Top 4 physical changes after birth and how they affect your return to fitness & sport.Feb 07, 2021
You may have had these visions of returning to your old workout plans and jumping back into your sports and activities you've always done, only to find out that your body has changed significantly and you need to rebuild your strength more than you thought you would have needed.
Things don’t just snap back into place after the baby arrives. You may find that strengthening specific muscles like you use to isn’t working and are wondering why? In short it’s tough to isolate issues as it’s all connected’.
Read on to find out what some of the most common changes are that occur, how they’re all connected, what you can do and how to start this journey back into fitness and sport.
Getting back into shape postpartum is not just about strength—the goal should be proper function and core stability.
1. You may pee yourself a little…
Incontinence after birth may be common, but it’s not normal and you don’t need to live with it. Many blogs you read will tell you to strengthen and do kegels. They say kegel, kegel, kegel all day long, but Kegels aren’t always the fix. Why you may ask? Your pelvic floor needs to be able to both lengthen and contract, not just contract. When the pelvic floor is always in a contracted state, the muscles become shortened, tightened, and sometimes weak, which could also lead to incontinence. You may have a weak pelvic floor with a prolapse and need strengthening exercises, but everyone needs to learn to relax the pelvic floor first, so they are able to fully contract it. Lean how to relax your pelvic floor here in a blog post I wrote.
To improve incontinence whether it is from a tight hypertonic pelvic floor or a weak pelvic floor with a prolapse you need to learn how to manage pressure in your system, proper diaphragmatic breathing is essential along with coordinating your breath with the activation and release of the pelvic floor. This leads me to the next point; Breathing...
2. You feel a disconnect with your breath and core?
During pregnancy the baby took up room in your belly and it had no choice but to expand. This affected your breathing pattern and stretched out your abdominals.
A) Your breathing pattern affects how your core functions
The baby in your belly pushed your diaphragm up, it also caused your ribs to flare out and become stiff and your back muscles to tighten up while offsetting the weight of the baby. All these changes made it hard to do a proper diaphragmatic/ 360 breath on both the inhale and exhale.
When you are not able to get in a full breath, you are not able to relax your pelvic floor and thus not able to contract it fully. If you’re not able to exhale fully you’re you could be bearing down and putting pressure into your pelvic floor. The two work together. When we breath properly our diaphragm expands fully, our pelvic floor relaxes fully. Then on the exhale the PF contracts and triggers the deep core muscles to fire and aid in expiring the air out. See the image above for a visual explanation.
Without this proper breath you may feel like you can’t activate your core. When you try to activate your core, you may see the belly coning or doming outwards, which is a sign that you are bearing down and not managing pressure properly and thus not activating the core muscles. When done right a 360/ diaphragmatic breath will facilitate automatic function of the core. Click here to read a my blog on how to do a proper 360/ diaphragmatic breath.
B) The baby stretched out your abs and this effects how they function
You may have a gap called Diastasis Recti, which is a separation of the left and right side of the rectus abdominus at the linea alba (connective tissue) of more than 2cm. Many moms experience healing with the first 6-8 weeks, approximation improves and the density of the tissues improve, however for some it doesn't heal on its own. With DR you need to learn to control the pressure in your system via your breath, too much pressure in the wrong place and it makes the DR worse. It’s a common misconception to not work your abs in order for the DR to heal. In fact, you need to stress and load the tissues for it to heal, they need to be loaded in a way that pressure can be managed without any symptoms such as coning or doming. You can manage pressure with your breath, but posture also plays a huge role. We cover this in depth in the Mountain Mom Strong program. This brings me to the next major change you may encounter postpartum…
3. Your Posture has significantly been altered
The weight of the baby in your belly may have caused major posture changes; increased thoracic kyphosis (curve in your upper spine), rounded shoulders & rotated pelvis to mention a few. The effects of carrying a baby during pregnancy and how you currently lift, carry and hold your baby plays a roll on how your posture is now postpartum.
These altered postures may have caused some muscles to become lengthen and weak or short and tight, causing dysfunction all over the body in your neck, back, hips and even knees. No wonder new moms are so achy.
One common postpartum posture is to clench the glutes. Often moms clench their butt to gain stability due to weakened abs. When you clench your glutes the PF can't relax, and the PF needs to fully relax to be able to contract, like we talked about earlier. And if a muscle is constantly clenched, you guessed it, it won’t be able to contract fully and will become weak. Learn strategies to unclench and lengthen your glutes here in a blog of mine.
It’s also common to round the shoulders and poke out the chin postpartum from all the forward positions; feeding and holding the baby. This causes tightness in your pecs and neck, limits the range of motion in your spine and weakens your back muscles. This can lead to poor breathing patterns, poor movement patterns as well as pain and discomfort in your shoulders and back when feeding, lifting or holding your baby. Learn 5 exercises to help with backpain here in my blog
4. Weak glutes
I think what surprises most of my clients is how weak their glutes were postpartum. Many individuals have a hard time before pregnancy to fire them correctly, but after birth it seems even harder. More clamshells is not the answer. Why? Because the muscle is not just weak… By now you’ve probably realised that the body is super connected and when one thing is off, it can set many other things off. If your posture is altered and your pelvis is not in an optimal position then your glutes are at a disadvantage to fire. We need good alignment for the body to be able to function and fire all its muscles properly. In some cases we need to release the hip flexors first, or learn how to lengthen the glutes before we can strengthen them.
Everything is interconnected
So as you can see everything is interconnected, you can’t just learn how to do a couple of specific exercises to strengthen your body as a whole. You need to take into account the whole system and how its all connected. So where to start you may ask? Click to find out 6 steps I have my clients take to return to full activities.
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