Exercise Tips for New Mamas

Gastown Physio and Pilates
During a session with Melina Mirzaei at Gastown Physio & Pilates last week, we talked about exercise tips and guidelines for new mamas. She also gave me some safe exercises to try at my current stage of being 7-weeks post-partum, which I am sharing here.

Thanks again to Melina for putting together these great guidelines and exercises! I have added them to my repertoire as I rebuild my body back form baby #2.

These exercises are guidelines – please make sure you are clear for exercise and movement by your doctor before trying these.

Exercises to avoid for new moms…
– Avoid high-impact activities that involve running or jumping.
– Avoid forward flexion, such as crunches and sit-ups.
– Avoid bracing the abdominals in any activity. When lifting, make sure to squat and use your legs to ease the load on your lower back and pelvic floor.

During pregnancy and labour, the muscles and connective tissues of the pelvic floor undergo significant changes. The movements and activities described above can cause excessive pressure on the pelvic floor, which it may not be able to withstand if the muscles and tissues have not regained their tone and strength. Over time, this can contribute to incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. With any activity, make sure to ease back into it to give your body the chance to fully recover and avoid any complications. If you have any questions about how to properly activate your inner core (TA, pelvic floor), contact a women’s health physiotherapist.

A few great core exercises

1. “Pregnant Cat”
This exercise aims to activate the TA (transverse abdominis). It is the deepest layer of your abdominals, and is essential for core stability. You will be using your breathing to progressively activate your TA.

Note: level 1 = small contraction // level 3 = strong contraction

-Place your hands and knees on a mat and find a neutral spine position.
-Relax your abdominals completely to begin.
-Exhale to lift your belly button in to “level 1”; inhale, maintaining this engagement in your abs.
-Exhale to pull your belly button up to “level 2”; inhale, maintain the slightly stronger engagement in your abs.
-Exhale to pull your belly button all the way in, making sure not to round your back as you do this.
-Relax your abdominals completely, then follow the sequence of progressively activating your TA from “level 1” to “level 3”.

What to watch for…
*Maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
*Make sure that you don’t let your head drop down, or let your chin poke forward; keep your head in line with the rest of your spine.
*Make sure you are not bracing your abs or squeezing your glutes.

2. Bridging
This exercise will activate your glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, and inner core.
-Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands by your sides.
-Exhale to activate your TA by pulling your belly button into your spine; as you do this, start to lift your hips off the floor.
-Lift the hips a few inches off the floor, making sure not to arch your back or squeeze your glutes too hard.
-Inhale to slowly lower your hips.

What to watch for…
*Keep your shoulders and the back of your ribs on the floor while lifting the hips; the height of the hips is not important. Make sure not to let the ribs pop forward, and that the lower back is not arching. Maintain a neutral spine.
*Keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet – make sure you are not rolling onto the inside or outside of either foot.
*Make sure the knees do not flare out to the sides – they should stay in line with your hips. If they tend to fall outwards, place a ball or a yoga block in between your knees.

3. Wide-Leg Child’s Pose
This is a great position to activate the pelvic floor muscles without compensating by contracting the glutes or inner thighs. If the pelvic floor is properly activating, you should feel tension between your sit bones, but this should not produce any discernible movement in the body.

-Begin in child’s pose with your feet together and knees out, so your legs form a small V-shape.
-Exhale to activate your pelvic floor muscles.
-Inhale to release the pelvic floor muscles.

What to watch for…
*The glutes and inner thighs should stay completely relaxed during this exercise.
*Make sure not to brace or squeeze your abdominals at any point.

4. 4-point Leg Lift
This exercise works your core, while also building stability in your shoulders and hips.
-Start on all fours, making sure your shoulders are stacked over your hands, and your hips are over your knees. Find your neutral spine position.
-Exhale to activate your TA, and straighten one leg behind you. You can simply extend your leg and tap your toes on the ground, or you can keep the entire leg lifted behind you.
-Inhale to bring the leg back to the start position.

What to watch for…
*Maintain a neutral spine during the exercise. Make sure that your back is not arching when you straighten your leg.
*Make sure that your hips stay in line with each other while you lift the leg.
*Keep the shoulders down and away from the ears.

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