After nine months of waddling about and peeing incessantly, you’ve finally reached that dreamy moment when you get to hold your sweet newborn in your arms…
Then, a host of new problems sets in.
Of course, you’re settling into life as “Mom” (or at least life with another little mouth to feed), but the transition from pregnancy to parenthood is far more complex. Coupled with breastfeeding or bottle feeding and a new sleep routine, you’re dealing with issues like back pain, fatigue, and — dare we say it — leaking.
Fortunately, there are ways to help your body regain strength and heal, and postpartum pelvic floor exercises will play an essential role in this journey.
We’ve done the research and consulted with a pelvic floor physical therapist and a certified personal trainer to provide you with the best postpartum pelvic floor exercises so you can take care of your life-giving body.
What Happens to Your Body After Pregnancy
The short answer? A lot.
According to one study of more than 1,300 new mothers, 69% experienced at least one physical health problem since childbirth, and nearly half had at least one problem of moderate to major severity. Some of these issues include:
Urinary and anal incontinence
Pain during sex
Back, shoulder, and pelvic pain
Pelvic floor prolapse
This same study revealed that these physical health issues can also negatively impact a new mother’s emotional well-being, leading to depression and anxiety. According to Parmeet Kaur, a pelvic floor therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary and expert in pelvic floor physiotherapy, the fact that we’re not discussing these realities is only exacerbating the problem.
“The physical changes that occur in the body postpartum are often difficult to accept, and discussing them out loud can make some women feel embarrassed or ashamed,” says Kaur.
Even healthcare professionals are failing to adequately address these changes, devoting far more time to women’s care before (and during) childbirth than they do after a baby has been born. Many women don’t even see a medical provider until six weeks after their child’s birth.
Chloe Peterson, a certified personal trainer and mother of two, is actively combating this reality, empowering mothers like Agnes, who struggled with postural issues and fatigue, and Monica, who suffered from a deep abdominal gap following childbirth, to not only regain core strength but also share their stories publically.
“Women are expected to bounce back after six weeks and return to work with very little systemic support (especially in the U.S.) to help them heal,” says Peterson. “The more we normalize pelvic floor work being a necessary part of recovery, the easier these discussions will become.”
How Pelvic Floor Exercises Address Physical Postpartum Changes
Let’s start with a quick anatomy lesson.
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles between your pubic bone and your tailbone. These muscles are responsible for a variety of functions, such as urinating and even facilitating orgasms. They also act as a “sling,” supporting multiple organs, including your bladder, vagina, and uterus.
When you undergo pregnancy, your pelvic floor is responsible for “carrying” one more thing: your baby.
“Imagine your core as a balloon,” says Peterson. “If you push down and squeeze the top of the balloon, what happens to the bottom? It bulges out and down. This is similar to what happens to the pelvic floor as pressure from the baby increases.”
This is why postpartum pelvic floor exercises are essential for your post-baby body.
“Strengthening the pelvic floor helps to reduce incontinence, improve bladder control, prevent prolapse, improve sexual satisfaction, and aid in postpartum recovery,” says Kaur.
The research echoes Kaur's claims. Early studies have shown that pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) can have positive effects on urinary incontinence prevention and treatment, sexual functioning, and more. It’s no wonder Peterson encourages frequent pelvic floor exercises for her clients both after and before pregnancy.
“Your pelvic floor has a challenging job: helping support your organs and the weight of a growing baby. [If we] keep the pelvic floor functioning, we are better positioned for a pain-free pregnancy and faster recovery,” adds Peterson.
The Best Postpartum Pelvic Floor Exercises to Regain Your Strength
Postpartum pelvic floor exercises can help re-engage and strengthen your core, which impacts your posture, bowel movements, sex life, and more. You might be eager to get back to your previous physique, but it’s important to approach your recovery journey with ample patience and kindness.
“You have the rest of your life to get back in shape!” shares Peterson. “While you may be eager to jump back into exercise, prioritize rest and progressing safely — ideally under expert guidance — to make sure you're allowing your body to adjust to increased load as you heal.”
This said, extreme exercises, such as weight lifting and even intense stretching, should not be attempted by those who have recently given birth.
Here are 5 postpartum pelvic floor exercises, recommended by pelvic floor therapist Parmeet Kaur:
Pelvic Tilts: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently contract the muscles of your pelvic floor (as if you were stopping yourself from passing urine or gas) and hold for five seconds. Rock your pelvis back, arching your lower back and pushing your belly towards the ceiling. Hold for two seconds, then relax the pelvic floor muscles as you lower your abdomen back to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
Kegel Squeezes: Start by squeezing and releasing all the muscles in your pelvic floor as if you were trying not to pass urine or gas. Squeeze and hold for five seconds, then slowly release the contraction. Aim for 10 repetitions, gradually increasing the time each squeeze is held.
Pelvic Floor Lifts: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath, then as you exhale, tighten and lift your pelvic floor muscles up towards your navel. Hold for three seconds, then release as you inhale. Repeat 10 times.
Hip Tilts: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently lift your hips a few inches up off the ground and towards the ceiling, keeping your shoulder blades flat against the floor. Hold for 5 seconds then relax as you return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Bridging: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as you lift your hips off of the mat into a bridge position. Hold for three seconds, then slowly lower to your starting position without letting your pelvis touch the floor between reps. Complete 10 repetitions, gradually increasing the time held for each rep.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that women should start pelvic floor exercises six weeks postpartum (so long as no medical complications apply). That said, every body is different.
“The amount of time required to strengthen the pelvic floor after giving birth can vary depending on a woman’s individual health and physical condition,” says Kaur. “It is always best to consult a qualified professional before starting any kind of exercise program, as they can provide the most accurate information regarding pelvic floor health and well-being.”
Working with a health and fitness expert will help you pursue recovery at your own pace and will also help you understand your unique anatomy to prevent any self-esteem issues that may arise in your postpartum journey. Get a free consultation with a personal trainer who specializes in the postpartum stage to help you begin your recovery and ease back into fitness!