Your blood volume doubles, your sleep diminishes, and your hormones go into a whirlwind. Pregnancy and giving birth is a life-changing experience—just ask your pelvic floor and muscles. “As the uterus grows, the muscles on the front side of the body begin to stretch, which allows the pelvis to take on an anterior pelvic tilt. These common pregnancy compensations hang around for awhile after birth,” explains Crystal Widmann, CPT, and postnatal fitness specialist. So, it’s important to zero-in and focus on getting your interior back into tip-top shape. After you’ve been given the green light by your OB-GYN, try these postpartum pelvic exercises for your post-pregnancy regimen.
Pair other moves with Kegels.
Long before you were pregnant—or even thought about becoming a mom—you likely practiced Kegels. By simply squeezing, holding, and releasing your down-there muscles, you keep yourself firmer. After birth, you should continue to do these—at your desk, while you’re breastfeeding, as you’re reading this article right now—but also combine other movements, too. Widmann suggests adding transverse abdominal contractions. They help train this portion of your core to work in tandem with your pelvic floor muscles. Not only does this encourage stability and control, but it helps you feel more connected to that region of your body again. Here, she explains how to try this at home:
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Inhale deeply through your nose. As you exhale, forcefully draw your navel back to your spine, tipping your hip points up toward the rib cage.
- At the same time, tilt your pelvic floor up from the base to the top, sort of like you’re zipping up a pair of pants.
- Hold the contraction of both of these muscles for two counts, release. Repeat for two sets of ten—or as many as you’d like.
Find your postural alignment in a mirror.
After months of having quite a bit of weight on the front side of your body, you might notice your belly protruding naturally, forcing you to arch your lower back more. This can also cause your body weight to shift forward toward the toes, bringing your knees to align over the middle of your foot instead of above the ankle, according to Widmann. “It can be very helpful for women to work on realigning their posture post-pregnancy to encourage proper body alignment,” she explains. To correct your form, try this postpartum pelvic exercise:
- Stand with one side of your body facing a mirror.
- Shift your body until you feel equal weight in all four corners of the foot.
- Align your knees directly over the ankle.
- Tip your hip points up one inch toward the rib cage.
- Pull the naval into your spine, as if you’re wrapping a corset around your waist.
- Pin your rib cage down to prevent over-lifting your chest.
- Try to do this several times during the day to retrain your postpartum body.
Use the mirror to help check your body position. Widmann says that this might feel odd at first. But it will make a difference in your posture and your form when you’re working up a sweat.
Use resistance bands.
You probably became quite familiar with the nooks-and-crannies of your body over the past nine or so months. But, Widmann says, you could have lost some of the deep engagement you used to have pre-baby, since your focus was more on creating a safe haven for your newborn, rather than challenging workouts. She suggests rebuilding that connection with the use of resistance bands and this postpartum pelvic exercise.
- Sit cross-legged on the floor.
- Hold a long resistance band taut overhead with both of your hands.
- Inhale deeply. As you exhale, pull the band down so that your arms form a ‘T’ at your shoulders. While you’re pulling your arms down, lift your pelvic floor up and forward, as if you’re zipping a pair of pants.
- Hold this contraction for two counts and release. Repeat two sets of ten—or as many as you like.
Pay attention to your breath.
You definitely focused on breathing during delivery—but have you given it much thought since? Certified Childbirth Educator and Pre- and Postnatal Exercise Specialist Gail Janicola says that practicing diaphragmatic breathing will help tighten your tummy after birth. She suggests combining postpartum pelvic exercises (like the ones above!) with this type of breath work for the greatest impact. “Having a strong core is essential for pelvic floor health, and diaphragmatic, or natural, abdominal breathing is the foundation of core strength,” she notes. Here’s how to give it a whirl:
- Lay flat on your back or side (or you can stand up) and picture your diaphragm as a parachute attached to the lower part of your lungs, under your rib cage.
- Inhale deeply like you’re filling up the parachute, keeping your upper body relaxed.
- Exhale deeply, deflating the parachute.
- After a few rounds of this, add pelvic floor muscle moves, by drawing them inwards as you exhale.
Janicola recommends using other movements too—like glute bridges and squats—along with postpartum pelvic exercises to build your endurance and vitality. “Learning which exercises to incorporate into a workout, and then practicing the breathing practices while doing these exercises, can retain, restore, and improve health and function in the pre- and postnatal periods of a woman’s life,” she adds.