I worked recently with a private client who had given birth about 7 weeks ago to her second child. She is not a yogini, but is active in her fitness. She enjoys running and swimming. I told her we were going to take it easy and she seemed a little annoyed by that. She had already been to the pool a few times and had recently run a mile. Her 6 week postnatal appointment had gone well- everything checked out.
I had to return to my 7 week postnatal mama brain inside my 7 week postnatal body for a minute. That brain that is so tired inside that body that feels so foreign. It’s not just the excess weight that feels more like loose skin around the belly and hips or the need to fit into clothes that aren’t t shirts and yoga pants. It’s the engorged breasts that are feeding on demand. It’s the brain that hasn’t rested in weeks! (And don’t kid yourself if you think women stop sleeping just because they have a newborn waking them every few hours to feed or be changed. They haven’t slept in the few months before hand because they couldn’t make themselves feel comfortable.) It’s the digestive system that is out of whack because the body’s sleep patterns are out of whack and you eat when you can- even if it is around the clock or sometimes for hours and hours without anything. And let’s not forgot the whole thing about cleanliness. How often does a 7 week postpartum woman get to shower or wash her hair? But don’t worry, her hands are clean and cracked from over washing them to make sure no germs get near her baby. So, of course this woman wanted to move her body and feel like she did a year ago. Who wouldn’t want to have flashbacks to her old self and her old body?
However, the core needs to heal a little more than 7 weeks. Diastasis recti (a condition where the rectus abdominis muscles in your abdomen separate during pregnancy, leaving a gap that allows your belly to pooch out) may not be officially determined. Your pelvic floor muscles may not have their appropriate tone. These two conditions at any degree make it more important than ever to let your body heal a little longer. If the core region is too weak, the back can become strained. A lot of women see the belly pooch and immediately think “more sit ups” which in fact could cause the abdominals to become too tight and create downward pressure on the pelvic floor.
An easy suggestion for new moms is to start with the diaphragmatic breathing- expand rhythmically through the chest and rib cage. A second step would be lie on the back in a bridge position and engage the transverse abdominal muscles. The easiest way to find them is to go to your hip bones and walk the fingers down an inch and in an inch. Then, visualize that you bring the hip bones towards each other like you are closing a book. If these are going ok, squat. Come into a good ole frog pose with a blanket or yoga mat underneath the heels and hold for 10 breaths. Even if you can get the heels to the ground, prop them up so the pelvis and spine stay neutral.
Start slow. It took 9 months to grow your beautiful child and it could take that long to find yourself and your body. Although, I can’t help to think that a lot of the need to return to our old selves just comes from the recognition that she is gone. After the birth of a new baby, so much in your life changes and it changes quickly. Finding a simple, mindful yoga practice may be the best connection we have to that old self and body.