How to Know When Your Body is Ready
40 weeks of pregnancy, childbirth, and what women’s bodies go through during this time is nothing short of phenomenal. I ask many clients to count how many doctor’s visits they had during their pregnancy. Some as many as twenty or more (including visits to nutritionists, the pediatrician of choice etc.), depending on whether they had a high-risk pregnancy or not.
Now, how many postpartum doctor visits do women have? Oftentimes one or two. One, ten days after the birth. Another visit might be scheduled as the doctor deems necessary.
Yet the majority of women, postpartum, experience a myriad of physical changes. Over half experience pelvic injury or dysfunction. In France, all women are prescribed at least ten sessions with a pelvic floor physical therapist. Yet, in the United States, most people don’t talk about it except for the occasional joke between women.
Women’s health is sorely under-studied and definitely not talked about enough. Many are eager to get back to exercise, and I don’t blame them. That said, before going to a physical therapist, it’s critical to get the green light from your OBGyn or health care provider.
Once you get the go-ahead, here are some great postpartum exercise tips.
- Listen to your body. Some women are up and running after six weeks. Some might take longer. Your body has been through a lot. Though it’s important to be active, planning your next Iron Man probably isn’t best during your postpartum recovery period.
- Pelvic floor exercises are easy, and they can be done practically anywhere. Pelvic floor muscles run from your pubic bone, at the front, to the base of your spine. They support the bladder and sphincter. During and after pregnancy your pelvic region takes a blow. In turn, you might experience mild stress incontinence, discomfort, and feel … loose. Kegel exercises are the best way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. They don’t get stronger on their own, so it’s important to work on this muscle area.
- Find your pelvic floor muscles. The easiest way to do so is stopping your pee mid-stream. Those are your pelvic floor muscles. (Don’t continue to do this while you’re urinating. It’s just a way to find them.)
- Begin by contracting your muscles for three to five seconds. Do a series of ten. It’s hard at first. But just like any exercise, you’ll get stronger.
- Build up to ten-second Kegels. The goal is to do three sets of ten Kegels every day.
- Schedule a time to do Kegels, like every evening while watching TV.
- Aerobic workouts. Don’t rush into aerobic exercise. Keep in mind your muscles and joints loosened up during pregnancy. Initially begin walking twenty or thirty minutes each day. What a great excuse to get that stroller out and explore the neighborhood. As soon as your doctor gives you the thumbs up, you can start building up to more moderate to high-intensity workouts. Always, always, though, listen to your body.
- Dynamic stretching can help improve range of motion or just help eek out the tension. That’s a good enough reason for anybody!
- Yoga is a phenomenal postpartum exercise choice. Most women experience a large separation between abdominals after birth. After mastering the Kegel exercises, working yoga into your workout can help strengthen abs, which will help alleviate that lower back pain. Positions like the Warrior I and Locust with Shoulder Bind are great to reduce neck and shoulder pain (all that looking down!). And finally, the Bridge Pose is a great way to battle anxiety, which is incredibly common after having a child. It’s got the added bonus of strengthening your hamstrings and gluts.
- Swimming, once you get the okay from your health care professional, is one of the best ways to get your postpartum body moving. It’s non-impact, it’s great to build muscle, core, and strengthening the pelvic floor. It’s one of the best exercise choices for all pre-natal and postpartum moms!
- Rest. Once you start exercising, find time to rest post-exercise. Your body really needs it. A common thing moms hear is, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Ahhh … but there are bottles to be sterilized, clothes to be washed, dishes in the sink. Very few moms do that, but finding spaces to rest, breathe, and have moments of restoration, especially after exercise, is more important now than ever.
Give yourself time. You’re waking up every two hours for feedings. You probably can’t remember the last time you showered. And everything, undoubtedly, feels overwhelming. Your body needs to recover. It’s okay to not dive into an exercise routine right away. It’s okay to stumble through these first several weeks wondering where you left your toothbrush.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of that baby.