Are you looking at your tummy after nine months of stretch and wondering whether it will ever be the same again? If so, take heart, because you can really make a difference in its recovery and build strength and suppleness very easily without spending time in the gym each week. When people say "wow, you got your figure back really quickly" you'll be able to smile and say "why thank you, I have worked at it and it's paid off'. And you'll feel good too. Here are eight simple moves, designed exclusively for Pregnancy and Baby by Lindsey Jackson, expert in Pilates for pregnant women and post natal moms.
So much tension builds up in a woman's body after she has had her baby, we tend to think the physical work is over, but actually it's a very demanding time. This is when poor posture can really drain energy from you and bad habits creep in. You may find that you get aches and pains that you simply didn't have when pregnant. Constantly rounding the spine as you bend, carry, feed and coo over your new precious baby makes for dreadful posture.
I have put together some moves for you, many of which can be done whilst on the go, to make giving your body some relief a daily event. You may think you' re too tired to or don't need to do this simple set of moves straight away, but just wait until four weeks post birth when the euphoria has subsided and your body is screaming to move! You may only recognize this as stiffness or aches, but your body will scream at you and you must listen!
Pre six-week check
Most countries have a post natal check at six weeks to assess whether the woman can get back to normal activities, including exercise. But do you have to wait until then? Well, as long as you don't have any complications here's what you CAN do. (including cesarean section births)
From day one:
Exercise 1: Pelvic floor
Fast and slow pelvic floor lifts not only regain bladder control of this stretched and bruised area, but also promote circulation (which will help ease swelling) and begin to tone the deep abdominal muscles that work in conjunction with the pelvic floor.
What to do:
Each time you feed the baby or change a diaper, draw up your pelvic floor as fast as you can 10 times then release. It should feel like you are stopping yourself from urinating. Aim for a maximum contraction. Even if you can't feel anything at first, keep going and visualize the area contracting. It will come back and you will soon start to feel it. The great thing about this move is that in the early days post birth, your uterus can contract quite strongly when you feed, which makes it easier to develop awareness of feelings low down.
Then, slowly draw up the pelvic floor and hold for a slow count of 10. Release and repeat x10.
Exercise 2: Static tummy contractions
These are for life! Every time you feed your new baby, tighten your tummy and hold for a count of 10. Imagine you have put on some jeans that are too tight for you,. You should feel like you are drawing your belly button both "up" and "back" toward your spine. Release and repeat x 10. These are the tummy flatteners that also help re-engage your pelvic floor. So if you haven't felt your pelvic floor move yet, do these too and it will encourage it along!
Exercise 3: Pelvic tilts
Tilting your pelvis requires a gentle contraction of Rectus Abdominus, your "curl-up" muscle. This has been stretched for nine months so it needs some help shortening again!
Lie on your back with your knees comfortably bent and feet on the floor. Relax your bottom, and using your tummy tilt the pelvis under so the spine presses down toward the floor. Hold for a count of 5 and slowly release so the spine relaxes away from the floor to the start position. This is not a big range of movement, but the intensity will be there if you are truly relaxing your bottom and concentrating on drawing your naval down to the floor beneath you.
Repeat x10 as many times a day as you like.
Post six-week check
Assuming you are given the go-ahead to do more exercise, here's some toning moves that take about 10 minutes a day.
Exercise 4: Leg slides
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet on floor. Make sure your pelvis is level across the top (from hip to hip) and that your spine has its natural curve (not pressing it down into the floor). There should be a space, or a feeling of less pressure under your waist area. Brace your tummy so the muscles are held tight but with NO movement of the spine and slide one leg out on the floor until the leg is straight. Building up this core strength in your tummy will also prevent hip movement during the exercise. Then slide it back in and immediately slide the other leg out and back. As you get stronger put less weight on the floor with your foot, like you are tickling it with a feather. This will make your tummy work harder. The key thing is to keep your spine still and move with control as you swap legs.
Repeat alternating leg slides for up to 20.
Exercise 5: Shoulder squeezes
Lying on your tummy, face down on the floor or on a folded towel, back of your neck lengthened. Take your arms wide at shoulder level and bend your elbows (so they are an "'L" shape palms down). Keeping your body as still as possible, lift your arms and hands as one unit towards the ceiling. Keep your shoulders drawn down, away from your ears. Lift and hold for a slow count of 5. If this position is difficult because of swollen breasts, roll up a towel and place it under your front at armpit level to lift you a little off the floor. You could also do these standing up if lying down is just no good for you yet.
Repeat up to 20.
Exercise 6: "Swimming"
This is a classic Pilates-based move that engages the muscles running the length of your spine. It's very safe and simple but VERY effective. Concentrate on executing it with great control and minimal movement of your torso. Here's how:
Lie on your tummy with your feet hip width apart and arms above your head on the floor (see above tip re towel under chest if breasts tender). Draw your tummy away from the floor and hold it there. Then as you breathe out lift left arm and right leg about 4 inches off the floor. Shoulders down away from your ears! Legs straight! Your spine needs to stay still, not arching. As you lower them breathe in, then immediately and smoothly lift the other alternating arm and leg.
Repeat x 20.
Think of lengthening the spine and not letting your tummy sag in the middle. If it does, stop and rest. One thing to look out for here is the tendency we have to lift our leg higher than our arm. Feel them move at the same speed to the same height and make it lower than you think. This move is not about height but about precision and squeeze.
Exercise 7: Chest/shoulder stretch
Letting the chest and shoulders open out is vital for neck and upper back posture. This is compromised with the feeding and cuddling we do for a new baby.
Lie on your back with a narrow pillow under your torso, from the top of your shoulders length ways down to your pelvis. If you feel your chin is jutting forwards when you do this, then put a folded towel or narrow pillow under your head too. You should be able to draw your chin in and lengthen the back of your neck, which is fabulous for releasing neck tension. Now release your neck and relax it.
Let your arms lie on the floor by your sides, palms up. Reach your fingertips down to your feet and then relax with your palms facing up to the ceiling.
Lie still for at least 3 minutes just accepting the support from the floor and breathing naturally. Allow your tummy to rise and fall with each breath.
Exercise 8: Shoulder bridges
Based on a classic Pilates move this releases tension in the spine, strengthens it and also gently stretches across the hips for a woman who has recently had a baby. A wonderful move!
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip width apart on the floor. Relaxing your bottom, use your tummy to tilt the pelvis under and then peel the spine off the floor a centimeter at a time. Slowly come up on to the back of your shoulder blades and feel the hips open out across the front. Breathe in and float your arms over your head. As you breathe out, lower the spine little by little down to the floor. See if you can get the middle of your lower back down before the back of your pelvis touches down.
Repeat x 10.