I’ve worked as a Pilates instructor for more than 10 years and trained many post natal women. Just 11 weeks ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I knew which exercises to do and which to avoid, but being the overachiever I am, I tried to jump back into some of my former exercise regime too fast. And I misread some signals my body gave me along the way.
A few weeks ago I discovered I had a second-degree uterine prolapse. Whether this was caused by trauma from birth or overexertion after, I will never know. However, it motivated me to do some extra research, seek out help from teachers, mentors and therapists, and take the recommendations given to me seriously so I could restore my pelvic health and get back to moving my body the way I’m used to.
In my experience working with clients as well as my own recent adventures, I’ve noticed there are four big mistakes you must avoid when getting back to exercise after having a baby. And if you’re a trainer or movement instructor, please be mindful of these with your clients.
Mistake 1: Doing too much too soon
How soon you get back to movement and exercise can largely depend on how straight forward or complicated your birthing process was. If you had a straightforward, vaginal birth, you can begin gentle movement soon after birth. This can include pelvic floor training, short walks and gentle postural exercises and stretches.
If your birth was more complicated or you had a C-section, you’ll want to wait until you’ve got clearance from your doctor to exercise and move.
Now just because you got clearance from your doctor to get back to movement and exercise, don’t go running off to the gym or Pilates studio for a crazy, high intensity workout. You want to get back into it slowly, carefully and mindfully. Don’t go back to boot camp or go cardio-crazy. Your body has just given birth, has been stressed and stretched and you want to gradually build back up to your regular routine over time. This can even take 6-12 months.
If at any point you feel pelvic pain, stop what you’re dong and focus on strengthening your pelvic floor before continuing at this intensity.
Mistake 2: Not restoring your core and pelvic floor
Let’s face it. You’ve just given birth. Your waistline has been stretched and your pelvic muscles have undergone a lot of stress. Before undergoing an exercise program or even considering to “get your body back”, it’s important to restore your deep core and pelvic floor muscles. If possible, see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, as they can make sure you’re on track and working your pelvic floor muscles the best way possible. Note: this is not as simple as just doing a kegal.
Pilates is also a great way to restore your core. However, not all Pilates is build the same. Make sure to work with an instructor trained in post-natal reconditioning. And if you work with a classically trained instructor, modifications will need to be made to the repertoire to ensure safety and optimal post-natal reconditioning.
Please note that to restore the pelvic floor muscles it can take several months. So although you’ve got the go-ahead to exercise, don’t rush this process. Make sure to do your exercises every day or as recommended, but more isn’t necessarily better. In this case, slow and steady wins the race.
Mistake 3: Doing typical “abdominal strengthening exercises” to get back in shape
When you think of strengthening your abdominals, exercises that come to mind are crunches, planks and straight leg raises. These three exercises are a big no-no post-natal because it can put stress on your abdominal muscles. Also, it can aggravate diastasis recti, a condition common in postnatal women, where the linea alba stretches and a gap occurs between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (a.k.a., the six pack). This gap naturally closes for many and requires a specific exercise regime for others. If you’re not sure whether or not you have diastasis recti, ask your midwife, physiotherapist or movement professional trained in diastasis recti diagnosis and treatment to check for you.
Mistake 4: Not doing manual therapy
Your body has gone through a lot. Between pregnancy, childbirth and now caring for your baby, your body likely has imbalances that you cannot see or detect. This can lead to aches and pains now or later in life. Working with a manual therapist can help rebalance the body and help it get back to tip top shape. Different forms of manual therapy work with different individuals. Consider Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Rolfing, Massage Therapy, Muscle Activation Technique or anything you’ve personally had success with in the past. When you combine manual therapy with a safe and strategic exercise program, you’ll feel better and set yourself up for success long-term.