New moms are often very anxious to start exercising. Postnatal exercise is a fantastic pursuit which ideally serves to strategically strengthen key areas and also facilitate our recovery from delivery, no matter what kind of delivery it was. In the first 6 weeks postpartum it is imperative to do breathing and pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. Depending on trauma, the ROM may be extremely gentle, but it is the best investment in restoring core function postpartum. The postnatal body is designed to heal, and these first 6-8 weeks are crucial for that reason. Ideally these exercises are started prenatally so they are familiar, form is intact and the program is in place right away. Gentle head-to-toe stretches with reduced range of motion (focus on dynamic over static) and walking are also encouraged. Higher intensity exercise may begin at the 6-8 week mark but “jumping right back into it” will not serve the postnatal condition! It is important to train smart and train hard!
A postnatal exercise program requires a thorough supplemental core and postural assessment. This will provide information regarding any incidence of diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, pubic symphysis and other issues that may compromise pelvic stability control. Every new mom should invest in a professional core assessment in order to understand where form needs to be strengthened to support the exercise they want to begin (or return to).
Asymptomatic is not synonymous with functional. In a large majority of cases core dysfunction is present without symptoms. Without assessment and appropriate rehabilitation, symptoms may occur many years from now. Lower back pain, poochiness, occasional incontinence, etc, are accepted as normal and aging symptoms- they are not! If these symptoms develop many years postpartum the connection to lack of proper postnatal recovery is often completely overlooked, potentially resulting in misdiagnosis and in the worst case scenario- surgery.
Depending on the results of the core assessment there may be restrictions applied to exercise until function can be adequately restored to support certain positions. For example, a diastasis recti restricts plank and front loaded exercises; pelvic floor symptoms may prevent running right away; pubic symphysis may restrict lateral movements and unilateral positions. Once function is restored these exercises can be reintroduced but postnatal recovery takes time!
A postnatal program supports recovery and through strategic strengthening builds the foundation for high intensity exercise. Beginning these exercises too quickly will exacerbate symptoms, provide limited results (frustrating!) and may very well result in injury. Postnatal exercise considerations include proper hydration, adequate caloric intake if needed to support breastfeeding, and a balance between rest and exercise.
Functional & Beyond
There are plenty of exercises that are safe, effective and targeted to strengthening imbalances and building back up to function. This may take 4 weeks; it may take 12 months and longer. It will depend 50% on the severity of the challenges and 150% the diligence of the mother. As exercises and positions are reintroduced symptoms must be monitored regularly. If symptoms recur it is necessary to take a step back temporarily and reintroduce the problematic exercises again later. They serve as a reference point for progress! The deep core work continues to be applied to advanced strength training, and it improves balance (stability control) and strength (full range of core contraction).
“Mom” is the best shape of your life- believe it baby!
I am very offended by the insinuation that our bodies change after baby in some detrimental way that we are never fully able to recover from. Admittedly body shape may change (slightly) but I know first hand that we can be in the very best shape of our lives as mothers. Becoming a mother can inspire us to personal greatness that exceeds our pre-parent ambitions- that is the psychological component.
Physically the body awareness that develops by addressing the lingering impacts of pregnancy and delivery fundamentally changes the approach and effectiveness with not only exercise, but also with everyday meaningful activities. This results in a tremendous increase in quality of life, and these effects continue to snowball from there. Understanding how our core is functioning to support movements is a tremendous investment in effective successful training and fitness goals. Training up is imperative!
“train smart and train hard!”