Exercise and the First 6 Weeks Postpartum
Your focus in the first 6 weeks after having a baby should be on bonding/caring for baby and recovery, not exercise. Too often the media portrays celebrities in bikinis just a few short weeks after giving birth and praises them for how amazing they are. Guess what? In addition to those images being largely photoshopped, there is a lot more to recovery than appearance such as not peeing your pants or have organs prolapsing out of the body. And there is mental health to consider as well. When we put so much pressure on ourselves to find bikini body perfection immediately, we do so at the sake of our mental health and our physical health.
Of course, this does not mean that you cannot do gentle and simple exercises and movements. But too often, there is pressure to “get your body back” and this pressure both from external sources and in our own heads, can lead us to:
A. Not allow our bodies to proper heal postpartum
B. Make decisions that can have lasting consequences on our bodies
Six weeks can feel like a long time, but early postpartum recovery sets the stage for getting back to what you love sooner and safer. Whether that is more intense exercise, yoga or just walking around the block and playing with yours kids without compromising your body, core and pelvic floor.
Your early postpartum plan should factor in several things:
- Vaginal tearing/episiotomy
- Surgical birth
- Bleeding (called “lochia”)
- Any other complications during birth (blood loss, prolonged labor, etc)
- Exhaustion (either from a long birth or just from taking care of a newborn, or both!)
For some, the first several weeks are going to look like a lot of resting. Maybe they are trying to catch up from a difficult birth or major abdominal surgery. For others, they may feel great! In some ways, feeling great can be tricky because it feels like we should just go back to ‘normal’ and can make it difficult for us to take the time to appropriately recover.
We recommend the 5-5-5 rule. 5 days in bed, 5 days around the bed, and 5 days near the bed. This means, for the first 2 weeks you will largely be inactive. There is a placenta sized wound within your uterus. That big of a would on the outside of your body would make you slow down, it should be the same for an inner wound. Additionally, your organs that were previously squished from a baby, now need to go back to normal and the best you can do to not be upright for extended periods of time, the better.
During this 5-5-5 time and for the first 6 weeks postpartum, we recommend several gentle exercises in the postpartum protocol of our program that we call the “Daily 7.” Here are 2 of them:
1. Candles Breathing
(be gentle and do not bear down at all. If you feel any pelvic floor heaviness while doing this, discontinue, we are trying to just gently connect with our core) 5X in a row, 1 X a day. Come onto your hands and knees or sitting comfortably. Imagine there is a cake with 100 candles between your hands if on hands and knees or in front of you if sitting. Inhale and exhale slowly blowing out all the candles. As you do so, your should feel your abs slowly moving back and at the end of the exhale they should feel very tight. Next, come to sitting and imagine there is an oval shaped object (be creative) in your vaginal / birth canal in your pelvis. As you exhale and blow candles, lift that object up toward your belly button. If there were an arrow direction, it would be pointing UP. So with candles and the up arrow, you are feeling your deep core move both up and back and it is starting at your pelvic floor. Do not squeeze your superficial vaginal muscles – the lift comes from a bit higher up than that. Do this 5X in a row, 1 X a day.
2. Floor Angels
Either reclined back or seated, do an ‘angel’ by externally rotating your shoulder so that your palms are up and thumbs reach behind you. Keeping your shoulder blades wide and your ribs down, slowly make the motion of a snow angel. This opens up those tight chest muscles from feeding and holding a baby! Shoot for a few angels per day, or when you’re feeling it from all those baby feeding sessions!
Once the 6 weeks is over, you have sufficiently rested, your body has healed and you are ready for more exercise and movement: ease back into it slowly slowly. It is all too easy to rush back into intense exercise but remember, you just gave birth, you are in a different body and you are still
healing for the first year postpartum. Your gains will be much larger if you go slow and steady over rushed and fervent.