The Postpartum Exercise Green Light

By Lori Shenher

Congratulations on your new – or not so new – addition to the family! Like most women who’ve recently given birth, you may have questions about what activities are okay and which should be approached with caution.

Aside from a few words of caution below, you are free to get back to those activities you enjoy or try new things as soon as any stitches have healed – generally three to six weeks are recommended – or with your doctor’s okay if you’ve had a caesarean birth.

Here are a few things to bear in mind before you launch into Tough Mudder, marathon or Cross Fit training. You may have to change your mindset and understand the need to be gentle on yourself as your body heals and regains it pre-pregnancy state.

Thought you were done with hormones? Not quite! Let’s discuss a couple here:

Relaxin

Relaxin is a hormone secreted by the corpus luteum in the ovary in the first trimester of pregnancy. This guy is responsible for loosening the ligaments around the pelvic area to allow for baby’s growth and to make room through the pelvis during childbirth.

While relaxin is at its highest concentration in the body during the first trimester, it is secreted throughout pregnancy and can remain in the body for as long as 12 months after weaning. This means you need to be cautious with high impact, excessive stretching and dynamic movements until your joints and tendons regain their strength.

Take your time and consider more gentle activities that support your joints until your muscles and tendons become stronger. You may not know when this is so I would suggest three months of gentler forms of exercise like yoga, pilates, hiking and cycling to get your strength back.

Prolactin

Prolactin is one of the hormones your body releases to enable you to nurse your baby. I’m a big fan of breastfeeding for any woman who is able as it has many health benefits for you and your baby. Many women stop nursing early, believing that is one way to help regain their pre-pregnancy form, but I would urge you to reconsider this. Nursing is a great calorie-burner (requiring 300-500 calories a day) and prolactin plays a role in enabling you to get by with the reduced sleep that comes with caring for your baby. Keep prolactin on board if it works for you!

Try to view this time in your fitness life as an opportunity to work on areas you might not normally focus on, such as your pelvic floor (sorry, gals, but if you ever want to bounce on a trampoline again, kegels will remain a part of your life), and your core or trunk as I prefer to call it. (If you’ve blocked it out, kegels are the exercise where you engage the muscles you would use to stop yourself from peeing when you don’t want to.) The trunk is a large area, encompassing everything from your knees to you shoulders.

Some women develop a separation between their rectus abdominus muscles during pregnancy called diastasis recti. Imagine your six-pack (yes, it’s in there, I promise) has split vertically so the two sides have come apart in the middle from your belly button up. You can feel a groove down the middle if you have this condition. If you believe you have diastasis recti, I would strongly suggest consulting a personal trainer or physical therapist for a session or two to diagnose you for certain and help you learn some strengthening techniques to heal this.

Any exercise where you push your stomach out such as crunches or sit-ups will cause this condition to worsen and you’ll end up with a tummy pouch that I suspect you’re not looking for. You will want to do exercises that involve pulling your belly button in toward your backbone. Many yoga postures achieve this.  Incorporating your beloved kegels as you do these exercises earns you big bonus points and will pay off on the trampoline, in the bedroom and in later life if you’d like to avoid Depends. Seriously.

You will do yourself and your fitness huge favours by strengthening your pelvic floor and trunk for a few months before diving back into higher impact work. A stronger trunk pays big dividends and will help inoculate you from other injury, no matter what your activity of choice is.

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Lori Shenher is a National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and owner of Action Figure Fitness Ltd.

www.actionfigurefitness.ca

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