Women are considered to be postpartum if they have ever given birth, whether that was very recently or decades ago. Considerations must be made when training women who have experienced childbirth because of the changes their bodies undergo.
For many new mother's their bodies feel unfamiliar after delivery, with the most noticeable changes felt around the pelvic floor, the hips and their abs.
It's advisable for women who have given birth to work closely with an exercise professional who has specialist training in postpartum training methods if they are considering returning to exercise or starting an exercise regime for the first time.
#1. Core Strength Assessment
Your core relates to all the muscles in your midsection, including your abs, lower back, hips, and glutes. Muscles in the front of the body, like your abs, get stretched and weakened. Muscles on the back of the body get shortened and overworked.
So before taking on any compound lifts or unilateral exercises, you may want to work on core strength to ensure your midsection will be supported. This will be important because your core is responsible for keeping your body upright and creating the intra-abdominal pressure needed for those exercises safely. Below are a few core exercises to help you get started.
This is a mindful exercise involving consciously breathing deeply into the belly so that it expands and contracts as much as possible during the breath.
While lying on your back or side, brace your ab muscles as though you were anticipating a poke in the belly. Think about pulling your ribs down towards the top of your pelvis, and squeezing your butt cheeks to create a tense stomach. Once this feels easy, make it more challenging by raising your arms above your head, or lifting your legs.
Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Prop your feet on a yoga ball or on a chair. Brace your core by pressing your lower back into the floor, and holding for 5 seconds. Be careful not to hold your breath!
This yoga position involves sitting on the floor, and leaning backward until you feel your core become tight. Put your arms out in front for balance. Hold this position for 30 seconds. If this feels too easy, lift your feet off the floor.
Performing a plank on the floor may be hard enough at first. When you're ready to introduce an extra challenge, planking with your forearms on a yoga ball adds some instability. It's this which makes your core work a little harder. Alternatively, using a side plank where your elbow and foot are on the floor can be a different sort of core challenge that doesn't need any extra equipment.
#2. Undiagnosed Diastasis Recti
During pregnancy, the growing fetus will stretch the abdominal muscles, and they often separate. If you're unsure if you have diastasis recti, speak to your postpartum exercise professional to help you using the following steps:
Diastasis recti will often fix itself as your core gets stronger. Still, your doctor should evaluate any gap larger than 2 finger-widths. If you think this doesn't apply to you because your children are almost adults, always do the test if you haven't exercised ever since giving birth or are returning from a long break. It does occur still later in life if it couldn't recover for some reason.
#3. Bladder Control Issues
During pregnancy, the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles can cause problems with urinary incontinence. It's prevalent, and it's recommended postpartum women avoid exercises which are high impact or involve jumping.
As your core gets stronger from exercise, you may notice that bladder control improves. However, for many women, their level of control doesn't fully return to their pre-pregnancy bodies. In these cases, wearing a panty liner while exercising, and avoiding high impact exercise can help. Regularly performing the pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) to continue to strengthen control over the bladder can help, as well as weight management.
If you are still experiencing urinary incontinence 6 weeks or more after giving birth, you may want to consider speaking to your doctor or health visitor.
Giving birth is both emotionally and physically demanding. It's advisable to exercise under the supervision of a professional that's experienced in working with postnatal women and providing your body more time to recover from exercise. The above advice applies to any woman who once has given birth to a child, whether that was 3 months ago or 20 years ago. Feel free to reach out if you have symptoms you'd like to discuss.