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Ease Into Post Partum Exercises
Early post partum emotions
After giving birth, women experience a wide range of emotions; jubilation over the new child, exhaustion mixed in with exhilaration if it was a long or difficult labor and maybe disappointment if labor ended in a cesarean section delivery. Many women experience “the blues” or even frank depression following the birth of a child. The fluctuating hormones, the challenges of nursing and caring for a newborn and the lack of sleep all combine to make a woman feel overwhelmed.
Your post partum body
Many women become depressed as they regard their new bodies. Contrary to what many women may expect, a woman’s body, especially her stomach will not immediately return to it’s pre-pregnancy (flat) state once she’s delivered and it’s a rare woman who is able to leave the hospital in her pre-pregnancy clothes. Immediately following childbirth, most women will have a belly that looks about 6 months pregnant. But by the six week post partum visit, the uterus, which weighed about 2 ½ pounds at birth shrinks to about 2 ½ ounces and returns to its home deep within the pelvis while the other abdominal organs and muscles to return to their normal positions.
When to start exercising
It is extremely important that post partum moms not start an aggressive exercise program too soon after delivery. While exercise helps moderate the fluctuating hormone levels, improves mood, increases energy levels and helps women return to their pre-pregnancy figures sooner, too much exercise done too soon can cause serious injury. New mothers should begin exercise slowly and gradually, especially those moms who were on prescribed bed rest and are likely deconditioned. A slow progression allows the body to heal and recover from pregnancy and delivery while also building up strength and endurance for more vigorous activities later. A new mom should give herself time to lose her pregnancy weight and to regain her pre-pregnancy figure. At the very least, “Nine months on, Nine months off!”
Diastasis Rectus Care
If a woman has diastasis of her rectus muscles (the muscles of the abdomen that comprise the “six pack”) following pregnancy, labor and delivery she must allow the muscles to come back together prior to engaging in any aggressive abdominal conditioning. She should avoid doing crunches and consult with a certified prenatal/post partum fitness instructor to learn the proper way to assess and repair the diastasis and recondition her abdominal muscles.
Very early post partum exercises
The following are examples of exercises that can be done in the early post partum period (beginning even days after vaginal delivery and approximately 2 weeks after cesarean section once pain subsides) to begin to stimulate the abdominal and pelvic muscles and aid in reconditioning. As with any exercise program, women should check with their obstetrician or midwife before initiating the program to avoid injury.
Start with the breathing exercise. Perform each exercise for one week before adding the next exercise to the series. Start with the standard Kegel the first week as well and be sure that you have perfected that exercise before advancing to the variations.
Perform the exercises several times daily, increasing the time the contractions are held as well as the number of exercises performed.
Abdominal Contractions –Lay supine in bed. Inhale, completely relaxing the abdominal muscles and expanding the abdominal cavity. Exhale slowly bringing the navel to the spine. Hold the contraction and then release.
Pelvic Tilt – Lay supine on the bed with knees up. Bring the navel to the spine and at the end of the contraction, gently tilt the pelvis so the lower back is pressed against the mattress.
Hold the contraction and then release.
Pelvic Raise –Lying supine with feet flat on the mattress and knees up. Contract the abdominal muscles and tilt the pelvis. Slowly raise the hips and pelvis off the mattress, hold 1-5 seconds and release.
Kegels – Kegels are contractions of the perineum (pelvic floor) muscles. To isolate the pelvic floor muscles, place two fingers over the opening to the vaginal. Contract the pelvic floor muscles lifting them up away from your fingers. Hold and release. Women should work up to performing 150 to 200 Kegels daily.
Double Time - Perform Kegel contractions in rapid succession.
Elevators - Perform a kegel and hold it. Squeeze tighter to go to the next level. Squeeze a bit tighter and go to the top. Return “to the ground floor” by slowly releasing the contractions in reverse succession.