It doesn’t matter if your child was born 10 minutes ago, or 10 years ago, once you’re a mother it’s never too late to begin a post-natal fitness plan. The changes a woman’s body undergoes to grow and birth a child are substantial, and if left un-addressed, can linger on physically for the rest of a woman’s lifetime. Statistics show that the vast majority of women, roughly 80%, will have had a child by their 40th birthday, which means you’re likely not alone in your “Mommy Bod” woes.
When is it Safe to Begin Exercising?
For recent mothers, experts recommend taking it easy for the first 6 weeks after a normal healthy birth, and perhaps postponing exercise longer with complicated or C-Section births. In the first 6 weeks, your uterus is still enlarged and your joints are still working to pull themselves back closer to their pre-pregnancy position.
Though physically you may be approved for exercise at 6 weeks, keep in mind that pregnancy hormones are still slowly tapering off and will not return to pre-pregnancy levels for at least 3 months. For many new mothers, the postnatal period is marked by anxiety and irritability due to irregular hormones, and add in the stress and sleeplessness of caring for a newborn and you’re likely to give up on the idea of exercise all together.
It’s Never Too Late
With the stress an anxiety of a newborn, many mothers don’t prioritize their own health and fitness while their child is young. Perhaps your little one is just about to start Kindergarten (or College…) and your own health is just finally starting to make it back onto your priority list. What does a late (or very late) post-natal workout look like?
During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch and separate to allow space for the growing child. Roughly two thirds of pregnant women will develop a condition known as diastasis recti, which means that the muscles separate enough to cause a “pooch” of the stomach, that may not go away on it’s own, and can linger for years if not addressed by exercise. This abdominal muscle separation means your core will lack critically needed support, and could result in significant ongoing low back pain.
Pilates exercises that focus on the Transverse abdominis (the abdominal muscle that circles your waste like a belt) can help pull your Rectus abdominis (the 6 pack ab muscles) back closer together, and increase core stability.
Attending a pilates class in person (or watching videos online) is a great way to start repairing your abdominal muscles, but to begin practicing on your own at home, lay on your back with your knees up and your feet flat on the floor, and your spine neutral with just a bit of open space below the small or your back. Gently pull your belly button toward your spine, while keeping the space open below the small of your back. Hold for a few seconds, and release.
The pelvic floor is a muscle that stretches from your pubic bone and tail bone, and forms the “floor” of your abdominal cavity, keeping all of your internal organs supported. The pelvic floor has to stretch dramatically to allow for a child to be born, and even in c-section births the hormones released during pregnancy cause a loosening of the pelvic floor muscles. Just like your abdominals, your pelvic floor is essential for bodily stability, and honestly, just keeping all of your organs in the right place!
To begin to exercise your pelvic floor, try lying on your back with your knees raised and your feet flat on the floor. To isolate your pelvic floor, imagine you’re trying to stop the flow of urine when you really have to go. If you feel your glutes contracting, you’re in the wrong place. Another way to try to visualize the contraction is to imagine your sits bones are drawing together, without moving your legs. Once you’ve found your pelvic floor and mastered these basic exercises, try these exercises from the Ultimate Pelvic Floor Workout.
Shoulders and Upper Back
Issues with the shoulders and upper back may seem at first glance to be unrelated to pregnancy, but many women experience issues with their shoulders and upper back in the post natal period. The same hormones that loosen your pelvic floor muscles and abdominals also have an impact on your shoulder girdle, and with all the side sleeping during pregnancy, and potentially side lying breast feeding in the post natal period, shoulder and upper back pain, or shooting nerve pain down either the front of your arm into your thumb, or the back of your arm into your pinky finger can linger well after a pregnancy without a concerted effort to bring your shoulder girdle back into alignment.
A good place to start is with “serratus pushups” which is a modified push-up that uses your shoulder and rib muscles, rather than your arm and chest muscles. Come down to the floor in plank position with your arms straight and lined up below your shoulders. Without bending your elbows, slowly lower your chest toward the floor by drawing your shoulder blades together on your back. Be sure that you’re maintaining a strong plank position and keeping your abs engaged. After you’ve brought your shoulder blades together, push back out of the position by engaging your shoulders to expand the space between your shoulder blades and drawing your chest away from the floor. At no point should your arms bend, this entire exercise is in your shoulders and moves only your shoulder blades.
To find more shoulder and upper back exercises, try this video to get you started.