Childbirth is one of the most beautiful things one can witness or experience, but it is undoubtedly not an easy task, and it can be so tough being a mom on both body and soul. Mothering a new baby can be a workout in itself – from the progressive weight training (of carrying a growing baby) to countless squats in the daily life! Coupled with a lack of sleep, many would find themselves severely lacking in energy, vitality, and functional strength just for their new daily routine. Beyond that, once you have processed and appreciated what your powerful and strong body has just gone through, you might be thinking of returning to sport and/or exercise. However, simple exercises that used to seem manageable may suddenly feel incredibly challenging. In most cases, this change is most significant at the core and pelvic floor region. Your body has just undergone a massive shift so don’t feel the need to dive straight into the deep end. Even professional sportswomen don’t bounce back instantly!
Safe, sound, and effective fitness strategies should be what you want to look for but above all, to get back in your groove, you have to listen to your body and go at your own pace! Nicole Haas, a doctor of physical therapy once said “In an ideal world, you’d have a whole team – an OBGYN, a physical therapist, a psychologist, a nutritionist, childcare support”. This really puts into perspective the extent of physiological and psychosocial changes one goes through during pregnancy and childbirth. She went on to add that the body undergoes three broad categories of change: hormonal, physical and postural.
One hormonal change often overlooked is relaxin, produced by the ovaries and placenta, where it exerts its effect mainly on the musculoskeletal system. This hormone alters the properties in cartilage and tendon and is also associated with ligament laxity (i.e., looseness). Previous animal studies have found that circulating concentrations of relaxin at the end of pregnancy is two times greater than in human – that is a lot! While this hormone is released to help enable the pelvic area to expand during birth, it can be circulated in the body to other joints like the hip, shoulders, feet, and ankles. The resultant joint laxity and hypermobility can be long lasting (especially because relaxin continues to have a strong presence throughout breastfeeding), where it can cause pain through altered movement mechanics and spinal alignment (posture), especially alongside weaker muscular strength. These effects are also exacerbated by carrying extra weight.
Physical changes beyond the baby bump and weight gain includes the pelvic structure loosening, leading to a slight external rotation (i.e., turn out) of the hips. Prolonged sitting can also contribute to this through weakness in the external rotators of your hip.
Another significant physical change is with regards to the linea alba – the connective tissue that forms the vertical centerline of the six-pack. As your uterus expands during pregnancy, the abdominals are inevitably stretched and the linea alba thins and pulls apart as it is pushed outward. This is commonly known as diastasis recti. The linea alba can take anytime from a few months to a few years to recover but it needs special attention and care to give it the best change to properly heal. Lastly, following the physical changes of your body, your posture will also change. With more weight in the front, your back will start to arch and your pelvis tilted too. In some cases, your head will also come forward. This is a normal process (kind of like a balancing act) of your body but it can strain the muscles of your shoulder, neck, lower back and hips.
The first thing to focus on before even improving strength and function would be to reconnect to the muscles, especially of the leaky pelvic floor and the core/mid-section. One proven effective way of reconnecting well is to use whole body vibration, such as on the Power Plate. Clients have reported an increased ability to ‘connect’ with their pelvic floor muscles, most probably due to the stimulus provided by WBV to the nerves connected to the pelvic floor muscles (particularly the Prudenal nerve). Similarly, stimulus of both superficial and deep muscles of the core are important, as diastatsis recti is a very common occurrence. Performing simple moves can elicit great benefits, especially in the early stages as the simplicity of exercises can allow you to ‘reconnect’ with the core without thinking too much of the movement at hand. This can be as simple as deep breathing while standing on the plate.
Evidence from the scientific literature makes us even more confident that this is a great tool! A recent narrative review concluded that WBV exercises increased muscle activation and strength of the pelvic floor muscles in both healthy and post-partum women (Guedes-Aguiar et al., 2019). Cardinale & Bosco (2003) previously described that the transmission of mechanical vibrations to the whole body stimulates the primary endings of muscle spindles, in turn activating motor neurons leading to muscle contractions.
Here is a great short video on some exercises you can do postpartum on the Power Plate – https://youtu.be/iBb92Zdo4Yc
Our pilates branch (Pilates BodyTree) is holding a postnatal core training workshop on 9th April, 2:30-4pm at our Cecil studio. In this workshop, you can learn to:
- Identify and do self checks for diastasis recti
- Connect to your core through breathing
- Effectively execute exercises postpartum.
Get in touch with us to sign up or find out more! Alternatively sign up through this link: https://pid1uc4j.pages.infusionsoft.net/?cookieUUID=1ec61935-0bcc-40c6-828c-d9dc09b6596f&affiliate=0&fbclid=IwAR06YBxEJNUJqZGROuxiqcEh1MZO0IBLqHc64oxpinW1Mr7j4CR2ie3oKes
In the meantime, here are some exercises you can do at home (safely, with your doctor’s approval). Work your way through each exercise in chronological order and stop whenever you’ve had enough – remember to always listen to your body!
Form a triangle with your hands over your hip bones and your pubic bone. Think about tilting that triangle upwards using your deep pelvic floor muscles as your back flattens against the floor. Hold for a few seconds, slowly tilt back to neutral spine and repeat!
Single leg slide out
Keeping a neutral spine (use your triangle to help maintain this), slide one leg out slowly with control. Slowly return to starting position and repeat on the other leg.
Keeping neutral spine, use your core and pelvic floor muscles to lift one leg up with control and place it back down slowly. Start with single leg then move to double leg lifts when you are ready!
Bird dog is great for improving core stability while relieving back pain. Starting on all fours in a neutral spine (including neck!), isolate opposite arm and leg and slowly lift off the ground. Repeat on the other side!
Modifactions: standing (see right pic), keeping back leg straightened on the floor, lifting only back leg with both arms on the floor
Side work with pelvic stability
Clam shell exercise: With your knees bent and a neutral spine, lift your knee up while keeping your feet together. Imagine you are a clam shell opening! You should feel your side glutes working, helping to strengthen your hip external rotators. Importantly, keep your sides long and held up. You should feel your core and pelvic floor muscles firing to help stabilise you! Turn over and repeat on the other side.
Hip flexion and extension: From ‘closed clam’ position, lift the top leg up, keeping legs parallel. Straighten the top leg out in front of you and press the leg back till it is in line with your body – don’t go past your midline as you will lose your neutral spine! Similarly, you should feel the muscles around your hip working, along with your core and pelvic floor muscles firing to stabilise you. Just like before, it is important to ensure your torso isn’t sinking down!
Remember, your body needs your attention just as much as your new little bundle of joy! Thank your body for what it has gone through and regain your strength at your own pace. You’ve got this mamas!