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Pregnancy and postpartum are special yet challenging times for new mothers. They have just experienced a major event – physically, mentally, and emotionally, after which they must build a new normal. A new mother often yearns to return to her pre-pregnancy routines in order to regain a sense of structure amid the daily changes that come with a newborn.
Exercise can be one activity that a postpartum woman anticipates returning to fully. But what does exercise mean versus what should it mean? Most doctors give clearance approximately 6-8 weeks after delivery; however women should not expect to dive right back into their old routine as there is a risk of injury along with some psychological elements.
During postpartum, new moms can experience endorphin boosts which signal the brain that you can “take on the world”. Coupled with a new body, moms often get back to their usual exercises right after receiving the green light. The brain is ready to workout because you cannot see all of the healing that needs to happen internally (ie – everyone’s favorite topic: the pelvic floor).
For example, if a new mom was an avid runner prior to pregnancy (and even during first and second trimester) and she receives clearance to exercise, she will most likely hit the ground running (no pun intended). But what happens when she feels pressure in her pelvis, low back pain, ankle instability, or a combination of the three? Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence and can result in a myriad of issues. After ten months of creating and carrying a life, the postpartum body needs the proper time to heal.
After giving birth to my son in 2016, Pilates was the best regimen for what my body had been through. By focusing on breathe, core strength, alignment, mobility, posture and pelvic stability, Pilates can help with many physical and emotional issues that postpartum women experience:
During pregnancy, the muscles of your abdominals stretch to make room for the growing baby. Once the baby is out, the muscles are overstretched, which can cause diastasis recti, a thinning of the linea alba and separation of the rectus abdominis from the linea alba. Most women will have some form of diastasis recti during and after their pregnancy, regardless of how fit/active they were. Pilates helps to strengthen the deepest abdominal muscles, known as the transversus abdominus, to help restore the core’s functionality. By finding proper engagement in the core, new moms can begin transitioning into exercise safely (think planks and mountain climbers).
If you are unsure whether you have diastasis, a Pilates instructor certified in pre- and postnatal rehabilitation or a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist will be able to conduct an assessment and work with you to build strength and structure back safely.
During pregnancy and after childbirth, women might notice some discomfort surrounding their pelvis. Some moms will say they feel as if the baby is “about to fall out” while others experience urinary incontinence. Both cases are caused by pelvic floor dysfunction, whether it be weak or overactive. Pilates helps to connect a woman’s breath pattern to her pelvic floor, improving the overall pressure system and restoring functionality. Finding the breath connection helps to strengthen and/or release where needed. Surprisingly to most, the pelvic floor is an anticipatory muscle and by learning proper activation, will function normally on its own again. Taking the time for this early on after delivery will help decrease recovery time.
As we all know, new moms are fatigued and sleep deprived, focusing their time and energy on their new baby. But it’s important for new moms to take time for themselves. By using the breath work and restorative movements of Pilates, moms can reduce stress, calm the nervous system, increase endorphins and reconnect to their bodies. Furthermore, although it has not been clinically said, there are many studies that show a reduction in postpartum depression in moms who incorporate Pilates into their lives.
A woman’s body changes greatly during pregnancy. After birth, many new mothers are rediscovering their bodies and should ease back into fitness mindfully. Pilates is the perfect path to guide them on the journey to regaining strength and improving body mechanics. By restoring proper functionality to a new mother’s body, she can feel healthy, energized and ready for the new adventure ahead.