When recovering from childbirth there is a lot of focus on your pelvic floor muscles and deep abdominals (Transverse Abdominis or TVA). This is important and should form the foundation for everything else to follow. But then what?
You will need to integrate this pelvic floor strength and control into movements that you do on a daily basis. As a new mom, you probably spend most of your day running around at 1,000 mph, squatting down to pick things off the floor, bending over to place your little one back in the cot, and bending, twisting or even lunging to get the car seat in or out of the car. I call these ‘mommy movement patterns’.
Throughout the day you are doing a huge range of different movement patterns, which unless supported, can cause you all sorts of overload patterns and potential injuries.
At Yummy Tummies we use a four-step system:
Activation: this involves waking everything up to get some degree of activation and awareness of the pelvic floor muscles
Control: once you can start to feel these muscles working you can then start to get some control back through your pelvic floor muscles
Integration: this is where you start to integrate your ‘new found’ pelvic floor muscles and TVA into the ‘mommy movement patterns’
Strengthen: you can then begin to increase the load that you are lifting to develop more strength through your body
Let’s talk about the integration part of this exercise continuum and how to support your pelvic floor during your day-to-day activities as a new mom.
Mommy Movement Patterns
The squat pattern is used when you go to the toilet, when you squat down to pick up your kid or even when you just sit down in a chair. Getting the pelvic floor and TVA working when you perform this movement is crucial as there is a lot of intra-abdominal pressure on your pelvic floor muscles.
A simple tip to help you to get everything working together is to use your breath to help you to activate your pelvic floor. When you squat down think about breathing in, and when you come up breathe out and lift your pelvic floor. This way, your body will begin to integrate all of these muscles to get them working as they should.
You will be using a lunge pattern whenever you put one foot in front of the other to bend down to pick something off the floor. This could be your child’s clothes, toys or a heavy change bag that seems to have everything, even the kitchen sink, in it. Having one leg in front of the other, or to the side, changes the pattern from a squat to a lunge.
When integrating your pelvic floor muscles into this pattern, you will be using your breath to help you to activate them. Breathe in as you step forward, then breathe out and engage your pelvic floor muscles as you bring your legs back together again. The more you do this the easier it will be to get all of the key muscles working throughout these movement patterns.
This is a pattern that you perform a lot as a mom. You are always bending over to pick up your little one, bending over a change table or bending to put your baby back into their cot. If your muscles are not activating automatically then you can transfer a lot of strain onto your back, creating the potential for damage.
Using the breathing concept again, as you lean forward take a deep breath in and then breathe out and activate your pelvic floor muscles as you bring yourself outright.
Throughout the early days post-pregnancy, you must be wary of overdoing this twisting pattern. In cases of diastasis recti (separation of your external abdominals) too much rotation and activation of external obliques may slow down the rate at which the abdominals come back together.
However, if you have had your six-week check-up (and even a further check-up preferably by a women’s health physiotherapist) and all is well then you should be able to include some rotations into your exercise routine.
Twists often happen in conjunction with other movements. For example, when you get your baby into a car seat or lower them into their cot you are always doing some sort of twisting movement.
As before, use the breathing technique to help you to activate your pelvic floor muscles. Breathe in as you rotate away from your body, then breathe out and activate your pelvic floor muscles as you bring yourself back to your ‘normal’ or forward-facing position.
Pushing a pram can be seriously hard work when it is loaded with a heavy change bag and you hit a big hill. The more stable your pelvic floor and mid-section is, the easier those hills will seem.
With a long hill in this example, your pelvic floor strategy will be to simply have some degree of activation as you trek up the hill.
With a shorter movement, like pushing a door open in front of you, you can use the breathing strategy as follows: breathe out as you push the door away and lift the pelvic floor at the same time.
Picture yourself lifting a stroller out of the car. Or lifting your little one out of the cot. These are pulling movements that you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis. The heavier the object you are lifting the greater intra-abdominal pressure you will be creating, therefore the greater the need for your pelvic floor and TVA muscles to be working.
Take a breath in before you lift, then breathe out as you pull the object, baby or stroller towards you. Activate your pelvic floor muscles and TVA muscles at the same time. This creates that stable and strong mid-section to prevent any injuries from happening and also gets these muscles working in a practical setting.
Integrating of all of these movements
One thing we must keep in mind is that in most cases you are doing a combination of all of these patterns in multiple movements every single day. To pick something off the floor, you may do a lunge, a bend and a pull all at the same time. To pick up your little one from their cot, you may do a bend and twist and a pull.
So, don’t think of these movements as isolated. Think of them as a breakdown of motions that are part of a bigger picture. Likewise, don’t think of your pelvic floor exercises as isolated movements, but think of how they connect with the rest of your body.
This blog post was written by Lyndon Littlefair, owner and creator of Yummy Tummies, the postnatal exercise specialists. Based in Mayfair, London, Yummy Tummies was voted by Tatler as “The Best For Easing Back Into The Gym After Having a Baby”.
Lyndon also has an online mums membership site, Club Yummy Tummies. Visit his website www.yummytummies.co.uk for more information.
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