Intentional, early postpartum recovery can start as soon as day one. It can help get you back to doing the things you love (or need to get done) sooner.
But it’s important to start with the basics so you can improve your chance of easier recovery. In fact, this exercise can help you no matter where you are on the postpartum timeline – whether you’ve got a newborn or are decades out.
There’s a lot of information out there and it can be a challenge to know how to start, especially as many doctors typically focus very little on this aspect – other than sometimes saying you’re free to begin everything you’d like at 6 weeks postpartum.
But there are things you can do for early postpartum recovery, far before the 6-week mark, to help set yourself up for success and improve your chance of returning to your normal activity – especially if that includes exercise – without injury.
Benefits of starting with the basics
Before jumping into any new activity, it’s important to make sure you master the basics.
Jim Rohn is quoted as saying, “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.”
In the case of early postpartum recovery, starting with connecting to your core and pelvic floor can help improve:
- Bodily awareness
- Healing for diastasis recti
- Digestive motility
- Mobility and strength of the pelvic floor
- Low back pain
- Bowel/bladder function including continence
- Blood and lymph flow for an improved rate of healing
- Postural control – especially important with breastfeeding
- Managing stress response
Unfortunately, women sometimes return to exercise in particular too soon and too hard.
A few months ago, I attended a continuing education course on “Care of the Pregnant Patient” by Herman and Wallace.
One of the instructors bravely told her story about how she returned to CrossFit days after her child’s birth. She thought because she was a physical therapist who knows her body well she would know when to say “enough.”
But she ended up with increased pelvic pain, prolapse, and urinary incontinence that she’s still working through healing over a year later. I don’t tell you this to scare you.
I tell you this because I want you to understand how important it is to give your body time to heal.
No matter how fit you were before, delivering a baby is an amazing physical feat! We should treat it as such.
The First Exercise for Early Postpartum Recovery
The connection breath is the first exercise I recommend for my patients and clients to start with early postpartum.
Actually, it’s the first exercise I teach almost all of my patients regardless of the concern they are coming to see me for. Because being able to control and manage our breath and pressures in our bodies is the key to so many important movements!
You can do this exercise in many positions. I like to start my ladies lying on their backs, but you can try on your side or belly, on all fours, sitting, progressing to kneeling or standing.
Below are instructions for performing on your back.
How to perform the Connection Breath:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent (hooklying). Think about allowing yourself to get into neutral alignment. This means the front of your ribs and the front of your pelvis are in line. (Read more about this in my post on lifting or in my free e-book)
- Place your hands gently on the front/sides of your rib cage.
- Allow your body to relax into the surface beneath you.
- Now practice breathing into your hands and the ground (allowing for expansion 360 degrees around the rib cage and belly).
- As you breathe in, focus on opening your pelvic floor (like it’s a flower blooming)
- As you breathe out, focus on gently pulling your pelvic floor up (like you’re trying to hold back gas or urine)
- Continue doing this for a cycle of 5-10 breaths, focusing on the connection between your diaphragm (the muscle at the bottom of the rib cage under your hands) and your pelvic floor.
If you’d prefer to watch someone perform it, here’s a link to a great video with a pregnant woman explaining the Connection Breath in sitting
When I first learned the connection breath, it took time to figure out how to lengthen my pelvic floor during my inhale.
I still deal with an overactive and tight pelvic floor after years of high-intensity training for soccer and cross country. So trust me when I say I understand how this can be challenging.
- When you don’t feel like you’re doing it right
- Give yourself time: you don’t have to master this the first time.
- The more you practice, the better the connection between your brain and your body will get
- Focus first on the breath, then the pelvic floor
- When it hurts
- Make sure you do this gently. Really gently.
- Again, this is about healing, not creating more challenges for your body. If it doesn’t feel good right now, try again later
- When you’re annoyed because you want to do more than this
- Remember the importance of giving yourself time to heal
- In hooklying, try adding in some pelvic tilts or gently rocking your knees side to side
- Think about your alignment in standing as you tend to your daily tasks
- Start with a short (5-10 min) walk. Only extend the time/distance if you have no pain or heaviness.
Postpartum is forever
No matter how far our postpartum you are, learning the connection breath is a powerful tool to help you regain better awareness of your core and pelvic floor. In fact, it’s a great exercise to do whether you’re 40 years postpartum or you’ve never had children.
But I also love that it’s gentle enough to start in your early postpartum recovery. It can help with trunk stability, posture, low back pain, pelvic floor concerns like prolapse, pain, and incontinence, digestion, and even stress.
But the best gift of all is feeling more connected to your body.