Your First 6 Weeks Postpartum: 6 movements + guidance for the postpartum athlete

*This guidance is NOT medical advice and all pregnancies, birth methods and recoveries vary by individual and experience. It is highly suggested to prioritize rest above stress. For at least the first six weeks postpartum, keep activity levels low to moderate and know that less is more right now even if it seems counterintuitive.

WHEN CAN I START EXERCISING POSTPARTUM?

I am constantly asked for guidance on the early weeks postpartum. An overarching theme to emphasize is that less is more *right now.* You may be tempted to start doing rehab exercises right away, or counting cals, or getting in walks...but your body really needs rest and for you to respect the healing process. Lower energy expenditure and lowered expectations for what you think you “should” be doing, or what you did before.

“When can I return to exercise?”

“I feel fine – can I do X?”

“But I want to do something.”

I am a big “all or something” fan, but I also know that sometimes, especially in the early weeks of caring for a newborn, the “something” is caring for the baby and nothing else!

TO BE CLEAR:

This guidance is here for those of you who want the *something,* but it’s not a necessity. Acclimating to your new baby and life is the main priority...your body is healing in a multitude of ways right now from the inside out and taking time to be intentional and restorative with EVERYTHING, allows for the INTENSITY of daily life, exercise and long term goals LATER.

BEFORE WE HIT GO, HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Check in with your postpartum self and know that this will vary day to day and week by week.

Are you getting enough sleep (ha, I know, but sleep/rest is critical to prioritize over exercise)?

Are you keeping hydrated?

Are you eating enough nourishing food?

How are your relationships?

How is your mental health? Anxiety, depression and trauma are VERY common and there’s help

How does your vagina feel? What happened? Do you know if you tore? What degree? Intervention, etc?

How long did you push for? How does your incision feel?

Was this an emergency C? Planned?

What was your labor like, if any?

Are you working with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist (PFPT)?

If not, schedule this appointment ASAP for feedback on what your body has been through from the inside out. This is CRITICAL for your core+pelvic health+fitness.

People tend to forget to take into account the entirety of the experience and ONLY focus on the birth method.

It is all relevant and influences recovery. If you feel guilt or stigma over what your birth method means, remember, there’s no such thing as the right way or best way to give birth. It’s not the delivery method, it’s circumstance and individual experience with accompanying emotions.

BOTH vaginal and cesarean births carry significant recovery processes and have physical, mental and emotional considerations.

Postpartum is a fairly equal playing field, there is no “green light” birth method, so take your time, adjust and reintegrate wisely, intuitively and with support from the inside out.

Maybe you’re not sure, maybe you’re like, ‘OMG something is not ok!’. Maybe you feel better than you thought.

Listen to the voice you typically try to ignore. It’s not about what you “should” be doing right now, or pushing through, it’s about what is appropriate for your body and needs TODAY, THIS WEEK, THIS SEASON OF LIFE. A quote I share a lot with my new moms is, “it’s your brain that feels ready, not your body.”

Recovering from pregnancy and birth is a big deal.

There’s no such thing as a simple, uncomplicated, no big deal birth.

The physiological process of birth is trauma to your body - it does what it has to do to get a baby out and safe, with intervention or none. It can be beautiful and traumatic. It can go “as planned” and/or it can be emergent, scheduled, intervened and complicated.

Just keep this in mind when outside stories and our fitness culture influences how you think you should feel, look or be doing right now. LESS IS MORE.

DIASTASIS RECTI & ATHLETICISM

Step away from the confusing and often harmful mixed messages surrounding diastasis recti and download this e-book to broaden your understanding, education, and awareness on this condition.

OK, OK, BUT SERIOUSLY, WHAT CAN I DO POSTPARTUM?

In short - get familiar with your new body.

Look at it. Zoom out and try to see the miracle your body has endured, created, and is healing from.

Remember, this is not forever; it’s just for now.

Use the following steps to help you assess and understand your postpartum body to build the foundation for your rehabilitation.

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STEP 1: WHAT ARE YOUR MOST TYPICAL POSITIONS? 

How are you sitting? Standing? Holding the baby? How do you feel in these positions?

Tune into any discomfort, adjust the position, see if that changes your experience.

Example: if you’re leaning back, squeezing your glutes and holding your baby (did you even realize you were squeezing your glutes?) shift your body weight forward, let your ass unclench, lol.

How does that feel? Take a mental note.

You’re in the shower (finally alone!) Are you sucking in your stomach? Let it go. Is that hard to do? Try and let it go more. Take a slow 5ish second breath in and just let.it.go. It’s totally ok to look like you had a baby. You did.

How you hold tension in your abs, glutes, pelvic floor and body in general matters. When you feel “squishy,” it’s tempting to generate more tension for a braced/support feeling (squeezing, breath holding, etc). It’s just understanding your tendencies and countering them when needed. We are amazing at compensating and there’s of course a  time and place for our smart bodies to adapt and adjust, but right now, the goal is to reacclimate to a new normal and find some coordination between how we breathe, move and how it may help in our healing process.

STEP 2: HOW IS YOUR BREATHING COORDINATED?

Let’s shift the focus to coordination, lengthening and shortening of all muscles, starting with the diaphragm.

When you inhale, your belly should expand/give way (making room for the diaphragm to go down), this reduces tension in the pelvic floor and abdominal wall.

When you exhale, the diaphragm travels back up, and the pelvic floor gently recoils/contracts following the diaphragms lead. The transverse abdominals, creates a “force” across the midline. This does not “close” your abs, but it does help create tension in the linea alba from the intentional contraction.  The tension generated helps with generating strength and adaptation to the system.

This connection between your breath and the base of your core, aka your pelvic floor, and your abs matter. The breath helps facilitate coordination, intention, and awareness of tendencies. It’s not the end-all-be-all of healing and rehab, but it is a foundation to be in tune with because it’s how we add movement, improve/manage symptoms and overall familiarity with our postpartum body.

STEP 3: TRY SOME MOVEMENT. 

8 reps/movement. one time through each day, or every couple days.
Here are some movements that can help your BRAIN coordinate with your healing body.

PRONE (aka laying on your stomach) BREATHING

8 breaths

Ok, so try not to fall asleep. BUT, I like this because the ground gives your feedback. 

It can be difficult to breathe into your belly and get a full breath, so breathing into the ground, feeling it against your stomach, gives your BRAIN the feedback regarding how much range of motion is happening with each rep (aka breath). 

Inhale into the ground laying face down, let your butt relax (no clenching!), and gently exhale, feeling your stomach gently shift positions from the ground in response to your exhale. It will slowly shift away from the ground through the exhale, as the abs engage.  

When you exhale, try to kick on your pelvic floor. I like the cue of imaging bringing your belly button toward your heart. Do you feel supported in your vagina? Do you feel pressure? 

Perhaps you feel like your pelvic floor is already “on” and can’t really feel a lift because maybe it’s already gripping?

If this is you, just focus on quality breaths and don’t stress about doing Kegels or a lot of pelvic floor work. Think about your stomach letting go/relaxing and breathing into 

Try doing 10 breaths here. That’s it. This is a brain exercise with body byproducts. 

SUPINE (aka, laying on your back) BREATHING

8 breaths

This is a good foundational breath. If you can’t connect here, it’s hard to know what you’re feeling for when you add movement. 

Put your hands on your stomach and inhale into them feeling your mid and lower abdomen expand into your hands. You can imagine breathing sideways into ribs if your tendency is to breathe into your chest. Wide breath, feeling your lower and mid-abdomen gently rise into your hands,

Exhale and feel your breath draw up and away from your pelvic floor, releasing through your mouth. Your abs may gently draw inward, away from your hands. 

GLUTE BRIDGE

8 REPS

For this particular glute bridge exercise, your feet are going to be together. As you lift your hips off the ground, your foot position may help you feel more pelvic floor engagement. Remember, pelvic floor engagement is only good when it is also able to relax (lengthen), so as you lower your hips down, let your stomach, glutes and pelvic floor reset at the bottom with your inhale.

MARCHING

8 total (4/side)

Supine marching takes a lot of control, even though it can easily be a rushed and overlooked movement. The goal of this movement is to feel the differences in control between each side. Lay on your back, hands on your stomach. As you gently exhale, lift your foot off the ground a few inches without shifting/rocking your pelvis to the side. If one side feels more difficult than the other, OR if it’s hard to maintain control without shifting, try to kick on your pelvic floor muscles more and wait a couple of seconds before lifting your leg.

Control > speed or amount of reps performed. Let your stomach and pelvic floor rest on inhale before switching legs.

ROCKING

8 REPS

Get on all fours and distribute your body weight evenly. Your weight should be balanced, not shifted toward your arms. Once you find a neutral position, let your stomach completely relax into a hanging position. No one is looking at you, it’s totally ok. Let it go. From here, slowly exhale and feel what your stomach does in response to your breath. Did it gently draw inward? When you inhale, let it go again. This time, exhale and imagine drawing your belly button toward your heart. Was there more engagement?

Now, after you’ve done a few connection breaths, add the rock. Gently shift your body weight forward on your exhale and you should feel some gentle support around your core, generated by your exhale and shifted movement. That exhale “kicks on” your abs as you move forward, and then reset to the center.

At the center, let your stomach relax (go through that full range of motion!).

squat

8 REPS

Squats can be done to the depth you are comfortable with, or using a device for support (sitting down to a couch, using assistance from a PVC pipe placed in front of you, etc.

As much as a squat can feel intimidating after birth, it’s something we do to use the restroom and sit up and down. Managing symptoms, tendencies, and control assists in the recovery process.

While standing, shift your body weight so that it’s evenly distributed across your feet. Let your belly and glutes let go of any tension they are holding in standing, Inhale (feeling the expansion into your rib cage and stomach) and then gently exhale (feeling the gentle support from the bottom and around your center) and then begin to squat down.

Try to exhale through the full range of motion to generate the most support. When you return to standing, inhale and give your body a chance to reset, relaxing at the top. You do NOT need to squat low. Avoid your pelvis tipping under (referred to as butt wink), and squat to a controlled depth. When you stand up, finish in a neutral position, there’s no need to squeeze your glutes at the end range/top.

FULL SEQUENCE OF MOVEMENTS DEMONSTRATED

In conclusion, finally, I want you to have a less is more approach to your early weeks postpartum. Do these movements when you can, not because you have to. If you’re looking for more in depth info on strategies, symptoms and training, check out my online course, The Pregnant and Postpartum Athlete. If you’re looking for a program to start when your body is ready to begin rehab integrated into fitness, check out my 8 Week Postpartum Athlete Training Program

Have questions about diastasis recti, want a general timeline to returning to training, common mistakes that pregnant or postpartum athletes make, or pregnant and want some guidance/modifications? Check out all of my free resources listed HERE (or just click the links associated). 

I am with you,

Bri

Are you pregnant and everyone has you convinced that “OMG diastasis” or “just listen to your body, do what you’ve always done!” Neither are ok or are enough info.

Check out my course for athletes here.

Diastasis Recti & Athleticism. Free e-book for pregnant and postpartum athletes and their coaches!

Need trustworthy guidance on diastasis recti?

Download my FREE ebook.

Are you a postpartum athlete looking to improve and progress your body?

My 8-week training program can be purchased here.

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