11 Must-Know Postpartum Exercise Do’s and Don’ts

Postpartum exercise is important, but there are some important do’s and don’ts to know before you start.

What’s safe?

What should you stay away from?

Postpartum exercise: What NOT to do

1. Set unrealistic expectations

Pregnancy and birth are two of the most taxing things your body can go through. Think about how you would talk to someone who just had another massively taxing experience. Would you tell them they should be back to work in 6 weeks? Or pressure them? Hopefully not! Give yourself the same patience and support you would someone else. Remember that your body will heal – the process just takes time!

2. Engage in negative self-talk

Even the most confident and secure women sometimes find themselves surprised by how they feel about their postpartum body. That’s because so many of the things that women experience don’t fit within the impossibly narrow context of Western beauty standards. Instead of allowing others’ standards to decide how you feel, practice gratitude for what you have in your life and what you love about yourself. Always remember that your body is like this because it allowed you to bring your child into the world. Being able to do that is a gift in and of itself.

3. Consume media that makes you feel worse

When you’re feeling down about your body, don’t watch shows that make you feel even worse. The same goes with social media. You don’t need that additional pressure when you are already having your entire life and self-image changing. Instead, choose to engage with material that depicts and supports a wide variety of bodies. That helps reinforce that the truth – that all bodies are beautiful!

4. Rush yourself

Rushing your body won’t help with postpartum exercise. In fact, it can cause distress or even lead to injury. Even when you want to hurry, remember that postpartum recovery is a journey and it takes time. Instead of rushing yourself, try to enjoy your journey and see it as a natural part of your pregnancy. This may be a challenging time, but it is also special. As much as possible, try to remember that this is part of the incredible experience of building your family.

Postpartum exercise: What you SHOULD do

1. Allow the body time to heal  

This goes along with not rushing yourself. Listen to your body and give it what it needs. At the same time, accept how you are feeling. If you want to rush your postpartum exercise, ask why. What is driving that want? By thinking about that, you may find underlying pressures that you have internalized. One of the best things about the postpartum period is that it allows you to explore those internalized pressures and learn and grow from them.  

2. Rest

Get the rest you can when you need it. This may mean calling on your support systems. Do it! Don’t worry about asking for help whenever you need it. You may also need to cancel some plans. That’s fine. Do what you need to and trust that others will be able to accommodate. If you are finding that your support systems are not stepping up, let them know that you need more help from them or ask more loved ones to join your support team. Remember that there are also mommy groups and support systems available if you need them.

3. See a pelvic floor specialist

It is important to assess the state of your pelvic floor and core before you start postpartum exercise. A pelvic floor specialist will be able to discuss your floor and core with you. Once you establish the condition of your pelvic floor, a specialist will give you the information you need to plan your exercise regime. Caring for your pelvic floor now, you will help you today – and for the years to come!

4. Start small

Begin your postpartum exercise with simple exercises, such as:

  • Connection breath
  • Isolated muscle contractions
  • Pelvic tilts
  • Knee rolls
  • Back mobility

Once you progress with these, you can move on to more compound and functional exercises.

5. Focus on posture and walking

Posture is something you can remind yourself of throughout the day. When you notice your posture slipping, take a moment and correct it. Then focus on walking. Start with 10 minute walks. Then start accumulating several of these walks throughout the day. Remember that you can do this with other exercises too, splitting up repetitions and doing them over the course of the day.

6. Work out with friends

It is easier to engage in postpartum exercise when you have the support of other women that are dealing with the same postpartum process. Don’t know anyone? Join a group for new moms and find other women looking for a circle. It really helps to know moms who are going through the same things at the same time you are. Who knows, you may find a new best friend for yourself and your child!

7. Know when to call a professional

If you have urine leaks or feelings of heaviness in the pelvic floor during any movements, call a professional. This may be a sign of something more serious needing medical attention.

If you are having problems with postpartum exercise or motivation, remember that there is help and support available to you!


Diastasis Recti: What Is It, And What You Can Do About It

Diastasis Recti: What is it, and what you can do about it

There is a lot of misinformation about diastasis recti (also called ab separation) out there. People refer to this condition as “mummy tummy” or “pooch” because it leaves the belly looking and feeling soft and squishy.

I am bringing you honest and accurate information about diastasis recti in this blog. So let’s deal with facts:

What is diastasis recti, really?

Why does it happen?

What can you do about it?

What is diastasis recti?

There is a pair of muscles that run vertically down each side of the anterior abdominal wall, this muscle is collectively referred to as the rectus abdominis. We call these our “abs”. This is the muscle that people focus on to achieve a flatter stomach.

The two sides of the rectus abdominis are joined by a band of connective tissue called the linea alba. To make room for your growing baby during pregnancy, the two sides of the rectus abdominis separates. This causes the linea alba to stretch out, and results in a separation or a “diastasis”.

Is it common?

Diastasis recti is normal nearly every woman is going to have a mild diastasis of 16 mm near the end of their third trimester. We classify diastasis by both width and tension.  Two finger separation is considered to be a mild case, whereas four or more fingers of separation is considered severe. How much tension a woman creates across the gap indicates how well the connective tissue can transfer load; and provide appropriate support for the internal organs.

 

Until recently, we assumed women who experience diastasis recti had more low back pain and more urine leakage. This would seem to make sense due to reduced stability through their trunk. However, more recent studies have shown that women who have diastasis do NOT have a higher prevalence of lumbopelvic pain at six months postpartum! While this is great news, it also highlights the amount of misinformation out there! A woman with a small gap and poor tension may experience more problematic symptoms than a woman with a large gap and good tension!

How do you reduce your risk of diastasis recti?

This is a difficult question to answer, but one that I get asked all the time. There’s still no clear reason why certain women experience more severe cases of diastasis recti than others.

Currently, medical professionals believe there could be a larger genetic component than previously thought. Some also argue that women who exercise regularly have a reduced risk of severe diastasis recti. It is possible that this is the case, as exercise would make the muscles stronger and more likely to handle the pressure from a growing uterus.  She likely has more developed brain pathways to her core muscles contributing to the ability to create good tension in the abdomen even where there is a gap. Though, this isn’t for certain –  there are plenty of women who work out and still experience more severe cases of diastasis recti. Due to the poor quality of available literature, we can’t suggest that any specific exercises may or may not help to prevent or reduce diastasis during antenatal and postnatal periods.

How do you manage diastasis recti?

In general, diastasis recti is not a contraindication for exercise; however, when a woman’s diastasis is severe (in width, softness, or lack of tension), she should work with her pelvic floor physiotherapist to determine how to modify her training program.

 

A small diastasis with good tension can be managed by a fitness professional with a pre and postnatal coaching designation. It is important to avoid exercises that cause bulging or doming in the abdomen at the linea alba. This includes planks and sit-ups; but, the only way to know for sure is to closely monitor the abdomen for these symptoms during various exercises. Your trainer can check to see if the linea alba creates better tension with different cues and different positions.

 

For a smaller diastasis and good tension, begin with isolated core muscle contractions immediately. This helps you ascertain what muscles develop tension in the linea alba. By doing so,  you work on developing the pathways from the brain, to those deeper core muscles through repetition. Working on the connection-breath helps your pelvic floor–and–core work together. Inhale and relax the pelvic floor and core musculature, exhale and contract the core while lifting the pelvic floor. Letting go, and relaxing the pelvic floor is just as important as being able to contract!

Listen to your body.

Once you are able to engage and relax your core on cue, you are ready to move on to co-recruitment exercises. In other words, you can integrate core activation into functional movements. Always monitor what’s happening in the abdomen during each movement to determine which exercises are going to work for you! Never do more than you can manage and always listen to your body. If you have urine leaks, pain, or the feeling of excessive pressure on the pelvic floor or on the abdominal wall make sure to consult with a professional.

Be easy on yourself.

Remember that it takes time for your body to recover from pregnancy and giving birth. Give yourself permission for this to be a journey with ups and downs. With time and hard work, you will regain functional use of your muscles, and even make them stronger than before.

 

Struggling with diastasis recti and need personal support? Let me help you create an exercise routine and plan geared specifically to you and your needs!


Managing Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

Claire Gray (BKin, CEP) 

 

You’re not alone

The first few weeks after childbirth can be tough, know that you’re not alone.  About 80% of mothers experience the “baby blues,” this typically occurs within the first few weeks of giving birth. You may have rapid mood swings, feel helpless, worried, irritable or anxious, cry for what seems like no reason and have problems sleeping.  These are normal as your body recovers from childbirth, your hormone levels are changing, your routine is being disrupted and you’re running low on sleep.

The Difference Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

The baby blues is short-lived and naturally resolves within two weeks of onset. If your mood doesn’t improve after two weeks then you may be experiencing postpartum depression. Common symptoms are: loss of appetite, feelings of guilt and inadequacy, poor sleep, decreased motivation, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. Women often find it hard to admit to these feelings, but up to 16% of new moms experience depression in the first year after birth, and there is help out there.

How To Feel Better

Speak with your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to determine the best course of treatment with you and know the resources available to you in your area.  The three main areas of treatment are self-care, counseling, and medication.

Self-Care

The main components of self-care can be remembered by the word NESTS: nutrition, exercise, sleep, time to self, and support systems.

Nutrition

  • It’s common for women with depression to have a change in their appetite and either not eat enough or overeat
  • Your body needs high nutrient dense calories to recover from giving birth and to breastfeed
  • You may find that you’re reaching for crackers, cookies, or other foods high in carbohydrates for quick satisfaction but these foods can cause wide fluctuations in your blood sugar levels resulting in mood swings
  • To avoid these fluctuations try to eat at least 3 balanced meals a day and aim to include some protein in every meal and/or snack

Exercise

  • This self-care component is going to give you the most bang for your buck
  • Many studies have proven exercise to be as affective as medications in the treatment of postpartum depression
  • Exercise results in endorphin-release, gives you a sense of power and control, improves self-esteem and can double as time to self
  • Proper strength training can help with postpartum recovery, pelvic floor strength, urinary incontinence, sleep quality and prolapse

Sleep

  • Sleep is very important for your mental health and it’s going to be hard to come by for the first few months
  • You need consolidated sleep in order for it to be restorative, so even if your hours of sleep add up to 8 hours a night, it doesn’t compare to getting a 5 hour stretch
  • With feeding every few hours this is not going to happen at first so be patient and gentle with yourself
  • A lof the mood swings have to do with lack of sleep and this will get better with time
  • You can also have your partner or another support give the baby a bottle in the night to give you a longer stretch of consolidated sleep

Time To Self

  • Alone time can be hard to come by, especially if you don’t have family nearby
  • Set aside at least a few minutes each day where you can have time to yourself, 10 minutes is still better than none
  • It could be a walk while someone else looks after your baby, it could be a bath during the baby’s naptime, or just a few quiet moments to think about how you can care for yourself today such as making healthy choices for meals and snacks, talking to a friend on the phone, drinking lots of water

Support Systems

  • Reach out to family, friends, and community
  • If you don’t feel ready to speak with someone face to face, the Pacific Postpartum Support Society provides telephone support at 604-255-7999 or postpartum.org
  • Connect with other moms at your local Community Centre or Family Place, chances are they share similar feelings of being overwhelmed, sad and anxious

You’re not alone! The feelings that come with postpartum depression can be very frightening for a new mother. It’s important to recognize that it is very common and there is a lot of help out there, so please reach out. You got this!!

Resources

BC Reproductive Mental Health Program www.bcmhas.ca
1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
HealthLink BC (811) or www.healthlinkbc.ca
Pacific Postpartum Society (604-255-7999) or www.postpartum.org

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