Women are often pressured to “get their body back” and are fed the misconception that every single body is able to “snap back” immediately after birth, without being taught or provided with pelvic floor exercises that would make exercising safe and comfortable postpartum even possible!
Postpartum can feel like a confusing and overwhelming time for new mothers. A new mother is learning to care for a new baby as well as a new and healing body.
Social media is flooded with; advice, postpartum recovery journeys, hacks and tricks to have “belly only” pregnancies or to get your body back.
Postpartum and Your Pelvic Floor
All of this paints a very unrealistic picture of what recovery postpartum is actually like. A very small amount of women can snap back and have a body that barely showed any signs of pregnancy.
The majority of women have pelvic floor dysfunction, pain, discomfort, loose skin, stretch marks, and leaky breasts after birth. This is the norm and much more common than the “snapback” narrative that is being perpetrated on social media.
This narrative can be very detrimental to both a woman’s emotional wellbeing and physical health postpartum.
But there is hope! Safe and effective pelvic floor exercises are simple things that can be done shortly after birth to help the pelvic floor return to a baseline of strength and functionality.
This will allow a new mother to move safely into exercise and movement postpartum without pelvic floor dysfunction (pain with sex, diastasis recti, leaking when coughing or sneezing, etc). In most cases, pelvic floor exercises can help avoid an invasive surgery to repair or improve these dysfunctions.
A postpartum body feels foreign to a new momma, she may feel wobbly and unstable because her core is very weak from being stretched out for nine months, her balance is poor, her hips feel tight and ache and she probably pees every time she sneezes.
Maybe she is experiencing heaviness or a bulging sensation in the vagina and things just… don’t… feel… right. There is so much that can be done to help things feel right again!
These three pelvic floor exercises can help begin a safe and effective postpartum recovery journey!
Breathwork is a lot like what it sounds like. It’s all about breathing!! But the goal is to focus on connecting the pelvic floor muscles with breath.
This allows the muscles and breath to work in unison to relax and contract the pelvic floor muscles easily while inhaling and exhaling.
While it doesn’t look like an exercise, I promise if done properly you will feel this in your core.
How do you do it?
I recommend to first start practicing your breathwork while lying comfortably flat on your back, once you’ve mastered breath in that position move to a seated position and finally the all-fours position.
This may take a few weeks to master. Please don’t think that you should have this down in one day. It can take weeks!
As you inhale, I want you to envision the breath filling your diaphragm, which is under your ribs, then the inhale is going to slowly move down and begin filling your belly in a 360 motion- imagine your belly looking like a balloon.
When you blow up a balloon it is filled in a 360 motion not only out in one direction but it fills evenly all the way around the balloon, so just like a balloon, imagine also breathing breath into your back.
Finally, breathe all the way down into your bladder, vagina, and rectum this sensation feels as if your vulva is blossoming open but NOT pushing out.
As you exhale, feel that the blossoming sensation gently closes and draws up and in, your belly slowly draws in and up and your ribs gently close down.
This can feel very strange and hard to get your muscles to do this or even understand what I am saying. Some of my favorite imageries to use is to imagine that you are unzipping and zipping up a sweatshirt, or, my favorite, picking up a blueberry with your vagina.
As you inhale, unzip your muscles, let everything relax and soften, and as you exhale zip it up.
As you inhale, let a little blueberry slowly fall down almost like it’s taking a little elevator ride through your body, and let it gently fall out of your vagina (this is the blossoming I was talking about).
As you exhale gently pick up the imaginary blueberry that is floating just outside of your body and gently exhale it all the way up from your vagina and out of your mouth.
What is the purpose of this?
Women have been instructed to stand up tall, suck in their bellies, and pull the shoulders back. All these things can wreak absolute havoc on the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor muscles are not just the ones that help hold in poop and pee but they also control the diaphragm. The diaphragm allows the lungs to inhale and exhale but it is connected to our rectus, the muscles that give us our six-pack abs, and finally all the way down to the muscles that hold in poop and pee for us.
All that being said, when we breathe our muscles relax and contract, if we are sucking in our bellies and holding it in all day long it does not allow the muscles of the pelvic floor to function properly.
Learning how to allow these muscles to contract properly will be what heals a diastasis recti, manages prolapse symptoms, and controls pressure that contributes to things like stress incontinence (peeing when sneezing or jumping) postpartum.
How do you do it?
Laying flat on your back with your knees bent, like you are preparing to do a glute bridge. Start with a full inhale feeling the breath expand into your chest, low back belly, and hips as you draw in a slow inhale, exhale feel your belly and ribs gently draw in and up- don’t think belly button to spine, think belly button drawing up towards your chest lifting.
On your next inhale and exhale cycle. I want you to start an exhale then lift one leg to a tabletop position and pause at the top of the tabletop, like in the image above.
When you lift the leg try not to let your hips shift at all on the ground. When you pause at the top, take a full inhale letting everything relax, (without dropping your leg), then start an exhale then slowly control your leg back to the ground.
In this exercise, you will be able to really feel how much your core is involved in the movement!
What is the purpose of this movement?
Think for a second what other movements these laying marches might look like?
The movement is a lot like walking, running, going up steps, single-leg movements!
What we are doing in this movement is teaching our muscles how to function properly to allow safe and progressive rehabilitation to the pelvic floor muscles. By focusing on breath and controlled movement, allows you to retrain movement patterns and address possible strength imbalances or tendencies that cause poor movement patterns.
This allows us to make adjustments now before entering back into more advanced movements, running, jumping or single-leg movements.
Modified Bird Dog
Notoriously the all-fours position is a little bit more vulnerable, like stated above when starting to practice breathwork the all-fours position will be the last position you will master breathwork in.
It feels a bit more vulnerable for your core because it allows the belly to hang. It requires a bit more control of the breath and strength in the core.
How do you do it?
When in an all-fours position you want to make sure that your hips are in a neutral position, not spilling forward. Ensure that your shoulders are right over your wrists and knees right under your hips.
Start by extending one arm out and the opposite foot out BUT the difference from a traditional bird dog is that you are going to slide your toe slowly along the ground until full extension.
Things to take note of is to make sure that just like in the Laying Marches, we want to make sure the hips are not rocking side to side.
I like to place something like my phone on my low back to make sure that my hips are not shifting side to side or spilling out of a neutral position.
As you reach into extension, I want you to slowly exhale as you control the opposite arm and leg into extension and inhale as you pull the limbs back towards the all-fours position.
What is the purpose of this movement?
We have covered how hard the all-fours position is already and now we are doing a cross-body movement with crossbody extension. Meaning the opposite arm and leg are moving and they are moving away from the body.
When weight or limbs is moved further from the midline of the body it requires more strength and stability to control to do the movement. I have demonstrated a modified bird dog.
With the modification, instead of kicking my leg out, floating in space, I simply slid my toe on the ground allowing for a less challenging bird dog. This allows me to move well and be able to identify the muscles as they are working, how they work, and how my breathing helps to control the pressure and muscles.
Pelvic Floor Exercises and Restoration
This is a good time to note that exercises, especially during postpartum recovery, do not need to feel hard to give you results.
In the early postpartum phase, you are simply working to restore the strength and endurance of the pelvic floor.
Learning to cue breath and movement together allows the muscles to heal properly. Focusing on intentional movement and breath will allow the breath and the muscles to be cued to automaticity.
This means that in the future you will not have to think about inhaling and exhaling constantly as you move through your day or exercise your breath and core will automatically respond properly when needed.
You Got This Momma!
Healing properly postpartum can feel overwhelming, but these basic pelvic floor exercises can make it a bit easier.
You will feel stronger and more stable moving forward in exercise and allow you a more active lifestyle without suffering from leaking or pain. Pregnancy and delivery have a huge impact on a woman’s body!
So give yourself grace momma, it takes nine months to grow a baby and the delivery has another huge impact on the body whether it was a vaginal birth or c- section, the body needs so much time and rehabilitation.
Breanna Naccarato is an entrepreneur, a mother of two, and owner of Loved Momma Fitness. Sadly in the spring of 2021, she lost her second daughter at birth and has since transitioned her business from working directly with pregnant and postpartum mothers into bringing more awareness to stillbirth and sharing her knowledge of pelvic floor health and exercise through different outlets. She loves the outdoors and camping with her family in their Adventure Van. Sharing her adventures, joys, and pain with others in hopes to also allow them to find their voice and the words to boldly share their own lives is something that she is very passionate about.