Please talk to your medical provider before beginning any exercise program.
First of all, congratulations on your new bundle of joy!!!!
I’m so happy you are considering exercising after having a baby, but really…don’t rush! Not because I’m trying to be nice and telling you it’s okay to be a tired mom who doesn’t want to do anything extra, since your plate is more than full (even though this is 150% true), but because you SHOULDN’T RUSH!
Sleep is absolutely the primary focus at this time for your healing and overall well-being. Without sleep, you’re going to feel miserable. I know sleep is hard: you have a newborn. I am a mom of 3 kiddos under 5 years old (including a 4-month-old). So really, I get it. But you JUST HAD A BABY. Your body has been on a rollercoaster ride the past 9 months or so, and the ride isn’t over yet! It’s just beginning! Please give your mind and body time to heal and adjust.
But now you’re awake. Now, what can you do?
First, consider whether you have had a vaginal delivery or a C-section.
If you have had a C-section, you will likely need more time to heal before beginning any sort of exercise, even just stretching. The timeline I go through may be a couple of weeks (or more) beyond what you can do right now. This may especially be true if you had an emergency C-section vs. a planned C-section. Talk to your OBGYN for movement considerations for your particular case. Look out for a future post on healing after a C-Section and C-section considerations!
Secondly, consider if you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding.
If you are breastfeeding, remember your hormones are having an impact on your body. You have an increased hormone called prolactin in your body which causes ligament laxity, or stretchiness. You also have decreased estrogen production since you have higher levels of prolactin. Because estrogen aids in increasing blood flow to your soft tissue, breastfeeding mamas have decreased rates of tissue healing and oxygenation of tissues.
In layman’s terms? Your muscles won’t heal as efficiently as they would otherwise. (Fun fact: decreased estrogen is also why you will need to use lube when intimate with your partner once cleared by your OBGYN since decreased estrogen causes your vagina to be dry). So, if you are breastfeeding, it’s important to keep in mind you are more prone to injury- and any injuries that happen will take longer to heal, which is why it’s even more important to start exercising wisely and correctly!
Okay, I know you’re ready to find out about exercising after having a baby already.
Overall, your main goals prior to beginning an exercise program or performing your sport again are to establish a great base of strength and to have your pelvic floor and core functioning as perfectly as they can. Then continue your exercises and activities as your body allows with good form in order to prevent injury.
If you are in your first 4 weeks of postpartum-hood, listed below are your pre-return to exercise goals. This is really what exercising after having a baby means. Keep in mind these goals are intertwined and must be performed with one another.
1. Start Moving
I don’t mean start working out! I mean literally- start moving! Walk around the house, do some mobility exercises listed below, don’t lay in bed all day!
2. Build Posture Awareness
Your body has changed a lot from 9 months ago. Your lower back wants to extend, your pelvis wants to rotate forwards, your upper back wants to curve, your neck wants to go forward, your hips are stiff.
Now is the time to start noticing these changes and making minor adjustments. You’ll have plenty of time to make larger adjustments as each week passes. Remember. We are only talking about exercising after having a baby during weeks 0-4 postpartum! Don’t worry, though; I’ll progress you through postpartum exercise in following posts!
For now, let’s just try to keep that chin back, prevent your upper back from slouching, and your pelvis neutral when you are able.
3. Start Deep Breathing Exercises
Learn how to do 360 breathing. This is the very foundation of all your future exercise- not just exercising after having a baby. I know you’re a busy and tired mom, so I’ll summarize: 360 breathing allows good movement of your ribs and back with each breath. It also allows your abdominal, back, and even leg and neck muscles to function the way they should during breathing. Your pelvic floor benefits from 360 breathing by decreasing force on the pelvic floor and allowing it to expand and relax as needed with each breath. If your ribs and back aren’t expanding while you breathe, it’s a sign of poor joint mobility and muscle imbalance.
Believe it or not, most people breathe WRONG! It’s one of the first things I correct when I am treating someone. You don’t want your primary or secondary breathing muscles to do more (or less) than they are meant to do. This causes pain and dysfunction. I can tell you- most people who have back, buttock, neck, and hip pain breathe incorrectly!! You want to know another symptom women who have poor breathing mechanics show? Leaking and urinary urgency. YEP! Peeing your pants when you jump, run, laugh, sneeze, or cough, and feeling like you need to go and can’t hold it in.
I’m not saying breathe correctly and all your problems are solved. I’m saying let’s start with fixing the way you breathe and then learn how to move and exercise while maintaining proper breathing.
4. Activation and Mobility Exercises (Begin during postpartum week 2)
While you are newly postpartum, now is the time to give your body a solid foundation for the future movements and exercise you will be doing. During pregnancy, muscles get lengthened and “inactivated” (e.g. decreased use of core muscles since the baby was busy expanding your belly). This caused others to compensate (e.g. increased use of low back muscles. I know you feel what I mean!) You need to mobilize the stiff areas and re-activate the weak muscles.
5. Listen to Your Body
Is your body telling you it’s time to relax? Maybe you feel it’s okay to move a little more? Your mind may be ready to get running again, but I promise- your body isn’t ready to handle as much as you want it to. Not quite yet. I don’t care if you’re a triathlete. You’re still newly postpartum and need time to heal from having your baby. Maybe you’ll be ahead of the game next month, just not right now.
Say this mantra to yourself: “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.”
That’s right–> 9 months in, 9 months out. Recovery takes time. 9 months, generally speaking.
As mentioned earlier, now is the time for healing. Monitor yourself for signs of overdoing movement and activity. If you have any of the below symptoms, back off and/or stop your movement or exercise regimen and contact your medical provider:
- Mild depression or lack of motivation
- Decrease in strength despite training
- Above “new” normal soreness or soreness taking more than a few days to resolve.
- Changes in appetite
- Decreased milk production
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased bleeding (call your OBGYN if this occurs to make sure everything is okay)
1. Side-Lying Rotation
Goal= 3 repetitions of 5 openings each
I personally like doing it with my top elbow bent (see below). Rotate back the same as above, keeping the elbow bent.
2. Side-Lying Breathing
Inhale: Ribs and abdomen expand, pushing up on your hand, pelvic floor fully relaxes down. Feel the pressure go down to your pelvic floor, letting it relax. Exhale: Abdomen sinks down and ribs go down, pelvic floor tightens (this is one version of a Kegel exercise.) If you never let your pelvic floor relax for a good inhale, you cannot get a proper tightening for the exhale. (You cannot tighten an already tight muscle.)
Goal= 2 or 3 sets of 6 repetitions with a 30 second-1 minute break between each set
Keep a long neck, arch and curve your back focusing on the midback. Get in a few deep breaths while you are in this position. It will be harder than lying on your side.
Goal= 1 repetition of 10 movements
How does all of this sound to you? Good? Good!
Exercising after having a baby starts with baby steps. Keep the goal in mind and you’ll get there! It’s better to start slowly and intentionally to meet your goal feeling 100% rather than starting too quickly and having pain, dysfunction, or injury along the way while meeting your goal feeling 75%.
Remember to listen to your body and step back if you need to! Now is your time to HEAL! I have been to physical therapy myself following the births of all 3 of my babies for pain. The struggle is real.
Please note: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Not every program or exercise is right for every person, and you must consult a healthcare provider before doing any exercise listed here. This article is not a substitute for professional medical care or advice. You must consult a medical care provider for advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Vermont Mom and New Moon Physical Therapy and Wellness are in no way liable for any issues that arise from using information contained within this article. Please consult your medical care provider before starting any exercise program.
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Guest Writer: Dr. Davida Murray
Dr. Davida Murray is a fiercely passionate mother to her 3 children and wife to her husband, as well as a strong supporter of moms everywhere. She believes moms are the ultimate super-heroines who never get enough recognition or support. She is now on a mission to do her part to change that. She is the owner and founder of New Moon Physical Therapy and Wellness.