How To Ease Into Fitness After Birth

How To Ease Into Fitness After Birth

I often get questions about how to jump back into physical activity after having a baby. Postpartum women want to know: where do I start?

Today, I lay out when to start, what to avoid, and what postpartum milestones matter.

Read below or watch the video!

First 6-8 Weeks Postpartum

First thing first: you just had a baby. In the first six weeks after giving birth, rest should be your #1 priority.

Beyond resting, my recommendations for this period are simple. Focus on:

  • Deep breathing to get your breath system working again. (I talk all about that here.)
  • Connecting to your deep core muscles, particularly your transverse abdominals.

From a seated position (or while nursing), first take a breath in and let the belly relax. Imagine a corset around your midsection. As you exhale, feel the corset draw in gently. This should create a feeling of length in the torso. This action helps bring your core muscles back on-line.

  • If you are desperate for some movement, walk!

Walking is low impact and increases circulation (which aids healing). In a perfect world, this walking would happen without holding or wearing your baby. For some of us (like me!) that isn’t possible with a newborn, and that’s ok! But, if you can manage it, walking freely helps bring your body back into proper alignment after pregnancy.

To recap: as you begin to heal in those first six weeks focus on: REST, breathing, core engagement, and walking (if you feel up for it!).

6-Weeks to 4-Months Postpartum

At this point, you’ve had six weeks to heal (and possibly a few weeks longer in the case of a C-section), and your care provider has cleared you for activity. We now enter the six-week to four-month period of recovery.

This period is critical to your post-baby core health. I encourage my students to approach this stage with care and caution.

Elevated hormone levels and muscular imbalances from pregnancy leave your body, particularly your core, in a compromised state.  And doing too much too soon can lead to postpartum issues like diastasis, prolapse, and hernias.

This is especially true for a woman who was active during her pregnancy. Her arms and legs are strong. She feels like she can do everything. But her core is weak and cannot support that effort.      

My recommendations for this period include:

  • Continue working on the basics.

Engage your deep core muscles regularly and get the breath down. Pregnancy alters the core muscles and breathing system and it takes time to get them working well again!

  • Add in activities that rebalance your post-baby musculature. 

Rebuild mobility in the mid-back. When your back and chest are tight, simple activities, like reaching or lifting, strain an already weak core.

Balance the muscles of the hips. By rebalancing the muscles of the hips, you create a healthier pelvic floor.

  • Keep activities low impact.

Walk, lift gentle weights, gentle yoga (but know not all poses are good for a post-baby body!).

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite yoga postures for this critical postpartum period. Stay tuned!

  • Avoid:

    • High-intensity impact activities. No running, burpees, HIIT, Crossfit. These activities put excessive demand and load on your core and it’s not ready for that yet!
    • Front-loading ab activities. Planks, crunches and all the ‘typical’ ab exercises will do more harm than good.
    • Excessive back bending postures and deep twist positions like you find in many yoga classes.

 

Remember, this is a critical period for your body and recovery. You have the chance to create a solid foundation that will allow you to begin incorporating more intense activities in the near future. If you overexert yourself during this period you could end up weaker at six-months postpartum than you were at six-weeks.

 

4-Months Postpartum and Beyond

Recommendations become less cut and dry after 4 months.

Some who’ve spent the first 4 months building the foundation can safely introduce high-intensity activity at this point.

Others would benefit from continuing with lower-intensity activities for longer. This would include anyone who falls into the following categories:

Breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding extends the critical period for your body. The hormones associated with breastfeeding create laxity in your ligaments. In other words, they make you loosey-goosey and create instability in your body. If you are an extended breastfeeder (like I was!) you should approach high-intensity activities with caution until you finish nursing or are down to 2 or 3 feedings a day. After that, the hormones shift and allow more stability in your ligaments.

Natural Flexibility:

If you tend to be a very flexible person, you are likely genetically predisposed to instability. You’re super flexible because your joints are looser. If this is the case for you, you also want to be more conservative in your post-baby movement. You would benefit from giving your body more time to rebuild core stability.

Family History of Postpartum Issues:

If you have a family history of things like hernias or prolapses it likely means you are genetically predisposed to these issues. Again, this is an indication that you may want to give your body more time to build a foundation of stability and strength before jumping into high-intensity activities.

 

How to Begin Increasing Intensity of Your Exercise

You’re done nursing (or are down to 1-2 times a day), you’ve mastered deep breathing, and have a solid connection to your deep core muscles.

Awesome! Let’s increase that intensity!

Here’s how to do it in a mindful, core-safe way.

Start With Lower Intensity.

Your body has gone through a huge transition and you should not jump into any activity at your pre-pregnancy intensity. Start at 50% of your “usual” and see how it feels. If you feel back pain, hip pain, if you leak, or feel like your core isn’t supporting you, those are all signs that you are working beyond your ability.

Short Intervals Are Best.

If you’re getting back to running, don’t start by heading out and knocking out two miles. Instead, try five minutes and then check in. If you’re doing a yoga class, take a break every 5-10 minutes and see how everything is feeling.

Again….Does your back hurt? Do your hips hurt? Did you leak any urine? Do you feel unsupported in your core?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, your body hit its limit. You’ll want to move to even shorter intervals and spend more time building that foundation.

If, after five minutes, you are feeling good and aren’t having any of those symptoms. Awesome! Next time, try 7 minutes and see how that goes. You want to build your intervals slowly.

Check In Frequently!

It’s likely there will be a point at which you will reach the limit of what your body can do in a strong, safe way. And once you hit that limit, stop! That’s your limit, but just for now. You build from there.

 

Remember: Start back to your activity of choice with less intensity, shorter durations, and continual check-ins with yourself. The moment you see any signs of disfunction, back off or stop. From there, we continue to build! By respecting your body’s limits rather than pushing through them, you give your core the chance to rebuild it’s pre-baby strength.


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12 Days of Core Strength

12 Days of Core Strength

12 days of core strength

I recently hosted 12 Days of Core Strength on the brb Yoga Facebook Page. (P.S. If you aren’t following me over there, you should! I go live every week with new tips).

Each day is a super simple, super practical change you can make in your day-to-day life to improve your core strength. Find all 12 videos below.

Day 1: Blow While You Go

Day 2: Hip Hinge

Day 3: The Eavesdrop

Day 4: Rib Breathing

Day 5: 90/90 Breathing

Day 6: One Action At A Time

Day 7: Raise The Roof

Day 8: Standing and Sitting

Day 9: Touch That Stomach!

Day 10: Unclench Those Glutes

Day 11: Watch How You Stand!

Day 12: Let Go Of Perfection

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How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

A postpartum body has a lot going on.

A weak core and pelvic floor creates a whole host of compensations in other parts of the body…weak glutes, tight hips, and a tight back, to name a few. (If you haven’t already, you might want to check out last week’s post on exactly what happens in your body during pregnancy)

In the words of some of my students, it’s easy to feel like “Pregnancy trashed my body.”

And easy to feel overwhelmed at where to begin fixing the issues.

With the core? With the back? With the hips?

But I’m here with some good news.

The answer is pretty simple.

You start with your breathing.

Getting your breath working properly restores much needed muscular balance to your postpartum body. Restoring this balance is a HUGE first step in preventing (or healing) postpartum issues like abdominal separation (diastasis recti), leaking pee (incontinence,) and pelvic organ prolapse.

Let’s dive in (Plus, I’ve got a great free resource for you to help get your breath system working).

The Relationship Between the Breath and Core

Our breath system is extremely sophisticated and has a huge impact on our muscular balance.

The system includes our:

  • lungs
  • diaphragm
  • abdomen
  • And pelvic floor

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

Take a look at that diaphragm! It’s huge! Not only does it span our entire chest but it attaches to the ribs and the spine.

When the breath is working properly, every inhale expands the ribs and drops the diaphragm down. When the diaphragm drops down, the belly expands and relaxes, and the pelvic floor expands and relaxes. The movement of the diaphragm and ribs also relaxes the mid-back muscles and the psoas (a hip flexor that attaches at the ribs!). Basically, every inhale allows a whole lot of tight muscles in the body to relax fully.

On an exhale, the diaphragm lifts up, the core naturally engages, and the pelvic floor engages and lifts. This natural action of breathing creates a healthy resting muscle tone in the core and the pelvic floor.

As you can see the core and the breath are DESIGNED to work together.

Healthy breathing = healthy core. Funky breathing = Really hard to have a healthy core.

Breathing in a Postpartum Body

But what happens in a postpartum body?

Well, to be blunt. For many women, pregnancy jacks up the breathing system.

Plain and simple, the diaphragm stops working effectively. Which means the core isn’t working effectively either.

This loss of diaphragm functioning can’t be helped. There is just no room for it to drop down into the body because the baby is taking up that space.

So you start compensating. You start using the lift of your shoulders to bring air in. This often results in the diaphragm pulling up into the body on an inhale RATHER than dropping down.

Basically the diaphragm completely switches directions! Which makes you lose all of the natural core strengthening of the breath.

Now in a perfect world, our bodies would magically switch back to good breathing after the baby is born. But, for some reason (that I haven’t figured out yet), this just doesn’t seem to happen.

Postpartum women, particularly those that struggle with core and pelvic floor weakness, tend to continue to breath in this funky way even after the baby is out.

Let me show you an example from one of my students.

How to “Fix” Your Body After Pregnancy

See that hollow space under her ribs. If her diaphragm were dropping down on an inhale, that space would fill up and inflate. But hers does the opposite. The space deflates and becomes almost like a vacuum! That signals to me that her diaphragm is lifting up on the inhale. And that her core isn’t receiving the benefits of the natural deep breathing system.

So the first thing to do after having a baby is to retrain the diaphragm to work effectively. The breath is the best place to start your healing.

Once the breath is functioning well, so many other things start falling into place!

How the Breath Fixes a Body After Pregnancy

Restoring the natural breath patterns brings the core and pelvic floor back online.

When the core starts working it allows the back and hip muscles to stop working so hard. (And remember that good inhale helps relax those muscles too).

Getting the breath working begins to rehabilitate the body by bringing proper balance to the muscles!!

So the answer to the question ‘where do I start?’ You start with the breath.

I know this is not always what women want to hear. They want to jump back into high intensity stuff. But if you skip over the breath piece and move into high intensity stuff before you’ve retrained the diaphragm you are building your house on a non-existent foundation.

If the breath isn’t working properly, the core isn’t working properly. And doing activities without core support is a recipe for disaster. It’s worth spending a few weeks on the breath so you can spend YEARS doing the other activities you love with a healthy core.

Start with the breath. Get the breath down. And then you can confidently move into all of these things that you love doing.

If you’d like to practice this, I’ve got a free breath training tutorial which will help you reset your breathing and get your diaphragm working again!

Free Breath Training!

Naturally engage your core and pelvic floor with breath.

Build core strength all day, every day.

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Why The 6-Week “All Clear For Exercise” Rule Hurts Postpartum Moms (a.k.a Treating Pregnancy As An Injury)

Why The 6-Week “All Clear For Exercise” Rule Hurts Postpartum Moms (a.k.a Treating Pregnancy As An Injury)

 

In so many ways, we send harmful and unrealistic messages to women who just had a baby.

When a new mom goes to her midwife or doctor for a six-week check-up, she often hears, “Go ahead. Go do everything you were doing before you were pregnant. You are good to go.”

This…is crazy.

Pregnancy is a massive change to the musculoskeletal system. We should treat pregnancy as an injury to the body and the postpartum period as a time of rehabilitation.

Let’s dive into this! You can watch my facebook live or read below.

What Happens with an Injury

Think about an ankle injury. If you sprain the outside of your ankle, the ankle loses stability and can’t work the way it normally does.

The body DOESN’T like instability.  Other areas start taking over to support and stabilize the injured area.  All sorts of compensations happen.

You stop putting weight on the outside of that foot. You shift more of the muscular work to the inside of your ankle. That creates a chain reaction up your entire body.

The knee, hip, shoulder and even neck work differently because of the ankle injury. Crazy, right?!

What Happens to Your Body During Pregnancy 

This isn’t a far cry from what happens during pregnancy.

Think about it: you’re growing a giant baby in your belly.

Even if you are active during pregnancy, the core muscles get weak. They cannot support the body in the way they did before you were pregnant.

Normally, the core stabilizes both the spine and the pelvis.

When the core isn’t working, those areas become unstable. And, remember, the body doesn’t like instability.

So some compensations happen to maintain stability in your body.

  • The paraspinal muscles in your back start working hard to make up for the work your core was doing (They get tight!).
  • The psoas, the main hip flexor, starts working overtime. This huge muscle is designed to move your legs. But when the core isn’t working, it will start working to stabilize the spine.  So your hip flexors get really tight!!
  • On the outer hip, a group of muscles called the TFL starts gripping to help keep your pelvis stable. So your outer hips are tight!!
  • The TFL is a bully to the glutes and make it hard for your glutes to fire. Overtime, your glutes get weak.

So not only is your core weak, but you have major compensations in your back, hips, and glutes!

If that isn’t reminiscent of an injury, I don’t know what is!

Typical Approach to an Injury

When someone injures an ankle we don’t say  “You injured your ankle a few weeks ago. Your muscles are working completely differently. But go ahead and go run that half marathon. Go ahead and do that HIIT workout that you were doing before you hurt yourself. You waited 6 weeks, right? That’s cool. You’re good.”

No.

We say “You sprained your ankle and let it rest and heal. NOW let’s rehabilitate it. Let’s balance out the muscles that were overworking to create stability. Let’s get the joint working properly again so that  you can run or do HIIT again, without injuring yourself.”

After rest, you rehabilitate, THEN you move back into higher demand activities.

Typical Approach to the Postpartum Period

This is not the approach taken in the postpartum period.

We tell postpartum woman “Rest for six weeks…and then go do everything you did before you were pregnant.”

That’s crazy!

Starting into activity before rehabilitation perpetuates the imbalances created during pregnancy.

Practicing yoga or running with a weak core makes your back and hips work even harder to stabilize your spine…Which strains them further.

You are asking an injured body to do things it isn’t ready to do.

A New Model for the Postpartum Period

Let’s treat pregnancy as an injury and rehabilitate the postpartum body.

Let’s tell women “Rest and recover for 6 weeks. Then let’s correct the imbalances created by nine to ten months of pregnancy. Let’s rebuild the weak muscles and teach those overworked, overactive muscles to chill out! THEN, let’s move on to all that higher intensity stuff.”

Bring the core back online. Rebuild strength in muscles that grew weak during pregnancy. And release tension that has built up in the hip flexors and back.

Once everything is working the way it’s meant to, you can get back to the activities you love.

Next week, I’ll be sharing where the heck you should begin this rehabilitation process.


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How Becoming A Mom Made Me A Better Yogi

How Becoming A Mom Made Me A Better Yogi

Like most pregnant women, I knew my life would change when I became a mother. That was a given.

What wasn’t a given was how much having a baby would change my yoga practice.

Here are the 5 ways, becoming a mom made me a better yogi.

I Learned Self-Acceptance

Before I became a mom, I was used to being “good” at things, including yoga.

Sure, I encouraged my students to “accept themselves” and “enjoy the journey.” But, if I’m being honest, I didn’t often put myself in a position where my own skills were challenged. I rarely stepped out of my comfort zone.

Becoming a mom changed that.

Between the endless diaper changes and nursing sessions, I realized that it’s impossible to be “good” at being a new mom.

There was so much to learn, so much to do, and so little sleep, I couldn’t keep up. I quickly realized that pushing myself to meet an unattainable ideal, would drive me into the ground.

I had to start walking the walk.

Slowly, I learned to accept myself in all my messiness. I gave up the idea of perfection and embraced being present to the beautiful chaos of motherhood. 

That translated into my postpartum yoga practice. My postpartum body was tired. The poses I was once so “good” at were often hard. I learned to let go of being “good” and enjoyed the experience, accepting myself where I was.

I Learned the Value of Time

Non-parents say they are busy. I said it often before having kids.

But there’s a certain urgency that only parents seem to grasp. Before becoming a mom, my yoga practices were at least 60 minutes and often 90 (I can’t even fathom that now). For the most part, the day had enough hours.

After becoming a mom, I learned how to do everything in less time. From cleaning the kitchen, to building my business, to my beloved yoga, I trimmed everything down.

I learned the fine art of squeezing in what I needed to do between naps and snuggles. I condensed my luxurious yoga practice into an efficient 20-to-30 minutes. It took some time to figure out what to include and what to let go of, but I stuck with it.

Because a 20-minute practice is better than a 60-minute practice that NEVER happens.

I Learned What Attention Was

In yoga, there’s a term – Drishti, which translates to focused gaze. I had been practicing it for years. Like most yogis, I thought I had it down. I was wrong.

I was wrong.

Only after I had my daughter did I feel the true power of Drishti. Infants are programmed to find their mother’s eyes. As any parent can tell you, locking eyes with your new baby is one of the most powerful, emotional feelings.

When I gazed into my daughter’s eyes, and she stared back into mine, I finally understood the true power of Drishti. The rest of the world melted away. All I experienced was that moment with her.

That moment created a new sense of focus in my yoga practice. If I’m not focusing, I’m aware of it now, and I can reach for Drishti.

I Learned That Change Was Constant

Babies are wonderful, but they aren’t exactly compatible with a routine. As soon as I figured out my daughter’s patterns, they changed.

She forced me to go with the flow. To observe and assess, before acting. 

I found my practice changing on an almost daily basis too. As my body recovered from pregnancy and childbirth, it needed different poses. As my babies grew bigger and my arms grew stronger (but more tired), as I spent hours nursing little ones, I showed up to my mat each day with a different body.

Instead of forcing my body into a practice, I arrived on my mat and observed what I needed that day. That listening allowed my practice to evolve with the needs of my body.

I Learned the Value of Rest

Before kids, I spent most of my yoga time in strong, powerful flows. After the trials of pregnancy and childbirth, those practices weren’t cutting it.

My body craved nurturing…more restful, restorative practices became my go-to. And the more time I spent up at night with my newborn, the more I saw the value of resting.

A few minutes to stretch and rest on a mat? Yes, please. The best news was that there was no sweat necessary. I didn’t have to worry about squeezing in a shower on top of it all.

Lessons From Motherhood

I’ve learned more about myself in the past 5 years of motherhood than I had in the 30 years before. Each new stage of parenting brings new realizations and joys. And in the same way, my yoga practice continues to evolve with it.

I can’t wait to see what other lessons I learn about myself, and yoga, as I continue this wild ride of motherhood.

 

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