Firstly, before I start ranting about slowing down after birth, I want to say that every woman is unique and requires a unique approach for recovery after birth. That said, theres some things you need to be aware of in order to nurture your body and heal the stretched, and sometimes bruised tissues/muscles/ligaments after birth.
Heres a timeline from a yogic perspective on how you can bring the practice of yoga back into your life after birth. There are also cues for other forms of movement as well. This information comes from reading and studying biomechanist Katy Bowman from Nutritious Movement, Geeta. S. Iyengar and from my own experience knowledge of yoga over the last 20 years. The following is what I did after the birth of my second son.
0-1 week after birth - This is in caps to be very clear - STAY IN BED, STAY IN BED, STAY IN BED, STAY IN BED. Get up only to go to the toilet, shower or change your clothes. You may even want to STAY IN BED for 2 weeks if you can, and have the support to do so. It is important for your pelvic floor to rest and not carry any load after birth. The only thing you should be carrying is the weight of your baby in the strength of your arms. AVOID DEEP SQUATS AND LUNGES.
0-2 weeks after birth - When you are feeding your baby, practice breathing. Breathe with awareness in and out of your nose, with focus on a fully torso breath. Feel the belly expand lightly, the side ribs and the chest, but don't use force. Very gently, getting to know your breath again. On the exhale breath gently feel your belly button draw towards your spine, BUT, DON'T TUCK YOUR PELVIS UNDER WHEN YOU DO SO. On the inhale breath, let everything expand again, notice your ribs expanding filling the lungs with air. Be aware of your body and how it feels. Notice areas of tension. Check in with yourself. AVOID DEEP SQUATS AND LUNGES.
2-6 weeks after birth - Allow your body to bleed and totally finish bleeding. Most women stop bleeding at 6 weeks. Before then, don't do any strong abdominal work, back bends or inversions. Practice breath awareness, saravasana (final relaxation) and reclining bound angle pose. This pose helps to decongest the pelvis, helps with fatigue, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar. If you don't have props, no worries, use pillows and towels instead. You can also do this lying on your back too. Bring the feet together and knees apart, in a diamond shape. Support underneath the knees, to take pressure off too much opening in the pelvis. AVOID DEEP SQUATS AND LUNGES.
6-12 weeks after birth - After bleeding has finished, continue to follow breath awareness, meditation, guided relaxations (and or yoga nidra), light walking and swimming if you have had ok from your chiro, physio and GP. Low impact exercise is good. See Tara McKenzie at Healthy Self in Erina for a pelvic floor and abdominal separation check after bleeding is finished.
12 weeks after birth - I say, you can go back into the world and begin to practice in a normal yoga class again. Your pelvic floor has had time to heal, your muscles and tissues are healed from any bruising. If you have had a caesarean birth, you may enter a normal yoga class again, as long as you have had ok from your chiro or physio. If you have organ prolapse, instead look at a whole body approach to the problem. How do you stand, walk, and sit? Is this contributing to a lack of pelvic stability and abdominal weakness? Check out the Katy Bowman link for some great tips for recovery. Everyone else, except those with organ prolapse, can return to SQUATS AND LUNGES. Start with high squats and low lunges on your knees.
3 months to 9 months - Start to slowly introduce more yoga poses and go to some general classes. Take it slowly and don't over do it to start. Start with the gentle variations on poses and as you feel more confident you can move to the more intermediate variations. Don't rush, theres more to learn in being aware of what you can and can't do.
0-2 WEEKS - STAY IN BED
2-6 WEEKS - BREATH AWARENESS, RELAXATION, MEDITATION, RECLING BOUND ANGLE POSE, YOGA NIDRA
6-12 WEEKS - ALL OF THE ABOVE, GO SEE A PHYSIO OR CHIRO FOR A FULL CHECK. SOME MAY SUGGEST GOING BEFORE THE 6 WEEK MARK. LOW IMPACT EXERCISE.
12 WEEKS - SLOWLY START TO EMERGE AND START YOGA CLASSES AGAIN WITH VARIATIONS.
3 -9 MONTHS - INTRODUCE MORE YOGA POSES WITH VARIATIONS AND GO TO SOME YOGA CLASSES WITH A TEACHER WHO CAN GUIDE YOU AT YOUR LEVEL.
Having abdominal separation and weakness after birth may not be just from giving birth and carrying a baby for 9 months. How you carry yourself, how you walk, sit, stand and do things, will give you an indication of where you are straining or placing too much force. The linea alba, the connective tissue between the two sides of the rectis abdominus, will stretch, regardless if you are pregnant or not, if you are placing too much force in the abdominal area. For example, if you reach your arms above your head, do your ribs shift? Do you arch into your back to allow for the arms to raise up? If so, you are placing force or load or have been on the linea alba. Therefore, you have been encouraging abdominal separation or weakness, even before you fell pregnant. You are probably in the habit of using other muscles to allow for that movement or there is tightness in your hips, waist and lower back.
In short, recovery from abdominal separation, is a whole body solution, not just about quick abdominal exercises every now and then. And, it might take you a year or two to rebuild your strength. This goes for vaginal births and caesarean births too.
So, I suggest reading Katy Bowmans book Diastisis Recti: The whole body solution to abdominal weakness and seaparation and avoiding the following yoga poses.
You know what? Also avoid these poses if you are 0-12 weeks postpartum:
- AVOID - Full boat pose, plank pose/half plank, headstand, yoga poses that involve strong force on the abdominals
- AVOID - Over dramatic/strong back bends like bow pose, wheel and anything that puts force, load and stretching on the abdominals. You will make it worse.
- AVOID - twists. There is a gentle twist that is ok in Katys book that is really gentle and beneficial to stretching the waist and hips. But generally twists encourage separation.
- AVOID - weights - CARRY YOUR BABY INSTEAD. Swap from left to right using your arm strength, not your hips. Carry your baby on your back, front side, alternate!
Ok, so lets be positive now, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Firstly, get Katys book, shes amazing, and has so much knowledge. She'll tell it to you straight and in a way you will understand, trust me!
Heres a list of things you can do in yoga land for abdominal separation:
- Breath awareness. Where do you breath? If its all in your belly, you're probably putting too much force in the abdominal cavity. Do you breathe shallow in your chest? Sit in a comfortable position and notice your breath. Try belly breathing to begin with for 10 breaths, then add the ribs and then try to breath with the chest too. Then try to breath with all three parts, belly, ribs and chest. This is called Three part breath or yogic breath. Don't worry if you don't get it first go, it can take practice, be kind to yourself. Its as much about relaxation, as it is about awareness.
- All fours, gentle cat cow with attention to not expanding too much into the belly, calf stetches, forward bends
- Gentle back bends, reclining poses with supports
- Hip opening poses with supports
- childs pose with variations (see Katys book)
- Hamstring stretches, side/waist stretches
- lunges with variations
- boat pose variation - if youre curious, ask me about it :)
This list is very simple and I would need a one on one session with each of you to really see what the whole body situation is. But, all of the things above are helping you to notice tension in your body, that are potentially taking the load of your body, that your abdominals should be helping out with. Your abdominals should work without you having to switch them on intentionally and you shouldn't have to hold your muscles all the time for them to work.
Oh by the way, DON'T BRACE YOUR ABDOMINALS, DON'T SUCK YOUR TUMMY IN AND DROP YOUR RIBS DOWN. You are not a gymnast or a circus performer. Im sure they have so many physical body problems from the way they contort their bodies. LET YOUR MUMMY BELLY HANG, DON'T HOLD IT IN, THIS INCREASES FORCE IN THE ABDOMINALS. You gotta let it go. Once you start to let this go, your organs will shift back into their original place and you'll also breathe easier.
Anyway, theres so much I could say, but I've said enough for now. I hope that you find this helpful. I see postpartum as a time to rest and reflect on the incredible work that your body has just done. As I said at the beginning, postpartum recovery if unique for each woman. But, make sure you check with your careproviders, Chiros or physios before starting a strong exercise program. You can make things worse if you force your body at this delicate time.
Please comment below if you have any questions or would like to see a postnatal recovery workshop in the near future.
Love Lauren x