4 important factors for all Mums to consider before starting exercise
Written by Lowenna Holt, PhD
Daily life as a Mum is very physically demanding, especially when the children are small. The weight of a baby in your belly, carrying a toddler on your hip, tidying toys off the floor, bending down to help children get dressed, vacuuming, putting the pram into the car, placing children into car seats, and more….all put a lot of strain on your back, internal organs, core muscles and pelvic floor.
Before you begin any exercise, whether you have recently given birth or are many years down the track, you should consider the following factors and choose exercise that is appropriate for your postpartum body.
1. Be aware of your breathing – use the purposeful exhale to protect your core
As you rise against gravity, whether that is lifting your baby, lifting your toddler off the floor, picking up the washing basket, picking up the pram, or lifting bags of shopping, you should use the purposeful exhale. This will protect your pelvic floor, and a diastasis recti (see below) if that is an issue for you. As you lift, you should exhale – this starts a protective mechanism for the entire core and improves the transfer of load through the abdominal organs and tissues.
The purposeful exhale
2. Consider your posture – could you improve your body’s alignment?
Our posture can impact on our physical health and wellbeing. After carrying a baby during pregnancy, the alignment of our body gets altered. The baby’s weight can cause the lower back to sway as the centre of gravity shifts. Pregnancy causes significant weakening of certain muscles such as the abdominal muscles, glutes (your bottom muscles), upper back, hamstrings (back of thigh) and pelvic floor. In contrast, it can also cause tightness of other muscles including the hips, lower back, chest and quads (front of thigh). Appropriate strength training during pregnancy can be very beneficial to reduce the negative impact on our alignment. If you stretch the muscles that are tight and strengthen the muscles that are weak during pregnancy, then you are setting yourself up for a better recovery post birth. This is because you reduce the liklihood of abdominal wall separation, back pain, incontinence and a misaligned pelvis. After birth you can continue to work on the same muscles to gradually and safely re-gain your pre-pregnancy strength and alignment.
An important factor to be aware of for your posture is how your ribcage is aligned relative to your pelvis. The best position is to have a “neutral pelvis” where your ribs are stacked directly over the pelvis. A posterior tilt or anterior tilt, shown in the diagram below, can have a negative impact on activating your diaphragm (for breathing) and on pelvic floor function. A good alignment allows for an optimal breathing pattern, optimal pressures for the internal organs and pelvic floor, and good pelvic blood flow to bring fresh nutrients to all areas.
Neutral Pelvis = ribs stacked directly over the pelvis,
Posterior Tilt = ribs stack behind the pelvis and
Anterior Tilt = ribs stacked ahead of the pelvis.
3. Check if you have diastasis recti (abdominal separation)
What is diastasis recti? Diastasis is the abnormal separation of parts of the body that are normally joined together. Recti refers to the rectus abdominis muscles, which are the muscles running from the top to bottom of your abdomen (or tummy area), also commonly referred to as the “six pack”. You may also hear diastasis recti referred to as abdominal separation. This is a common condition that occurs during pregnancy and postpartum. As the uterus grows with the growing baby during pregnancy, the left and right halves of the rectus abdominis muscles separate at the midline, called the linea alba (latin for “white line”). The linea alba is made of collagen connective tissue. Pregnancy hormones can make it thinner and weaker. The combination of pressure from the growing uterus, and the increase of pregnancy hormones, commonly causes abdominal separation. This puts you at risk for back pain and pelvic dysfunction such as prolapse, incontinence and pelvic pain. But don’t worry, there are steps you can take to assist in closing the gap and reducing the severity of diastasis recti. It is important to consult with a postnatal fitness professional that specialises in core restoration. Someone who has trained in the Burrell Education System is a good starting point. Avoid joining up to a high intensity bootcamp which may do more harm than good.
Left, the normal layout of abdominal muscles. Right, diastasis recti,
or abdominal separation which commonly occurs during pregnancy.
4. Choose exercise that is appropriate for your postnatal body (whether that is 6, weeks, 6 years or 16 years postnatal)
Your core muscles all work together to protect your abdominal organs, maintain your posture, and help with breathing. When exercising it is important to choose movements that are sensitive to your postnatal body and changes that may have occurred in your core. Your core muscles and pelvic floor are activated by synergistic movements that occur during squats, lunges, pulling and pushing movements, rotating, bending over and balancing. All of these movements are used in our every day life, so it is important that we perform them correctly, with protection of our pelvic floor in mind. Here are some great examples of how to perform
Where to go for help
If you have recently had a baby, or even if many years have passed since you gave birth, it is important to check-in with a specialist in women’s health before starting a new exercise regime. High intensity boot camps may do more harm than good. If you do a google search for “Burrell Education” AND “your home city” that is a good start for finding the suitable person to help you on your exercise journey.
Kylee Todd from Postnatal and Beyond is a personal trainer who has trained in the Burrell Education system. She specialises in Postnatal Recovery that assists all mothers in regaining their pre-baby health, strength, vitality and confidence. Utilising her education and experience, Kylee has developed holistic restoration programs that offer proven healing strategies to assist women to physically and emotionally recover after having a baby. You can read more information about Kylee in our directory here. Kylee is based in Canberra and can be contacted via her website https://www.postnatalandbeyond.com/
Thankyou to Jenny Burrell for the images from Burrell Education at https://www.burrelleducation.com/
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is intended as a general educational aid. It should not replace advice given by a qualified healthcare provider in relation to your own unique circumstances and those of your family. Always consult your doctor regarding medical or mental health concerns that you or your family may have.