If you’re expecting or have already delivered, it’s common to feel apprehensive about your recovery process. Having a baby is a monumental event, and while motherhood is a wonderful journey, it shouldn’t deprive you of feeling healthy and confident in your body after pregnancy. As a personal trainer and Pilates instructor, I’ve worked with dozens of prenatal and postpartum women. I see two extremes from my clients after delivery: One, the aggressive and unnecessary pressure to just “bounce back” after birth and, two, the pessimistic assumption that your body will never be the same. Both are wrong. When you’re ready to move after pregnancy — and have been cleared by your doctor to do so — there are several low-intensity postpartum pelvic exercises that can be done to help ease you back into movement safely and efficiently.
The focus of postpartum fitness should be to address and then strengthen the pelvic floor and deep core muscles while safely returning to mobility and functional strength work. While many women experience some degree of separation of the rectus abdominis during delivery, separation that’s larger than one knuckle width of your finger is referred to as diastasis recti. A simple assessment from your doctor or a physical therapist can confirm whether or not you have diastasis after pregnancy.
Separation is normal and can be healed without invasive surgery, but it’s paramount to ease back into movement slowly. Diving back into your pre-pregnancy fitness routine can be more harmful to your body than you think, and overloading the abdominals too quickly can cause more separation and stress. Remember to be gentle with yourself and allow yourself a little grace.
Here are three essential postpartum pelvic exercises to practice under the guidance of your physical therapist or doctor:
Yep, just breathe! If you stayed active throughout your pregnancy, you’re likely already familiar with what’s considered a proper breath pattern: breathing deeply into the back and sides of your ribs to properly engage the diaphragm and gently relaxing the pelvic floor as you exhale.
During pregnancy, as the uterus expands, shallow breathing can start to replace this natural breath pattern due to overcrowding by the ribs and the natural stretching of the abdominal wall. Once you’re postpartum, it’s important to focus on proper breath to help reengage the transverse abdominals and pelvic floor.
While it may sound silly to add breathing exercises to your workout routine, these are some of the first exercises you can engage in postpartum and are essential to your core’s recovery, improving your strength, coordination, and stability.
You can practice your breath standing, seated, or on all fours, but proper alignment is key. You want to make sure your posture is neutral, with your sitting bones directly underneath you. You can add the use of a prop, such as a pillow, yoga brick, or small ball, between the inner thighs to provide additional support.
Pelvic clocks are a great way to restore your mind-body connection after pregnancy. Lying flat or slightly elevated by a wedge or pillow, bend both knees and place feet flat on the floor. If the front of your hips feel tight, let your heels move away from your butt. Taking your hands on your lower abdominals and pelvis, start to find a clockwise motion through your hips without lifting your butt cheeks off the floor. You want to use your lower abdominals to find the movement of your pelvis. Avoid contracting your glutes and remember to use your breath to help guide the movement.
Repeat your pelvic clocks counterclockwise, too. You may notice that one direction feels more intuitive than the other, which is normal whether or not you’re postpartum. Don’t feel discouraged if the movement feels gentle or if it feels like you’re barely moving at all. Pelvic floor movements are often very subtle and are greatly impacted by our breath. You can use a soft prop between the legs to give yourself more support. Avoid movement from your knees, and remember that a smaller range of motion and a stronger connection are better than a bigger range of motion with less control.
Lying flat or slightly elevated by a wedge or pillow, keep one leg or foot grounded while you gently engage your abdominals to lift your free leg into a tabletop position. If you notice your abdominals ballooning or puffing toward the ceiling, avoid lifting your legs into tabletop and stick with more grounded pelvic exercises. Inhaling, allow your thigh to hinge away from your torso, aiming to stretch your toes to the mat while keeping the 90 degree bend through the back of your knee. Exhale as you draw your abdominals in to pull your leg back into tabletop. Focus on keeping your back ribs and lower back stable on the mat as you move through the exercise. The objective is to find pelvic stability, so concentrate on keeping your body stable versus searching for a serious ab burn.
Avoid both legs in tabletop until cleared by your provider or until you can keep your transverse abdominals engaged without any ballooning or flaring of your ribcage.
If you’d like to explore additional postpartum pelvic exercises, sign up for Niki SugarySixpack’s app to access the following workouts:
Your Pelvic Floor
Finding Your Pelvic Floor
Lengthening and Relaxing the Pelvic Floor
Additionally, download Lindsey Shooter’s app, which offers more than 20 ab rehab workouts, including:
Pelvic Floor Activation
Pelvic Floor and Posture
Diastasis Recti Rehab
Be gentle with yourself during your recovery process. It may take some time to align your mind and body again after pregnancy, but these postpartum pelvic exercises are a few simple ways to get started. Most importantly, remember to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before you jump back into exercising postpartum.
About the author
Emi Gutgold is a PMA NCPT and NASM CPT based in New York City. Just like Elle Woods, she is also a gemini and vegan. When she's not teaching Pilates or lifting heavy weights, she's eating pita and hummus with her dog, Chickpea, and binging trash reality TV.