to get those organs back to their correct position, skin elasticity to return (if it does at all), abdominal separation to resolve and our hormones to level out. Did you know it can take up to two years for abdominal muscles to fully recover after pregnancy and up to four months after you finish breastfeeding for the hormone, Relaxin, to leave your system?
This is an important consideration for those wanting to recover between pregnancies, and for those keen to return to pre-baby fitness activities. I encourage you to think about your recovery as rehabilitation rather than a simple "return to exercise". Take the time to get it right early and you will lay the foundation for a strong, safe return to pre-baby fitness levels.
If you have been to one of our classes, you have probably heard about the "core canister". Think about your core as a canister, the top of the canister is your diaphragm (under your lungs), your abdominal and back muscles are the walls of the canister and you pelvic floor is the bottom of the canister. In order to protect our pelvic floor, minimise lower back pain and flatren our tummy, these components need to work effectively together. What happens at the top of the canister and around the walls, effects what happens at the bottom of the canister.
So how can we get our Core Canister functioning optimally?
- When you breath in your lungs fill with air and push your organs down onto your pelvic floor. As you exhale, your lungs deflate and the pelvic floor lifts as the pressure on your organs decreases. This is like a piston working up an down. Dysfunctional breathing can mean that your diaphragm isn't working well with your pelvic floor and can preventing the pelvic floor from reacting appropriately when you need it to (like when you sneeze).
- Concentrate on breathing to firstly expand your ribs out to the side then send air into your belly. Don't hold your breath when exercising.
- When lifting something (like a child) or doing strength exercises, exhale on the exertion part of the movement. For example, if you are squatting, exhale as you push up and if you are doing a bench press, exhale on the push up.
- Posture has a major effect on pelvic floor function and back pain. We want that piston to able to freely rise up and down. If the top and bottom of the core canister are not aligned, the piston can not work effectively. Slouch over and see how different it feels to breath than when you are sitting up straight.
- Breastfeeding, settling and carrying baby all take their toll on our posture
- Think ribs over hips. Make sure your hips are stacked on top of your hips and your shoulders are down and your ribs are tucked under (don't flare you ribs out to the front). Avoid slouching back on the couch or curling your shoulders forward.
- When walking make sure you swing your arms as you walk. Swagger! This will help good breathing, posture and proper functioning of the core canister (an make you look like a rock star!).
- There are a few definite do's and don'ts when we return to exercise after baby. The rest is a grey area depending on the individual so seek advice from a postnatal exercise specialist
- No one needs to do old fashioned sit ups/crunches and we definitely don't do these if we want a flat tummy. Sit ups and crunches can make abdominal separation worse! They also place unnecessary pressure on our pelvic floor
- A weak core is a major contributor to back pain and pelvic floor weakness. Undertaking a core restore program after pregnancy can help to resolve abdominal separation and prevent further injury. Go Mum! can help with this!
- Avoid high impact exercises (eg. bouncing, jumping, running, skipping, boxing) while you have ANY pelvic floor weakness
- Do your pelvic floor exercises. Even if you don't have any pelvic floor weakness, do them once a day to make sure you keep it that way! Your pelvic floor is a muscle like any other muscle and it needs to be exercised. See a women's health physio for a pelvic floor assessment and guidance on how to do your exercises correctly.
- If you have abdominal separation, avoid exercises that place the pressure of your organs onto your abdominal wall, such as planks and push ups.
So what can you do?
- Depending on how our body has been impacted by pregnancy and birth, it is easy to feel limited in what you can do when it comes to exercise after baby. However, we are often capable of more than we think but we may need professional advice to get us there safely. Go Mum! trainers can work with your allied health professionals to tailor an exercise plan to suit you.
- Seek professional assessment from a women's health physio after baby so you have a good idea of where your diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and pelvic floor are at
- Remember, it is possible to create a weak pelvic floor even if you have never had kids through incorrect exercise technique or repeatitive exercises such as long distance running or heavy lifting. Elite athletes are one of the main groups that suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction! So get good advice and always listen to your body
- Don't try to keep up with the pack. Every person is different and trying to train as hard as the person standing next to you may save your pride but destroy your body
- Just because a trainer offers babysitting, does not mean they provide safe postnatal exercise options!! If there is a bootcamp or similar that is convenient to you, make sure you discuss your concerns with the trainer and educate yourself on the exercises you should or shouldn't be doing.