“What can I do the first 2 weeks postpartum?”
If you missed parts 1 and 2 of the series, make sure you check them out first to lay the best foundation for the following early postpartum exercises.
The following exercises are great to start once you get home from the hospital, generally about 3 days postpartum. If you had a home birth or went home earlier than that, I would wait until day 3 just so you aren’t overloading your to-do list.
Also, as I mentioned before, these early postpartum exercises are if you want to do them. They should never be something you feel guilty for not doing.
The list below is general information and certainly does not substitute your medical provider’s instructions!
But First, Posture
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s quickly address posture. A year or two ago, I would have done an entire blog post on posture. And it would have been pretty boring. I’ve come to realize that addressing posture is important but that it also gets way too much attention. So, let’s give it what it deserves and move on.
Your best posture is your next posture.
There is no perfect posture. In fact, having the ability to change positions frequently AND the ability do many tasks in a variety of postures is key.
Sure, there is a “perfect squat form” but how often are you performing a perfect squat when you’re trying to get your screaming toddler out of the toy section at Target?
The answer is never.
So, yes, train that perfect squat but then do a squat a little differently, narrow feet, and again, leaning forward, and again, arms overhead, and again, and again, and again. How many different ways can you think of doing a squat, lunge, overhead press, etc? Your ability, or inability, to do that tells me a lot more than your “perfect” form.
The thing I want you to take away from all of this? Don’t think too rigidly about Postpartum Posture. Let’s talk about the “ideal posture” but know that part of the “ideal posture” is being able to move in and out of that posture with ease.
Common Postpartum Posture
Ideal Postpartum Posture
There you go, that’s about all we need to discuss. The photos above show you an exaggerated “Common Postpartum Posture” versus the “Ideal Postpartum Posture”. The ideal posture is that way because your ribs can move better, allowing your diaphragm to be stronger; your pelvis is in neutral allowing your core and pelvic floor to work better; and your knees aren’t hyperextended so you aren’t hanging on your ligaments but instead using your muscles and ligaments equally.
Getting into the “Ideal Postpartum Posture” and then practicing your diaphragmatic breathing could be an exercise all on its own. If you try that and find it’s difficult for you, practice that! You want to be able to get into this posture, breathe normally, and then move into another posture, and another, and another. If you try this “Ideal Postpartum Posture” and feel confident with your diaphragmatic breathing and don’t find this challenging, then move on.
Gentle Pelvic Floor Contractions
The keyword here is gentle.
You don’t need to max power reps for your pelvic floor right now… or ever really… Instead, re-connecting your brain to your pelvic floor is the goal. Think about contracting your pelvic floor at about 50%. You might feel like Goldilocks testing out different contraction strength, that’s okay. Find your 50% and try to hit that with each contraction.
I wrote an entire blog post about how to know if you are performing a kegel correctly. Check it out to make sure you are doing the contraction correctly! And equally as important, check out the blog post about releasing and relaxing the pelvic floor with a reverse kegel.
Try for a gentle 5-10 second hold (a lot harder than it sounds) and “quick” flicks where you contract for a count of 2, then release for a count of 2. Make sure you aren’t holding your breath!
Gentle Deep Abdominal Contractions
Again, we’re focused on gentle when performing these early postpartum exercises!
Your deep abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominus, contracts with your pelvic floor without you even realizing it. During the early postpartum time, the timing and coordination between these two muscles can be off because your body has been through so many changes.
So, we want to focus on that brain body connection again. No max power reps of abdominal bracing, no holding your breath.
I wrote an entire blog post about performing your own diastasis recti self check which details how to perform a deep abdominal contraction. Spoiler alert – 100% of pregnant women past 36 weeks gestation have diastasis recti… So, if you are early postpartum, I’d bet my toddler melting down when I say “no more cookies” that you have diastasis recti right now. Just because I like you, here is a quick and easy tutorial for deep abdominal engagement.
- Start by standing in front of a mirror where you can easily see your abdomen, profile view is ideal.
- Let your belly relax completely.
- Take a deep diaphragmatic breath and then exhale through pursed lips.
Your belly should move up and in towards your spine, like the letter “J”. That is your deep abdominal muscle, it wraps around your abdomen like a corset.
The key take away for the early postpartum time is to use your breath to help you out when finding your deep abdominals. Blowing air through pursed lips will automatically engage your deep abdominal muscles and you’ll notice your belly pulling up and in towards your spine.
As you are practicing your diaphragmatic breathing, add in the deep abdominal contraction. Try just a handful of contractions a few times a day, gradually increasing your reps and sets with each passing day. Make sure you take note if those muscles are sore the next day and adjust your reps and sets accordingly.
Normally the first question I get here is, “Quadruped? What’s that?” It’s just means on your hands and knees. And then rocking is going from shoulders over wrists/hips over knees to hips back towards your heels/arms outstretched in prayer pose.
In the quadruped position (hands and knees), your abdomen is having to work against gravity – that’s hard in the first few days! So, if this feels harder than laying on your back or in standing, that is normal and expected.
Starting in all fours, simply take a few diaphragmatic breaths. Let your belly relax during the inhale and then notice your belly move up and away from the ground during the exhale.
Next, you’ll start to move into that prayer pose – you may need to keep your knees close together if you have any tearing in your perineum. Time the movements with your breath – inhale into prayer pose, allowing your abdomen and pelvic floor to completely relax.
Exhale as you move back into the quadruped position, performing a gentle pelvic floor and deep abdominal contraction.
Try a set of 5-10 reps. This gentle movement should feel good. Maybe a little difficult at first to time the breathing and movement, so keep at it.
Legs Up on a Wall
Think of this as a restorative exercise. It should be very relaxing.
Scoot your bottom up to a wall and then get your legs up on the wall, rest. Practice your diaphragmatic breathing.
This position will help you take pressure off of your pelvic floor and abdomen and encourage the resolution of any swelling in your legs and pelvis. You may need to put a pillow under your pelvis if your hamstrings are tight or a pillow under your head if your neck and chest muscles are tight. Ideally, you would work to remove the pillows eventually.
The best of the best of the early postpartum exercises!
If it’s decent weather, try your best to get outside and walk. Bundle up yourself and baby if it’s cold outside, make sure you have a shade or fan for baby if it’s hot outside (babies cannot regulate their body temperature as well as we can!), but get outside if you can. The sun improves Vitamin D production which is key while healing from any injury. The sun also helps with mood disorders which are very common while postpartum as all of our hormones are crashing back down to normal levels. Which is a great time to plug Postpartum Support International if you are looking for a resource for postpartum mental health.
Start with a short walk, aim for 5 minutes (or what you can comfortably do). Check in with yourself the next day – how do you feel? Was 5 minutes too much, not enough, or just right? If you feel very sore and uncomfortable the next day, take it as a sign to rest and perform the restorative legs on the wall exercise above. If you feel good the next day, slowly start to increase your walking time in 5 minute increments. Always take a self assessment while walking, right after, and then the next day.
Let your body guide you in these initial days and weeks. It is okay if one day you you can walk 20 minutes but a few days later you call it quits at 10 minutes. Each day is different while you’re healing, not to mention the extreme sleep deprivation and how that could impact your energy levels!
Wondering when you can run again? Not until at least 6 weeks postpartum. And at 6 weeks postpartum, that doesn’t mean go “test out running” to see how it feels. If running is a goal for you, there are many steps to take before the first run – balance drills, hopping and jumping in place, strength training, just to name a few. Trust me, you want to give your body the time it needs to heal. You will thank yourself later when you waited those extra few weeks and gave yourself the best foundation possible to reach your postpartum running goals. Could you run before 6 weeks and without doing the preparatory steps before you go on your first run? Yeah, probably. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean it is what’s best for you and your body.
Early Postpartum Exercises
We will build upon these early postpartum exercises in next week’s blog post as we round out the first 2 weeks postpartum.
Any questions you want answered? Send them to me! @fit.moms.blog and firstname.lastname@example.org.