Guest Columnist: Catherine Udomsak Heimrich, DPT
Getting back into shape after having a baby is a priority for many new moms. However, with little sleep and lots of new responsibilities this goal can often fall to the wayside. Taking the time to ease into an exercise program is key to success as well as giving yourself some grace. After all, you did just bring a new life into this world!
As per the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists, postpartum exercise has several benefits. These include stress relief, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, strengthens and tones abdominal muscles, helps manage weight, and may help prevent postpartum depression. If you have a healthy pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery you may begin exercise a few days after giving birth. However, it is recommended to wait until you feel you are ready which for many women may mean a few weeks after delivery. If you have a cesarean birth, or any medical complications during delivery it is best to discuss with your OB-GYN when it is safe to begin exercising.
Similar to pregnancy, 150 minutes of activity per week is recommended starting with 20-30 minutes a day. One should ease into working out and stop if it produces any pain. Walking is a great way to begin aerobic activity post-partum and something you can easily do with your newborn in his or her stroller. Joining other moms on these walks or partaking in a group fitness class is another great way to get motivated and commit to getting fit. If you are restricted to staying home with the baby, there are countless postpartum workout videos offered for free on YouTube and several apps targeted at new moms. Some even show you how to incorporate your baby into your workout.
In addition to aerobic activity, strength training, specifically targeting core muscles is essential to a new mom’s fitness routine. Our abdominal muscles typically become weak during pregnancy due to stretching and hormonal changes which prepare our bodies for delivery. After delivery, many moms find themselves bending over and lifting to care for their newborn which puts great stress on the low back. Our abdominal muscles are what provide support for our lumbar spine and stabilize our pelvis. By incorporating core strengthening into one’s fitness routine you can help reduce the development of low back pain. Post pregnancy, some women may even suffer from a condition referred to as diastasis recti. This condition is a structural separation of the two large bands of abdominal muscle that meet at midline. It can occasionally be corrected through core exercise but at times can require surgery depending on severity.
Some simple ways you can get started strengthening your core postpartum include:
Pelvic Tilts – Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on floor, gently tighten your abdominal muscles drawing your belly button toward your spine and flattening you back to the floor.
Pelvic tilt with alternating heel slides – Perform a pelvic tilt. While maintaining back flat to floor gently slide heel down and straighten leg. Alternate legs.
Pelvic tilt with heel taps – Hold a pelvic tilt and lift both legs up keeping knees bent. Then slowly tap one heel down. Alternate legs and keep back flat to floor.
Double Leg Lifts – While lying flat on back extend your legs up straight toward the ceiling. Slowly lower both legs down to the floor and then slowly raise them back up. Maintain pelvic tilt while performing. If this is too difficult lower one leg at a time.
Forearm Plank – Begin lying on your stomach with your forearms flat on floor. Engage your core and raise your body up off the floor. Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your feet. Keep abdominals engaged.
Bridges - Lying on your back with knees bent and feet hip distance apart squeeze gluteal muscles and lift your hips toward the ceiling then slowly lower. Keep core muscles activated.
Single leg bridge - Perform a bridge while keeping one foot planted on floor and other leg lifted towards the ceiling. Keep core muscles activated.
In addition to your core, it is important to tone the muscles of your pelvic floor which often become weak with pregnancy. A simple way to do this is to perform Kegel exercises in which you contract your pelvic muscles as if you are stopping the flow of urine midstream. You can so this sitting or standing and even with movement.
Tips for postpartum exercise:
• Drink plenty of water, especially if you are nursing which can be dehydrating.
• Feed your baby or express milk prior to exercise if nursing to avoid any discomfort or engorgement.
• Wear loose clothing to keep cool and supportive foot wear.
• Make sure to warm up before and cool down after exercise to avoid injury.
If I have learned anything from my own experience and conversations with other mothers, it’s that every baby and every pregnancy is different. Don’t compare yourself to others! Everyone’s physical fitness journey is unique and only you know what is best for you and your baby.
Guest Columnist: Catherine Udomsak Heimrich, DPT is a doctor of physical therapy and is an associate at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton, where she works with outpatient orthopedic and neurological patients. She has a special interest in vestibular and balance problems. She is also a new mom!
Model: Sarah Singer, PTA is a physical therapist assistant at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy and is also a relatively new mom!
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.