Begin lying on your front with your hands under your shoulders. With your TVA and pelvic floor engaged, gently push your upper body away from the floor, reaching your chest towards the sky (only as far as is comfortable) and gently contracting your lower-back muscles to help lift you. “Don’t crunch into your lower back,” says Slonski. “Push up and out of your shoulders without sinking into the joints.”
Benefits: stretches the chest and shoulders (to counteract all of the snuggling and feeding news moms do), and strengthens the lower back
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip distance apart, with your TVA and pelvic floor engaged. Squeeze your glutes to raise your hips up in line with your shoulders and knees. Slowly return to starting position and repeat.
Benefits: strengthens glutes, hamstrings and abs, and brings pelvis “back together” by strengthening pelvic floor
You need arm strength to pick up and hold a growing baby! Begin in a plank position (or make it easier by starting on your knees) with your TVA and pelvic floor engaged. Focus on lowering with control and then contracting your chest and triceps to push yourself back to the starting position.
Benefits: strengthens abs, arms, shoulders and back
Hold a squat for 30 to 90 seconds with your back pushed against a wall, engaging your TVA and pelvic floor (as described for Downward Dog).
Benefits: tones glutes, thighs, pelvic floor and abdominals, and stabilizes the pelvis
This yoga pose helps you feel the lifting sensation of the pelvic floor, since you have to actively squeeze when you’re upside down. “Imagine narrowing your pelvis then lifting the pelvic floor muscles up towards your diaphragm,” says Slonski. “To engage the TVA (transverseabdominal muscle), imagine hugging the organs with your abs (think three-dimensionally) and pull your belly button towards your spine.”
Benefits: stretches calves, hamstrings and back, and strengthens pelvic floor, arms, shoulders and midback muscles
It’s important to take some time to take care of yourself when caring for your newborn
“Moms are so under-cared for,” says the owner and founder of Form Body Lab, Jessica Slonski. “Pre- and post-natal education is one of my biggest passions.”
Slonski—who founded the Yaletown Pilates, yoga, physiotherapy and massage studio in 2012—urges new moms to invest in their mental and physical health, “so they can feel strong and happy. It’s so nice to have us pamper them for a change. We feel really good about spoiling them.”
Adjusting to postpartum
“Taking time away for yourself is important,” she says. “Moms need to be taken care of too, and having even just one hour to yourself one to three times a week can make all the difference in your mental state. Feeling good in our body helps us feel good in our lives, and this translates directly into new motherhood. Taking the time to take care of yourself is a confidence booster and sets a good example for your family too!”
Healing the body
“Pilates is particularly good for rehabilitation—that's what it was invented for by Joseph Pilates!” says Slonski. “With the focus on the pelvic floor, abs and glutes, it targets the areas new moms can struggle with the most.”
“It’s very important to strengthen these areas after having the baby in order to restabilize the pelvis and prevent something I like to call the 'mom hip'—where the pelvis becomes imbalanced due to carrying the baby on one side all the time—which can cause lower-back and sciatic pain. It’s also important to keep the chest open as carrying baby and feeding all the time can contribute to poor posture, which can also lead to pain.”
“A baby brings big change and this can be stressful,” says Slonski. “Regular exercise helps with stress which in turn helps with sleep, plus it can alleviate aches and pains which can keep you up at night.”
Shedding Baby weight
“Exercising during pregnancy is very important—unless otherwise directed by your doctor in certain circumstances—and after, the faster you get to exercising and taking care of yourself the sooner the baby weight will come off,” she says. “Breast feeding tends to help with losing weight faster in some women, but it’s also important to have strong muscles to be able to cope with being a new mom, which is a very active job! Often the mom gets overlooked, but if she isn't happy and healthy, it's much harder for her to ensure her baby is.”
Learning to engage your transverse abdominis or TVA (a corset-like deep abdominal muscle contracted when you pull your bellybutton back toward your spine) and pelvic floor (a hammock-like network of muscles that support your uterus, bladder and bowels, contracted when you do a Kegel) before labour and delivery can empower you with the knowledge and strength to have a smoother birth process—plus help speed your recovery afterwards.
But it’s never too late to learn the foundations if you’re a new mom who needs help with exercise tips and post-natal rehabilitation!
“Each mom is unique in her specific needs, so being able to isolate and target specific areas with the Pilates equipment is especially helpful post-labour,” says Slonski of the tools available at Form Body Lab. “We encourage home exercise, it’s awesome,” she says, “but the amazing work we do at the studio, through private sessions and prenatal group series, lays a safe foundation, and the equipment we use (like Reformers) helps cue the pelvic floor and TVA, so you can really connect to those muscles.”
“I can’t believe doctors and other healthcare professionals aren’t talking about this more! So many pregnant women and new moms don’t even know about their pelvic floor and TVA, it’s outrageous that we’re sending them out into the world without this education,” says Slonski, who adds that while it’s normal to pee when you run, cough or laugh postpartum, it’s an issue that shouldn’t linger and can be alleviated through targeted pelvic floor exercises.
Click through for five post-natal exercises recommended by Slonski.
*Form Body Lab offers post and prenatal classes. Check online for schedule.
Catherine Roscoe Barr, BSc Neuroscience, is a Vancouver-based writer, wellness coach and founder of The Life Delicious. Before settling on the West Coast she lived in Sydney, Toronto, Oregon, Montana, and practically everywhere in Alberta. She can be found jogging with her adorable dog, dining with her fabulous husband or voraciously reading anywhere comfy.