Becoming a mother is an incredible time in life. It’s full of tremendous challenges and changes, and yes, it is one of those brief times in life that we look back on and can remember with vivid detail and rich thoughtfulness. It’s precious, and fleeting. In the thick of it though, the whole process can feel chaotic and out of control.
One of the best ways for new moms to feel empowered is by working out and getting their bodies to a place that they feel strong and comfortable.
The post-baby body
After 9 months of growing a little person in your belly, the transition to not being pregnant comes with a swiftness that’s jarring and nearly impossible to prepare for, even if you’ve done it before. New moms should take heart in the knowledge that theirs is a body in transition. This is not forever! In fact the post-baby body will only be around for a few months, as drastic as it can seem.
One thing that new moms don’t always realize is the amount of time that it takes for the body to recover from pregnancy and birth. Moms should expect it to take just as long to get to back to their pre-pregnancy shape as it took to growth the baby, so around nine months (no matter what timeline celebrities with personal trainers and chefs are on). It’s critical that moms are patient with themselves and with their bodies.
During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles actually separate in order to make room for that growing baby. This separation is nothing to be concerned about postpartum, but for this reason new moms MUST consult with their doctor or midwife before they begin any kind of workout routine. The muscles come back together on their own, but working out too soon can prevent that natural process and cause long term damage. Expect to wait six to eight weeks after the baby is born before the abdominal muscles are pulled back together and your core is ready to get moving again.
What Pilates does for new moms
Pilates helps to continue the process of pulling the abdominal muscles back together once a woman has been cleared by her doctor or midwife to return to working out. What truly makes Pilates different from other postpartum workouts is that Pilates works deep abdominal muscles as well as helping to build the perineal muscles that often becomes stretched during childbirth. By building those hard to reach muscles, Pilates helps to reduce incontinence and can even help to bring back sexual function.
New moms are also subject to back strain after carrying a big baby in utero for nine months and then picking that child up and carrying them around after their born. Bending over to pick up the baby, change diapers and do laundry can pull on the lower back muscles, compounding a whole range of issues. Pilates strengthens and balances all of those muscles, helping new moms to find the improvements that they need in order to take the best care of their little ones.
A series of four Pilates exercises for new moms
It’s difficult to overemphasize how important it is to get the ok from your doctor or midwife before starting any workout program postpartum, even this simple series of four Pilates exercises that are specifically designed for new moms.
The only equipment required for this series is a simple Pilates mat. It’s a perfect form of exercise to do right there with your baby rolling around on the floor with you. If it feels natural and comfortable, go right ahead and pick you your little one while you’re working out. Another option is to take some precious time for yourself during nap time as well, as this routine is going to offer you some wonderful stretch and release that will feel great.
- Pelvic floor contractions
- Lie down on the mat, feet on the floor, knees slightly bent, hands on your belly.
- Breathe deeply and slowly, expanding your lungs and allowing your lungs to fill with air.
- Draw your pelvic floor up towards your hands, pulling the perineal area up. (you’re using those same muscles that are used during a kegel exercise, the ones that stop the flow when you’re going to the bathroom.). This might be a challenge, especially if you gave birth vaginally. Do the best you can.
- Hold for a count of five as you inhale.
- Exhale slowly, releasing back down.
- Repeat 5-10 times
- Kneeling abdominal pull
- Start on all fours, or move to lying on your back if that’s too challenging at first.
- Place one hand over the bellybutton, breathing in as you push your belly out as if filling a balloon.
- Exhale as you pull deeper and deeper, drawing your bellybutton towards your spine.
- Repeat 10-20 times
- Bent leg lifts
- Lie on your back, feet on the floor and knees bent at a ninety degree angle.
- Place your hands on your hips to help you focus on your deep abdominal muscles.
- Inhale, lifting your left leg until it’s straight.
- Exhale, lowering the leg with control.
- Touch the floor lightly.
- Lift the right leg in the same manner and bring it down (1 complete rep)..
- Repeat 5-10 times.
- Hip Extension
- Lie face down, placing your hands under your forehead. You might find it helpful to put small pillow underneath your belly to relieve the pressure on your chest, particularly if you’re breastfeeding.
- Push your pelvis in toward the floor, making sure that the weight is even across as you lengthen your lower back.
- With control, lift your right leg as you inhale, keeping your pelvis firmly in place. Slowly lift your right leg, keeping your weight evenly distributed across both sides of your pelvis.
- Hold this as you breathe in and out for a count of five.
- Slowly lower your leg and repeat on the other side.
- Alternate legs for 10 total reps (5 on each side).
One final note. If you do decide to take formal Pilates classes during the postpartum time, be certain that they’re postpartum or postnatal classes specifically and that they’re taught by certified instructor. Not all Pilates exercises are safe during the postpartum period! Even if you’re an experienced practitioner.
Have fun with your workouts and enjoy getting back in touch with your body now that it’s been transformed! New moms often find that this period is one of self-discovery as much as it is one of discovering the new little life that they’re getting to know.