Postpartum Pilates: Why A Postnatal Exercise Program Is So Important
One thing I’ve noticed from new mums, is that the baby is now the number one priority.
This often means that you get relegated to number two… it’s a harsh world isn’t it!
Well, I’m here to remind you that you, as (likely) one of the baby’s primary caregivers, are also a priority!
Your healing, your recovery, and your health is of the utmost importance.
The postpartum period is an incredibly important time of healing for new mums. Pregnancy and birth creates a huge amount of change in the body - to the abdominals, the pelvis, pelvic floor and so much more.
That’s why it is so important that you get the right advice for the postpartum period. And that’s where I come in!
As a Physiotherapist and Master Pilates Instructor with over 10 years of experience in the industry, I have taught thousands of women and helped with their postnatal recovery.
The first step is to understand the physical changes that have occurred in the body during pregnancy and postpartum, so you can understand why a specialised postnatal program is important.
Physical Changes To The Body In Pregnancy And Postpartum
The female body is an incredible thing. It adapts to accommodate the changes in the body. Here’s an insight into some of these changes:
As the baby grows in a pregnant body, the body adapts by expanding through the muscles and joints of the pelvis and tummy. This happens due to the release of specialised hormones like relaxin, which soften and “relax” the ligaments and allow that opening. A lot of this opening occurs around the pelvis, as this is where the baby grows. However, as the hormone is released throughout the whole body, the laxity occurs in all of the joints in the body! This increase in relaxin in the body can stay in the body for months after the birth of the baby, some studies saying it stays longer in parents breastfeeding.
Next up: the pelvic floor muscles.
The pelvic floor muscles (PFM) have to work extremely hard in pregnancy. They are a group of muscles in the pubic region that support the pelvic and abdominal organs. They also help with continence (your bowel and bladder control) and with sexual function. In pregnancy, due to the increased weight in the pelvic region (caused by the baby and excess fluid in the body), these muscles have to work harder. Also, the birth experience can cause added weakness to the PFM.
Another important change to be aware of is a diastasis rectus abdominis or DRAM. During pregnancy, the tummy stretches and that stretch includes a stretch of a muscle called your rectus abdominis (think of this as your 6-pack muscle). As the rectus abdominis stretches, a thin layer of tissue stretches too - this is called the linea alba. A diastasis is a perfectly normal part of pregnancy and is the body’s adaptive way of changing for the growth of the baby. However, after childbirth, this stretch of the tissue doesn’t always come back together. When this stretch is significant, it’s classified as a DRAM.
How Postnatal Exercise Programs Can Help
The right postnatal exercise program can help heal your body and allow you to achieve your postpartum movement goals, whatever they are!
Allow me to take you through the changes that occur and the types of exercise that can help.
Relaxin and Relaxation of The Joints
Enter Pilates Strength! With this relaxation of the ligaments and joints in the body, there comes a need to build up strength and stability to support these joints. Exercises that build strength in the hips, knees, ankles, pelvis, spine, shoulder and wrists are all important!
There is also a huge physical requirement placed on new mums. Carrying a new baby, feeding, settling, changing, pushing - it all requires strength! So, build it up safely through Pilates exercises.
Here are some of the best postnatal Pilates strength workouts:
Pelvic Floor Muscle Strength
Pelvic floor muscle strengthening will help to build up any loss of strength caused by pregnancy and/ or childbirth. This is done simply through activation work. Don’t know how?
Simply watch this video which takes you through pelvic floor muscle activation (also known as kegels):
It’s important to build up strength in the pelvic muscles slowly and safely. Exercises like running, jumping, or even squats increase the pressure on the pubic region. Without proper strength in the pelvic floor muscles, it’s possible to overload the area which can lead to incontinence or even prolapse. Slow and steady ladies! Slow and steady!
Abdominal Exercises and DRAM
The number one request I get from women returning to exercise is abs! And abs workouts you will do, but safely. To heal any DRAM, there are some rules.
1. Start by building the deep muscles and progress from there
That means focusing on breathing, pelvic floor strength and deep tummy muscles activation. There is a muscle called your transversus abdominis which has huge power in healing through your centre.
Try this video: https://ondemand.gochlopilates.com/programs/postnatal-core?categoryId=76700
2. Avoid certain exercises until you’re ready
No crunches, no planks, no roll downs. These exercises will have no power in healing a diastasis and in some cases, may make it worse. Instead, focus on the above exercises and try movements like toe taps and knee fallouts.
3. Progress when you’re ready
You’re not saying goodbye to ab exercises forever. Instead, wait until you build up enough strength through your transversus abdominis and your pelvic floor and move on from there.
4. If in doubt, seek help
I highly recommend visiting a Women’s Health Physiotherapist or Physical Therapist when you’re postpartum. They can do a full assessment and give you an individualised treatment plan
Check out over 100 postnatal Pilates videos on Go Chlo Pilates.
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If you want more information on Postnatal Pilates on Go Chlo Pilates, head to my website.