In line with my post about breastfeeding in the postpartum period, I bring you a guest post by a wonderful Pilates instructor about giving your body time to recover after childbirth (a topic I hold near and dear!). Leah Stewart, M.S., is a Pilates instructor, mom, and writer. Her website and blog is at www.pilatesfornewmothers.com. I personally have found her video, LiveLife Pilates for New Mothers, to be a great, relaxing, and effective way to regain strength after childbirth.
Nice and Slow: Patience With Your Recovering, Post-Baby Body
by Leah Stewart, M.S.
Get Your Body Back! How many times have pregnant women and new mothers read and heard this title for magazine and newspaper articles, DVDs or featured segments on the news? One too many, I think! It’s an unoriginal and inaccurate marketing ploy that is meant to intrigue, motivate and sell, but it’s not the real, healthy or smart message that new mothers need to hear and understand. Naturally, I can’t speak for other cultures, but for American women, there is this ridiculous notion that we need to “lose the baby weight” and we need to lose it fast, fitting back into our pre-pregnancy jeans in record time, or else…….
Or else what? We honor and respect our amazing body and the incredible process it endured bringing life into this world? This option sounds a lot more appealing than beating ourselves up for not looking like so-and-so we saw in a magazine three weeks after having a baby.
The truth is, healing and recovering after birth is a sacred process, one that requires self-love, self-kindness, patience, understand and knowledge. It’s not a race against the clock, it’s a time to embrace the power and inspiring capabilities of the female body. Plus, when we give our body the opportunity to heal at a healthy pace by maximizing its success with good lifestyle choices, we greatly reduce the chances and incidences of adverse and undesired conditions, pain and frustration.
The changes that occur to our body during pregnancy are gradual and consistent, and they take place over a relatively long period, especially when compared to the rapid process of labor and birth. What I mean is, even if you had a long labor, your body, which took months to adjust to the changes of a growing baby and uterus, goes from fully pregnant to not in just a matter of hours. It’s a swift process by comparison.
Whether its a vaginal or Caesarian birth, the instant our body goes from prenatal to postpartum it is left with the enormous task of healing from not only the effects of pregnancy, but from the major physical demands of labor. And to boot, a whole new array of physical demands are placed on our body in the caring for a newborn. Really we should view ourselves as Wonder Woman!
By many accounts, and in my opinion as well, the postpartum body can take 9 to 12 months to fully recover, and somewhere in the that healing process our body begins to shed itself of the pregnant look and that is when we start to feel like we are “getting our body back”.
But, here’s the thing – your body will never be the same. You’re a mom now! You’ve journeyed through a significant rite of passage that has forever changed you, including your body. The changes your body has endured were nature’s way of preparing you to carry life, bring life into this world and to nurture and nourish that life once it arrives. Celebrate those changes, they are amazing and so are you – soft belly included.
After your baby is born your body is going through yet again major shifts in hormonal changes, physical changes and of course, emotional changes:
- Hormones such as relaxin, that were responsible for softening your joints, ligaments and muscles in preparation for labor are still very much present in your body, especially if you are nursing. These hormones play a significant role in keeping that “soft” and “loose” kind of look and feeling that so many new moms experience. Subsequently, the looseness of the joints and muscles make them prone toward injury, especially when it comes exercise choices.
- Many moms complain of still having a pregnant-looking belly. This too is normal and apart of the slow, natural healing process. After birth your uterus takes several weeks to return to its normal size. Plus, the stretch that was placed on the abdominal wall by the expanded uterus during pregnancy has been suddenly released in labor, leaving the abdominal muscles and surrounding skin lengthened and somewhat loose, which all contribute to that still-pregnant-belly look.
- Labor may leave you with bruising, soreness, healing incisions, scars, aches and discomfort. Every muscle in your body was involved in your labor, and whether it was a vaginal or Caesarean birth, your body is rehabilitating from a fairly dramatic event (I use the word dramatic here not in a negative sense, but rather a striking, exciting and impressive event, in which its effects are major).
- Pregnancy, labor and now caring for a newborn may leave you navigating the space between feeling elated and full of energy to exhausted and overwhelmed. The complexity of these varying emotions requires patience and love with ourselves as they too are apart of the natural process.
If you had gone through a major surgery (Cesarean sections are major surgeries) you would naturally expect to go through a recovery period that required patience and understanding. You would probably not expect to be doing your pre-surgery activities again in a short amount of time, and you would probably respect and honor your body and the time it needs to heal. Right?
Recovering from pregnancy and labor is really no different. It requires patience and most importantly, a good solid plan for a safe and effective recovery. In my teaching practice, I encourage women to begin simple exercises (deep breathing, light movement and walking) within days of giving birth. These gentle and smart initial exercises increase and promote blood flow, relaxation, focus, realignment, gentle stretches and a few precious moments alone, which greatly facilitate the natural healing process in profound ways. They build and create a solid physical and emotional foundation from which a woman, in the months to follow (with a progressive exercise program) can rebuild strength, control, movement integrity, body awareness and most importantly, a strong sense of appreciation and love for her incredible body.
When a woman patiently embraces the process of healing after pregnancy and labor, rather than rush or resent it, she sets the stage for a successful journey down the long road of life in which the years will continue to present her with challenges, changes and growth.
It’s surprising how many wonderful exercises a new mother can do to facilitate a healthy and effective healing process. It is my passion to help new mothers understand their bodies and obtain the knowledge of what exercises are safe and effective for them to perform in their first six to twelve months postpartum.
Each week I send out a free video showcasing a fun, new exercise breakdown for new moms, an important Q & A or a yummy healthy raw food recipe on my website www.pilatesfornewmothers.com. Below are two of those videos. I hope that you watch and enjoy! Please let me know if you have any specific questions regarding safe exercises for new mothers or Pilates in general.
This first video will teach you the ins and outs of one my favorite postnatal abdominal exercises. It’s highly safe and effective and it feels good too!
This second video is a Q & A video about the pelvis, how it is effected by labor and what that means for exercise.
Thank you for reading (and watching)!
In living life,