In our last post we discussed all the symptoms new moms frequently experience after childbirth. The most common complaint we see in the clinic is urinary incontinence and abdominal weakness or separation (diastasis recti).
- Cut yourself some slack, you just had a baby. I had to keep reminding myself to inhale, exhale, and relax.
- Start by gently engaging your abs to remind your body how to find them and keep them activated after being stretched and deactivated for 9 months.
- Here is a three step process to engaging your abs:
- Pull your lower belly in without arching your back or bearing down.
- Think about engaging your pelvic floor by lifting up in the perineum (space between the vagina and anal opening); another way to think about it is “stopping the flow of urine midstream”
- Think about drawing your ribs in slightly and knitting them closer together without arching your back.
Number 1 question I get is “when will it return to normal?” and my response is usually anywhere from 6-12 weeks if you had an uncomplicated pregnancy/delivery. The second question I get is “how often do I have to do this routine?” and the answer to that question is ANYTIME and ANYWHERE. The goal is to get these muscles to turn on and remember what they were once capable of doing. After you find these muscles and are able to engage them voluntarily then you can start to perform gentle exercises.
If it feels like you’re trying to operate someone else’s body, don’t get discouraged. I realized right after having my son that even though I teach these principles and knew how to engage my pelvic floor, there was a huge disconnect and nothing was quite like it used to be. I was able to engage my abs but not my pelvic floor and sometimes vice versa. It took me almost 4 weeks of practicing to be able to engage all three components of the core simultaneously.
If you are having trouble engaging your abdominals you may want to skip the baby boot-camp class and focus on increasing your control in the abdominals/core as these are the fundamental basics to getting stronger.
Yes, you read that right—in the first weeks post-partum, before you think about strapping junior into the BOB and going for a jog, or busting out that Insanity DVD, be sure you can identify, engage, and hold your core and pelvic floor in the three-step process identified above. Boring? Maybe. But, hey, what else are you doing during that 20-minute pumping session, or in line at the grocery, or while waiting for that bottle to warm?
By performing steps 1-3 you will be engaging your core and strengthening accessory muscles to help your pelvic floor strength. This will all help you return to running, cycling, and other high level activities without leaking (or limping) your way to the finish line. Read on for Part 3 of this three-part series to see what you do next after you have successfully identified and engaged your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.