Brace yourself: Our bodies are not the same after we give birth to our precious babes. No kidding, right? Those stretch marks and newfound sagging bosoms are a badge of honor – and are a small price to pay for the bundles we snuggle – but they can be a source of insecurity. The good news is many post-baby body changes do not have to last forever.
How about them abs?
Talk about change! Stretch marks, weak muscles and sagging skin are sadly commom. But, a more extreme post-partum condition called diastasis recti (DR), essentially a complete vertical separation of your abdominals (rectus abdominis muscle), can also set in.
Correcting a DR is critical for proper functioning of your low back, trunk stability and support to your pelvic floor. The goal is to lessen the gap between your rectus abdominis shortly after childbirth, but if your belly still hasn’t bounced back, it’s not too late. I spoke with one lady who improved her DR 30 years after giving birth!
Here’s a simple exercise you can do to help correct a DR: Lie on your back with your knees bent and place your hands on each side of your abdominals. Approximate your hands, bringing your abs together. Now, gently lift your head and shoulders off the floor. This move reminds the abs where they need to be. I also teach women to do a pelvic floor contraction (kegel) at the same time. This though, takes coordination and practice.
What’s so important about my pelvic floor?
Obviously the muscles that make up your pelvic floor take a beating during pregnancy, and really have to put up a fight through labor and delivery. We all should be working this muscle group, but if you suffered tearing during delivery or an episiotomy, pay attention! Retraining the pelvic floor will aid in continence, support to your internal organs, and facilitate the return of an enjoyable sex life.
To see if you are able to properly contract your pelvic floor, sit on the toilet and begin to urinate. Try to stop the flow of urine and hold for a few seconds. This easy assessment tool is a simple way to teach your body how to coordinate the contraction. Do not try this trick too often. Toileting is a time to fully relax the pelvic floor, so please do not make it a habit. Safely try the contraction while lying down, a few times a day. You can then progress to sitting and finally standing.
Let’s talk about sex, baby.
Most doctors recommend you wait until your six-week post-partum appointment for clearance to resume intercourse. God bless the women who go to their 6 week check-up and find out they are pregnant! The biggest reason many women hesitate to resume intercourse is pain. Trauma due to spontaneous lacerations, episiotomies, or the use of instruments can cause lasting discomfort. Resume as you feel comfortable, keeping extra lubrication nearby.
When can I exercise?
There is no hard-and-fast rule. Your fitness level before and during pregnancy is a safe guide, but you should also consider any complications you encountered during delivery. Be sure to listen to your body and return gradually. Whether you join a gym, Mommy and Me exercise class, or walk around the block anything is better than nothing. I am a big fan of home exercise videos or free videos off of YouTube, especially if you are on a budget or have limited time to get to the gym.
A few tips: If you are breastfeeding, the best time to exercise is after feeding. If you suffer from a DR, as described above, this needs to be addressed before you return to a high intensity exercise regime, such as Pilates, as some positions may greatly worsen your condition. Not motivated? Exercise can not only help you regain that pre-baby body, but it can help improve mood, energy levels, sleep cycles and urinary incontinence.
The resiliency of the human body is fascinating. If you retrain your body, it will respond. You will be amazed at how quickly you can bounce back when you put in a little effort.
*If you are unsure if you are contracting your pelvic floor contractions correctly, if you have pain with a contraction, or if you experience pain and difficulty having intercourse with your partner, please talk to your doctor or your pelvic floor physical therapist.