Postpartum recovery essentials - managing the early stages
Short on time? Then the key things to know are:
After delivery, you should focus on pelvic floor exercises, adopting good bowel habits, your posture, deep breathing and walking as much is comfortable for you
You should reduce or avoid doing exercises which cause doming to the abdomen (e.g. sitting straight up from lying down)
To do pelvic floor exercises, focus on squeezing your back passage on the exhale and relax the pelvic floor muscles on your inhale (read on for a full explanation)
No two people are on the same recovery journey, so go at your own pace in your own time - if you’re unsure, speak to a specialist
Every birth is an individual and unique experience to each woman. No two are the same. So how can we expect women to recover from birth in the same way as each other?
It is important to have guidelines for health professionals to advise women when to safely return to different activities. These guidelines, however, can be followed as a foundation for a woman's recovery.
Postpartum recovery; it all starts from the birth
After a vaginal delivery, for the first six weeks, it is often advised for women to focus on five key things (as well as providing and looking after their new little human). These include:
- Your pelvic floor exercises
- Ensuring you’re adopting good bowel habits (avoiding straining and constipation)
- Being aware of your posture to reduce risks of musculoskeletal aches and pains
- Deep breathing practise
- And to begin walking (as much and as far that is comfortable for you!)
Between the six to twelve week stage, you can begin to introduce some gentle strengthening exercises and challenge your cardiovascular system a little more. This might be in the form of postnatal pilates or yoga classes, swimming, cycling or incline walking.
If none of the above take your fancy then ensure you find something that you can do which you enjoy.
From the twelve to sixteen week mark, providing you’re feeling well and not having any adverse symptoms then typically you can begin to introduce higher impact exercise. This might be in the form of boxing, running, dancing etc. If you’re unsure whether it’s the right time to exercise, seek help from a specialist.
It’s important to note the recovery for those who have birthed via cesarean section have a slightly longer healing stage, therefore two extra weeks are added on to each timeline.
The pelvic floor - recovery after birth
Pelvic floor exercises specifically help strengthen and maintain flexibility in the pelvic floor. These groups of muscles are placed under a lot of pressure and strain during pregnancy and vaginal delivery which can cause them to weaken.
It is common for a lot of women who have weak pelvic floor muscles to experience some incontinence with a certain movement / activity, or experience a heaviness in their vagina. It’s important when practising your exercises that you fully relax in between reps to ensure full range of movement is maintained. If not this can shorten and tighten the muscles which can also lead to pelvic floor problems.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
When completing pelvic floor exercises, you want to focus on squeezing your back passage on the exhale and relax the pelvic floor muscles on your inhale. Repeat these twenty times for your fast twitch muscle fibre activation.
To work on your slow twitch muscle fibres, exhale and squeeze the pelvic floor, continuing to breathe as you hold the tension for up to 10 seconds. Then fully relax the muscles by letting go and taking a few deep breaths. Repeat these exercises ten times each and then both types three times a day.
Checking you abdominal separation
The rectus abdominis muscles run along the front of your tummy and are held together by connective tissue called the linea alba. As your tummy grows during pregnancy, these muscles stretch and widen, creating more space and weakness along the linea alba.
It is advised to reduce or avoid doing movements and exercises which cause doming (for example sitting straight up from lying down to sitting). Doming is when excess pressure is applied to the walls of your abdomen, which causes more of a push through / doming action. If completed continuously, these movements can cause further weakening and widening of the tummy separation.
After birth your tummy muscles would naturally reduce back down and leave a smaller gap (which is completely normal!) but sometimes a larger gap is still left which can cause ongoing problems.
How to check your abdominals for separation
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor
- Lift your head and shoulders to look down towards your tummy
- Place your fingertips between the edges of the muscles above, at and below the belly button
- Check how many fingers you can place between the muscles
Need support with your postnatal recovery?
It is extremely common for women to feel ‘a little lost’ with what they should and shouldn’t be doing when it comes to after birth recovery. That’s where we come in - your pelvic health physiotherapists.
We help teach and guide you towards the correct exercises to help optimise your recovery. Whether you are suffering with incontinence, abdominal separation, lower back aches or other postnatal related musculoskeletal pains. There are always things you can do to help improve and resolve these issues. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t matter how long postnatal you are, these issues can always be helped.
Book a private online consultation with one of our women’s health physio experts and get specialist help today.
Jennie, Naytal Women’s Health Physio
Jennie is a pelvic health specialist who supports women with pelvic floor dysfunctions and pregnancy related musculoskeletal conditions.