During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin is released, and (just like it sounds) it literally “relaxes” ligaments and loosens joints. This shift, increasing with each passing week of pregnancy, is important because it allows the pelvis to become super flexible and open, creating all the space you need to birth your baby. That’s great for birth (really great, actually), but it’s not so great for your stability.
To make matters worse, relaxin is not only targeted in the pelvis. All of the joints are affected including wrists, knees, and ankles. Even after pregnancy, it takes time for ligaments to tighten back up and the effects to be reversed. And when you’re breastfeeding, hormones will continue to keep your joints looser than they were pre-pregnancy. The take-away for you? You are more prone to injury during those critical times when your body is focused on growing, birthing, and feeding your baby.
So what’s a loose-jointed mother to do? Exercise is still vital to a healthy pregnancy and an easier postpartum recovery. Modifying your activity is the key to your success during these times, and we need to do it proactively. In other words: make changes to your routine before it becomes a problem. Once ligaments are over-stretched, they don’t go back. Stubbornly pushing forward with your previous exercise program, especially through pain, could result in joints that are compromised for the long term.
Good muscle tone increases stability in the joints by literally helping to “hold” the body in place. Rebuilding tone in the abdominal muscles after birth is important for supporting the loose joints in the pelvis, sacroiliac joint, and spine. It takes patience and time after pregnancy to find those belly muscles again and reconnect, especially after a cesarean birth. A few of the best exercises I have found for strengthening and toning those all-important core muscles after birth is postpartum is PLANK. IT IS MY ALL TIME FAVORITE EXERCISE FOR EVERYONE! Another great technique that will help close the Diastasis and strengthen your core correctly are from a technique Julie Tupler developed a research based program to help close a diastasis. I found her program when I was about 12 months postpartum with my 2nd child Jack (I should have started a lot sooner!). It was working great, and my separation was getting smaller and so was my waist! I could actually see and feel the difference. I suggest that all my mommas take a look at this.
This 4 step approach to close a diastasis consists of:
Exercises: Elevator, Contracting and Headlifts
Splinting: wearing and holding
Using your transverse in EVERYTHING YOU DO
Get up and down correctly from a back-lying postion
Exercises 1-3 above are the MOST important in starting your recovery. In her program, it’s recommended you do several sets a day of these 3. In terms of wearing a splint, I wore and wear mine as much as possible. There are MANY on the market right now, so depending on which one you go with will determine how it’s worn. The ‘splint’ should be worn at all time, even when you sleep! I know, I know, say it ain’t so. BUT, it helps to keep your transverse in place and engaged. Wearing it also reminds you of how you are to sit, stand, walk, pick up anything, bend over etc. She recommends wearing it also while doing the exercises above .Separation of the vertical abdominal muscles is common during pregnancy, so be sure that your midwife or doctor has checked for that separation (diastasis recti) at your six week appointment. If there is still significant separation at six weeks, ask for a referral for a PT and will guide you on what exercises to do to bring those muscles back together, as well as what exercises to avoid. At this stage, intensive ab work can do more harm than good if you’re not ready for it. The splint on the model below is what mine looks like:
Most women are “released for exercise” at the six week visit with their care provider from a natural child birth . In our culture we generally assume that six weeks is enough time to get back to regular life. Any mama will tell you, though, that true recovery (physical and emotional) takes more like a year, and the type of birth experience impacts recovery as well. Physically, mamas recovering from cesarean birth have different needs than mamas recovering from vaginal birth. On the emotional side, mamas who view their birth experience as positive tend to bounce back more quickly than those who feel their experience was negative or who lacked adequate support. I personally had a more difficult birth with both children and did not bounce back right away. The personality of the new baby also impacts how we’re feeling—some babies are easier to learn to care for than others. Modify your choice of activity to suit how you are feeling both inside and out, especially when breastfeeding and milk supply are being established.
It’s important to remember that pain is not normal. If you are still suffering from low back pain or pain in the joints after giving birth, that’s also an indication to schedule with a Physical Therapist. Because joints have been (and continue to be) loose, and muscle tone is not what it used to be, alignment issues sometimes arise that don’t clear up on their own. A visit with a qualified PT around six to eight weeks postpartum will ensure that structural alignment issues are addressed before we begin to rebuild strength.
Even if your not ready for your hardcore workouts this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t begin to exercise. When done right, exercise can lift your mood, relieve exhaustion, improve the quality of sleep, and speed healing, so it’s important to find some activity that works for your stage. You can take a Mommy workout class ( stroller based), Restorative yoga or a gentle mom & baby yoga class that may be the right fit for you at first, and with a knowledgeable instructor these classes can sometimes be started before the six week mark.
And for all the runners out there, I’m just going to say it: I don’t recommend running in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, or before 12-16 weeks postpartum. If you are running or engaging in any other high impact exercise and your joints are sore afterwards, take heed. Slow down and rebuild gradually, and remember that damage done to joints cannot be reversed. Exercises that involve a lot of “scissoring” of the legs can also compromise a loose pelvis—especially during pregnancy and early postpartum. For the postpartum body, think low-impact. Swimming and yoga are fantastic for toning muscles both during and after pregnancy. Your yoga mat is your new best friend for low-impact, specialized postpartum yoga and some Pilates classes targeted in the areas where you need it most. Return to your previous exercise routines slowly over time, as they feel right, and remember that the postpartum period lasts two years after birth. Be patient with yourself.
After a cesarean birth, your recovery will be very different. I don’t recommend beginning intensive abdominal work until 10-12 weeks postpartum. I’ve had a docotor take my classes, recovering from a c-section, who waited 12 weeks before doing any ab work or deep twisting to allow extra time for connective tissue (fascia) to heal and to minimize scar tissue. I think you need to play on the side of caution and don’t put that type of pressure on yourself. Really, mamas, please be extra patient with yourself after major surgery.
Even when you’re done with pregnancy and breastfeeding, you will still want to be aware of your body during your cycle. Due to monthly hormone fluctuations, you are also more prone to injury during the middle part of the menstrual cycle, and again at the end, when our old friend relaxin is released again.
By Kimberly D’Arcy
#exercise #Postpartum,#Postpartum Exercise #Postpartum Recovery #Weight Loss #diastaisrectic #health #wellness