Every new mom can’t wait for that moment when they’re cleared by their doctor to start working towards regaining their pre-baby body. For most women, that’s about six weeks postpartum. For some, that may be longer. Of all the postnatal women I’ve worked with, the most common question I’m asked is, “how can I get my belly to go back to normal?”
The simple answer is to start by following a lean, well-balanced, nutritious diet while coupling that with a corrective exercise program that allows the body to heal itself from the inside out. The overall goal is to build strength, stability, muscular balance and endurance.
During pregnancy, the woman’s body goes through extreme and superhuman-like changes creating the space and environment to grow another mini human inside! That, alone, is fascinating and no simple feat. New moms are incredibly strong and well-prepared to regain their bodies after giving birth. Most moms will be too busy caring for and admiring their newborn to think about their alignment and body mechanics. Unfortunately, that is the time when their bodies are more susceptible to spinal injuries due to the instability of their ligaments and muscular imbalances.
A well-balanced corrective exercise program should address the changes that occurred during pregnancy, as well as the modern-day mom’s movement patterns. Below, I’ve put together the top 6 questions I’ve been asked by new mothers along with my suggestions:
- The number one priority is to make sure you are healing, resting and caring for your newborn, but gentle movements will go a long way. The key is to listen to your body. If you’re unsure about what you should be doing, always consult with your doctor or midwife. Gentle diaphragmatic breathing and pelvic floor exercises can help to rebuild the strength in your core and perennial floor. Pelvic floor exercises will improve circulation to your perineum and vagina and help with a speedy recovery. If you have stitches, exercising your pelvic floor won't put any strain on them. These are also safe for cesarean sections.
- Take a long deep inhalation. As you exhale, gently squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Squeeze up and inwards as if you’re trying to stop yourself from urinating.
- Hold this for about 5-7 seconds.
- You’ll likely feel your lower abdominal wall contracting. That’s ok. If you feel your upper abdominal wall engaging, then you are squeezing too hard.
- Build this up over the next few weeks until you can hold 5 sets of 10 seconds pelvic floor contractions.
Start with this:
Do I need to exercise in the first few weeks?
How do I get motivated?
Taking a moment to acknowledge what you and your body were able to accomplish in order to bring this baby into the world, serves as a daily motivation for how strong you really are. You are a goddess in the flesh!
- Set a specific date to achieve a reasonable goal or amount of improvement. Give yourself time. Be patient and consistent.
- Although exercise may seem like the last thing you want to take on while adjusting to motherhood, it can:
Boost your energy and mood by increasing the levels of endorphins in your brain.
- Help you lose weight and regain your figure.
- Eliminate aches and pains.
- Improve your strength and endurance which will help as you’re learning to look after your new bundle of joy.
Is it safe to exercise while breastfeeding?
Yes! Exercise won’t affect the quality of your breast milk.
When can I start a full-body exercise program?
About six weeks after your delivery, you should obtain medical clearance from your physician to exercise. At this point, consult with a corrective exercise specialist who can perform a full-body assessment and determine what your muscular imbalances are in order to customize a workout program that fits your new mommy lifestyle needs.
How can I target my core?
After 40 weeks of extreme stretching of the core muscles, the best thing you can do is start strengthening them. Here are 5 great moves to try:
Plank - effectively improve your posture and strengthen transverse abdominis and iliopsoas, which stabilize your spine and hips, reducing lumbar spine injuries.
Supermans - strengthen your posterior chain muscles. As a new mommy holding and nursing your baby, you will surely be rounding or hunching over a substantial amount. This will cause weakness in the posterior muscles as they lengthen and tightness in the anterior muscles. Supermans will correct this imbalance.
Bicycle crunch - targeting your rectus abdominis (for tilting the body), and your obliques (for twisting the spine), these can be highly effective at strengthening your core. Lying on the floor with your legs up and knees bent, bring your right knee to your left elbow, straightening out your left leg as you do so. Then switch.
Side plank/Modified Side plank - targeting the glutes, obliques, quadriceps, hamstrings, abductors and adductors, side planks help to support and reduce lower back and spinal injuries caused by strain or sudden movements.
Resistance band Squat to Row - works the legs and back in unison, training strength, coordination and balance. Helping to strengthen your upper back muscles, these will simultaneously improve your posture, reduce neck and shoulder pain from breastfeeding and work your glutes, core and legs. Could it get any better?