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How to Heal and Strengthen your Postnatal Body!

Cynthia Young

It was the birth of my daughter that made me realise I could and should teach Pilates and that my first clients would be postnatal women.

I was convinced that Pilates had kept me strong in pregnancy, had helped me in labour and had helped me recover quickly so that I was able to get on with being mum. Women are often worried about exercising and moving their bodies in those early days of motherhood and I want to liberate you and make you feel more confident about your body and moving it.

 What’s the point of Postnatal Exercise?

Postnatal exercise should not be about getting your pre baby body back! Your body pre baby had not created, grown and delivered a baby into the world.

So, I say, appreciate and love what your body is capable of and what it has achieved. Whether you gave birth by C-section or at home your body has achieved something miraculous, appreciate it and don’t lose sight of that.

Exercising as a new mum should be about taking care of yourself. Using movement to connect with your body, help your body heal, recover and strengthen for your new role of Mum.

During pregnancy your posture will have changed, as did your centre of gravity which will have changed how you were using your body. Now while your tired and not at full strength you have a baby to carry, hold, cradle, feed as well as all their paraphernalia.

Exercise now is about becoming reacquainted with your body, the body which has performed something miraculous and now carries a child outside of their body.

When Is it Safe to Exercise After Giving Birth?

The NCT "National Childbirth Trust" www.nct.com suggests that as soon as you feel ready you can start to do pelvic floor exercises, gentle stretches and walking.

ACOG “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists” www.acog.org suggests you can start exercising soon after a “normal” vaginal delivery with simple postpartum exercises and within days of giving birth gradually adding some moderate intensity exercise even for just 10 minutes. If you had a caesarean birth or other complications, they suggest you ask your health care professional when it is safe to start exercising.

The NHS "National Health Service" www.nhs.com  recommends that you wait until your 6-week postnatal check before doing any high impact exercises like running or aerobics.

Now, I am not about to start recommending that you do any high impact exercise even immediately after your 6 weeks check. I certainly couldn’t have done.   I was still bleeding some weeks after my 6-week check when I had overexerted myself just from mum duties. But this should give you the confidence that if you listen to your body you can move and exercise.

Postnatal Workout

There can be a fear amongst new mums about moving and using their bodies postnatally. It hurts to go to the toilet, your breasts are tender and sore, you may have had an episiotomy, tearing, intervention, emergency or selective C-section. I had none of the above and was still sore and uncomfortable going to the toilet those first few days afterwards. But, the NHS and NCT confirm you can start to exercise before your 6–8-week check and as soon as you feel ready.

It is up to you to listen and manage your body.  If you feel pain — stop, bleeding — stop, dizzy — stop, these can all be signs that you are overexerting yourself.  But it’s good for your body and mind to start moving and move freely.

Here are the first exercises I would suggest starting with. You can start doing these as soon as YOU feel ready!

Which could be while you are still in the hospital and a few could even be done while you are in bed! So, if you’ve just got little one back off to sleep, you can feel virtuous while still enjoying a bit of a lie in!

Which Exercises are safe for a new mum?

Pelvic floor exercises are an obvious must, make sure you release as well as strengthen the pelvic floor.

Breathing Exercises

I personally would put these before your pelvic floor exercises or at least as IMPORTANT. These are suitable for everyone; however, you have given birth, and you can start these sorts of exercises straight away. If you have had a C-section just inhale and exhale to the point that feels comfortable, but even breathing properly will be beneficial to scare tissue and healing.

In Pilates the breath is exceptionally important.

“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it” Joseph Pilates, Return to Life Through Contrology.

The objective is to find release of your pelvic floor, ribcage and lower abdominals on the inhale and on the exhalation (without force) connecting the ribcage, lower abdominals and pelvic floor. Breathing properly relaxes the body and mind and you can do this anywhere anytime. There are various breathing exercises that I explore, and this video shows just a snippet of one exercise.

Ribcage Closure

During your pregnancy your bra size changed. It wasn’t just your cup size that increased but also your measurement around your ribcage. Your ribcage increased in size to accommodate your baby as it grew inside of you and until your baby dropped into position for birth.

Postnatally this will of its own accord reduce back in size but there is no harm in giving mother nature a helping hand and building awareness of your ribcage. This exercise also helps to stretch the fascia and muscles of your side body even if you had a c section, just reduce the range of movement of the arms overhead if it starts to feel uncomfortable on your scar.

Bridging Exercises

This is a basic bridge that can be added to as your strength and stability improves. This will be working your pelvic floor and strengthening your hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, back muscles as well as connecting you to and mobilising your spine, pelvis and ribcage.

Standing Against A Wall

When you are not sitting as a new mum you are walking or standing trying to get your baby to sleep, stop them from crying, trying to have a conversation, cook……..

So, its important we look at our standing posture but also the wall is fantastic feedback for what is happening with our bodies. Can we stand against the wall with our pelvis, lowest rib, shoulder blades and head against it? Just that can feel challenging let only adding movements, which we do.

Feet exercises

In pregnancy the hormone relaxin helps our bodies prepare to give birth by allowing our ligaments, muscles and bones to relax enabling our pelvis to amazingly expand, respond and assist our baby in being born vaginally. Relaxin affects our body throughout pregnancy even if you are planning an elective caesarean your body will prepare for you to give birth.

Relaxin though affects all of our joints, muscles not just those in the pelvis, we put some weight on and we have the weight of our baby we are carrying around which in the end effects our feet. This is the reason our show size can change post baby, the bones of our feet can spread and the arch of our foot can collapse (this sounds more dramatic than it looks). But your feet and pelvic floor are connected, try rolling your feet in and then out and you will feel how just that affects your thighs and hips, and that’s the simple explanation.

So foot exercises are of huge important postnatally, here we demonstrate just once exercise which is great for getting the muscles of your feet working.

I hope this blog post will help you to feel confident about getting your body moving sooner rather than later postnatally.

I also hope that it will have given you some ideas of things you can easily do at home to help look after yourself.

As with anything consistency is key, and these simple exercises done everyday until your ready to move on will help.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at info@sharepilates.com or Instagram or Facebook @sharepilates

 

Cynthia x

If you would like more or to complete the full class it is available on www.sharepilates.com in the postnatal fundamentals section and is part of a series of 4 progressive postnatal classes. There is a 14-day free trial available.

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