By Tonie Lough
Owner, Mom Home Fitness
As a Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist, I am often asked if I work with prenatal mommas, as well - The answer is absolutely YES! My certification is actually as a Pre/Post-Natal Corrective Exercise Specialist (Fit For Birth).
When I decided to narrow to postpartum care it was simply because this is the group of women that typically seek me out...I think this is because the pregnancy is complete and they feel they are more able to make lasting changes, post-labor.
The other reason that I narrowed my title to postpartum is so that I can speak more directly to the mommas that may be years postpartum, as there is still definitely a lot you can do to help with bladder control issues, abdominal separation and core weakness, no matter how many years postpartum that you are!
This being said, there is so much that a prenatal momma CAN do to help with pregnancy aches and pains, bladder leakage, even labor, that I am more than happy to teach to the prenatal mom.
There are two foundational adjustments that any one can make, prenatal or postpartum (even men!), that will help in all areas of healing and strengthening.
The first thing that you can work on is deep breathing...admittedly this can get shockingly difficult to do when you are pregnant. I remember being amazed at how quickly my breathing became more labored, even as a past runner! However, when you are in a nice, quiet spot, daily/nightly if you can, try to lay down (or lean relaxed against some pillows in the 2nd and 3rd trimester) and focus on some nice, slow and deep breaths. You don't have to count the breaths, and we don't want you holding your breath, just see if you can take a big inhale, such a large inhale that you can feel your pelvic floor expand on the inhale, as well as your back, ribs and belly.
Then focus on a big exhale, initiated from the pelvic floor. * side note here - this exhale initiated from the pelvic floor is not strong kegel, there is a time and place for kegels (and a whole other blog post:)) but, in this case, you are not engaging a big kegel, you are just imaging that your pelvic floor helps to push the air up and out of your body, followed by the low abs/back and, lastly, the ribs.
(If you have been to a pelvic floor physical therapist and have been prescribed kegels, you could add them here, however, if you are not feeling the relaxing expansion all the way down to the pelvic floor on the inhale, you should work on that first, before kegels! )
Some of the benefits of deep breathing are...
Over all mental/physical relaxation
Help with hormone balancing (keeping in mind that if you are pregnant, the hormones, even being out of balance, are doing very important work. This breathing doesn't mean that you may not be emotional, however, it can give you a tool to use during those emotional times)
Stimulates nutrient/waste exchange with the placenta (I've had many a mom tell me that the baby will start dancing around after a round of focused deep breathing)
Helps to maintain muscle integrity in the deep core muscles
Psoas relaxation (deep in, these muscles attach on both sides of the low spine and run all the way down through your hips, to your thigh bones - they are thought to be the muscles that begin to help guide and push the baby out during labor). The Psoas muscles are typically tight to over tight for a lot of people, being able to relax them helps to keep them healthy and, actually, strong!
Amazing healing benefits from detoxifying the body to sending oxygen to the organs for increased energy. One of the first things you can do in the postpartum to give your body a healthy, loving start on healing!
Mom Brain - Geez, for this benefit alone it's worth trying, right?! Deep breathing positively effects neurons in the brain, helping them to fire faster and make new connections.
Get a minimum of 5-10 minutes a day of the deep breathing, you may want more for the mental relaxation that comes with it and I say GO FOR IT, this is the way that are bodies are supposed to breathe, using our primary respiratory muscles, so as long as it is not stressing you out (even if you just sit silently for 5-10 minutes without focusing on your deep breathing, your body, and baby, will still benefit.) Give it a try!
The second adjustment that you can work on during pregnancy is alignment (posture). We're not fooling any one, your body is changing, and will be changing throughout your pregnancy, for sure.
You are making room for baby, and the body is preparing for labor and postpartum recovery.
During pregnancy you are not looking to make sweeping changes in your posture, however, being mindful of your posture and understanding that you don't want to just sink into poor posture during pregnancy and postpartum, will help a BUNCH in postpartum healing and posture adjustments - not to mention those random aches and pains from overworking the poor posture muscles!
Keys to good posture during pregnancy...
Stand tall through the neck - try not to let your chin jut forward, pull your neck nice and tall, with the slightest of chin tuck. This is a big one that a good portion of the population does poorly. Jutting your chin out can pull your shoulders forward and tuck your hips under causing aches and pains any where from the neck, all the way down the back, and possibly even into the knees/ankles. Not to mention messing with the ribs and abdominal muscles.
Try not to exaggerate a rib flare. This one can be really tough when you've got a baby kicking at you! Don't stress about it, you will likely flare out a little bit, at least, again, making room for baby. If you are having low back pain with activity try to see if you can get a little less rib flare, without squishing baby:) and see if that helps the back pain.
Maintain glute strength. If you do nothing else...even doing little donkey kicks a few times a week if you are not able to maintain a full workout throughout your pregnancy. When we lose the glute strength our hips are more likely to move out of neutral, we have less control of the pelvic floor, and glute weakness can contribute to pelvic pain that moves in any direction as smaller, weaker muscles try to take on the role of the bigger, supposed to be stronger glute muscles. You WILL thank yourself for this in the postpartum!
Again, with the alignment (posture) there is only so much that you can do during pregnancy, but it doesn't mean that there is nothing for you to do.
Be mindful, make adjustments where you can and be kind to yourself when you find that you are in poor posture (it is likely to happen and that is OK, sometimes you just have to curl in a ball and relax, too!)
In the postpartum, before you even begin exercise, try to refocus on these two adjustments, alignment and breathing, you will be setting your body up for improved healing, overall strengthening and control with bladder issues right from the start!