CONGRATULATIONS! After being pregnant for 9 months, you finally got to go through the incredible experience of giving birth. You are in love with your brand new baby. But you are not quite as happy with your new body. In fact, you may even still look 6 months pregnant. You might think, "What the heck!? The baby is outside of me, why does it look like he is still inside!?"
Oh the postpartum body!
It's not your real body. Yet.
Give it two weeks. Give your body two weeks to heal. Two weeks to rest completely. Two weeks to eat whatever sounds good. Two weeks to sit and hold that baby and nothing else. For two weeks don't even think about your body, and how that bulging tummy isn't quite gone yet. Give yourself two weeks because that is usually how long it takes for your uterus to shrink down. And it is not fair to be hard on yourself thinking about the weight you have to lose eventually when you don't even know what you have to work with yet.
After the two weeks, you will start to look a little more like you. Just a softer, more wiggily version of you. And now it is time to start thinking about eating better and getting a little more active. (And by little, I mean just a little. Don't jump back into your normal exercise routine yet!)
I have had two babies with two very different births. I had a c-section with my first and a vaginal birth with my second. And I can tell you one thing, It hurts like crazy no matter how that baby comes out!! The healing process is painful. After going through a c-section, I was actually pretty surprised at how painful a vaginal birth was. That first week is rough no matter what. For both recoveries it hurt to cough, to sit (or to get up from a sitting position), and to just move around. I feel like no one ever talks about how painful it is. And that is why it is so important to rest and recover. Give your body its much needed time to heal. You don't want to deal with a longer recovery because you didn't slow down and rest when you should have.
After two weeks and once you start feeling better a lot of women have questions about what you can or can't do. If you are like me, you may be anxious to start doing something active, but are not sure what is ok yet. After going through this experience twice, researching as much as possible, and talking to my doctor. This is the best advice I can give you:
If you have had a c-section:
Give yourself the full 6 weeks before you even think about doing any abdominal exercises. It is just not worth the risk of opening up that incision from too much strain on your abdomen. You need to heal. You need to rest. BUT you can walk. Go for walks with your baby. Walk around the neighborhood. Walk, walk, walk. After about 5 weeks you can start doing some abdominal breathing contraction exercises (explained below) And then after you see your doctor, you can go back to a regular workout routine. But don't push yourself until the doctor says it is ok.
If you have had a vaginal birth:
Wait until you can sit up without any pain. Make sure there is no pain when you cough/sneeze. Usually that is about two weeks. After the two weeks you can do some very simple abdominal exercises. (The simplest ones, such as breathing contractions, are even safe to do right after you give birth). The important part is that when you start doing abdominal exercises you want to avoid excessive forward flexion, or crunches. The abdominal exercises should all focus on engaging your transverse abdominis by drawing your navel in and up. Holding a plank is the perfect example of a safe exercise you can start doing. But it is not yet time to go back to a crunching/sit up abdominal routine.
Your first abdominal exercise: Breathing Ab Contractions, also known as the Tupler Technique.
Before you rush back to your body pump, or pilates class at the gym, I recommend starting with simple abdominal contractions. For many women if you had a Diastasis (your abs split) this is the best thing you can do to knit the abs back together. You start by taking a big inhale, then while you exhale flex your abs by drawing your navel in and up or "suck in" your belly. Hold the abs in tight while you inhale and exhale for 5 deep breaths, drawing the abs in even deeper each time you exhale. Then release and repeat. You can do this while you are nursing your baby, or while you are doing your dishes. You can also mix it up by doing a set of shorter contractions with a series of flexing and releasing those abs for one count (instead of 5 breaths). No matter where you do it or how you do it, the important part is that you train your body to engage the core by drawing your navel in and up. Once you are more aware of your body and you master this technique, you are then ready for more abdominal exercises.
Below is a video with a series of exercises you can do once you have mastered the ab contractions. This video is designed to be your very first exercise routine after giving birth. It is simple, and focuses on engaging the core without too much forward flexion. Make sure you listen to your body and are healed enough to do it. If you feel uncomfortable with any of the exercises, don't do them. It is ok to allow your body time to build up to it. Remember, you did just give birth after all! Once you have completed the video and feel that all the exercises are pretty easy, (and once your Dr. says it is ok) then you are ready to jump back into a normal exercise routine.