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Women’s Health | Returning to Exercise Pospartum
I am frequently asked by postpartum women, “when can I start exercising again?” Many women feel the pull to get back to exercising so they can feel like themselves again, and I’ve noticed that women are trying to jump back into physical activity as soon as possible. Your OB-GYN will usually give you clearance to return to exercise 6-8 weeks postpartum, but how soon is too soon? What are the risks that come with returning to exercise too quickly?
No matter the type of birth, pregnancy leads to a specific posture in the female body. Picture a very pregnant woman walking down the street. She is probably walking with her feet a little wider than normal, maybe slightly toed out, with an increased sway in her back to account for the fact that she is carrying 10+ lbs directly in her abdomen. This posture can lead to increased pressure in the low back and front of hips, as well as create over lengthened inner thighs and abs.
During the postpartum period, it is important to get those muscles that were over lengthened and underused during pregnancy back on board. Your body has an increased risk of injury as your relaxin hormone level comes back to normal as well, which means you need all the muscular support you can get! Relaxin is a hormone that helps our ligaments and tissues stretch during pregnancy and delivery. Postpartum, your body is still adapting and may be a little more stretchy than usual. It is important to have all your muscles working effectively to protect your body from injury.
Beginning with the birth
The birth process is unique to every woman, so it is important to find out what exactly happened during your delivery. Some questions you should ask your doctor, nurse of doula : “Did I I have an episiotomy? C-section? Did I experience tearing? How many stitches do I have?” All of this information is critical to know in order to have a full understanding of the best timing to get back into activity.
Finding your abs again .. YES
Your abdomen was just stretched out for several weeks. In addition to your skin stretching to accommodate the growing baby, your abdominal muscles under the skin also stretch. The baby pushes your internal organs back and up, which can create increased connective tissue tension through your back. You may find that feeling your abs is harder or different than it was before. This is okay, and totally normal! You just need to learn how to find them again to stabilize your pelvis and trunk before returning to activity. If you find you have a separation between your rectus abdominus muscles (think: six pack abs) you may have diastasis recti which may require additional treatment.
NOTE: If you’re noticing severe difficulty finding your abs, check for diastasis recti
The easiest way to start to find your abdominal muscles is to breathe correctly. When you exhale, you should feel your ribs move down, in and together and feel an abdominal contraction at the very end of the exhale. You can also start to feel your pelvic floor contract and lift with the exhale. While inhaling, try to maintain a little abdominal control to expand throughout the chest cavity, not just ballooning out your belly. If you find you need help, use your hands crossed across your abdomen (one hand on the opposite rib), and help yourself make that occlusion during the exhale yourself.
Once you’re able to use your abs more effectively, make sure you put them to work in everyday activity! Whenever you roll to get out of bed or pick the new baby up, remember to exhale and brace yourself a little bit to protect your changing body.
Stability within the pelvis and trunk
Other muscles that stabilize the pelvis and trunk are your hamstrings and adductors, both of which can become over-lengthened during pregnancy. To the same degree, you want to make sure you are getting these muscles active again prior to returning to exercise. If you weren’t a heavy exerciser, or had orthopedic issues related to exercise prior to pregnancy, remember to take it easy on yourself and work back up to exercise. Have realistic expectations about what your prior level of fitness was when setting goals related to postpartum fitness. Respect that your body just went through a major musculoskeletal journey. Not only are you responsible for taking care of your new baby, but yourself as well.
Stay tuned for part 2 on returning to plyometrics and running!
Women’s Health Night | Pregnancy & Postpartum