As I mentioned in my post My Not So Typical Push Present I hired Colleen as my personal trainer to help get my postpartum body back into shape. My experience with Colleen was incredible! I started my personal training sessions at 7 weeks postpartum. A bonus of working with Fearlessly Fit Life is that they offer in-home training and bring the necessary equipment. My training goals were to properly get my body back into shape and healthy after being pregnant and giving birth. My sessions were focused on Pilates and customized for my current state. What I loved about Colleen is that she was constantly educating me during the sessions. Believe it or not, I honestly felt like my body was stronger and my posture was better after my 18 sessions than before I became pregnant!
I wanted to share the information that I learned during my sessions with other pregnant and postpartum women so I interviewed Colleen on the subject. Below is a summary of the questions and responses. I hope you find it as educational as I did!
Interview with Colleen Shaughnessy:
How does the muscular system in a woman’s body change during pregnancy? – The most obvious change that women (and men) can relate to is the increased size of the belly. As the baby grows, the core muscles will slowly stretch to allow space for the expanding uterus. The not so obvious changes are those that occur in the pelvis. Towards the end of a pregnancy the ligaments in the pelvis become more relaxed in preparation for childbirth. This is due to the hormone relaxin which is produced by the placenta, chorion and decidua within a woman’s uterus. Relaxin changes the state of collagen that is found within joints, ligaments and connective tissue and causes more elasticity and flexibility. This lax state creates more movement in the joints and instability in the pelvis in late pregnancy and the first few months postpartum.
Source: Mosaic Life Care
How is a woman’s pelvis affected during pregnancy? – Around the halfway point of pregnancy women tend to feel pelvic pain in their lower back due to the instability of the sacroilliac joint (SIJ). The SIJ is found between the sacrum (the bone that looks like a tail at the bottom of the spine) and the left and right ilium of the pelvis. The SIJ is the main stabilizing joint in the pelvis that is very strong and allows little movement when force is applied to it. During a basic activity like walking the SIJ absorbs the impact from the legs and spine and properly transmits it through the body.
Source: Core Concepts Musculoskeletal Group
The core muscles are integral in stabilizing the SIJ. The transversus abdominis is the deepest muscle in the core (and the hardest to strengthen!) and surrounds the SIJ along with the multifidus (the muscle that fills the grooves along the spin). Together these muscles act as a corset, compressing the lower back and pelvic region.
Source: Physio Works
The combination of relaxin allowing the pelvis to enlarge and the weakened state of core muscles during pregnancy and postpartum leave you susceptible to injury.
When is the appropriate time after childbirth to begin strengthening those muscles? – Every woman’s pregnancy and postpartum condition is slightly different so it is recommended to consult with your doctor prior to working out. Typically women are cleared to workout at 6 weeks postpartum. It is best to start a workout regime before pregnancy and to continue it during your pregnancy and afterwards.
What happens to the core and pelvic muscles if you do not actively work on strengthening them postpartum? – After childbirth the core muscles and the pelvic floor muscles are elongated and weak. If you do not work on strengthening them then other dominate muscles in the body will take over and compensate. As a result your posture will suffer. Eventually they will shorten, but they will not recess all the way.
Source: Postpartum Strong
What type of exercise regime would you recommend? – #1 Pilates for pre and postnatal women. Pilates is low impact and ideal for people with injuries, pregnant women, people with special conditions and the elderly. Some women may require physical therapy if they had a tough pregnancy (ex. diastisis recti – separation of the abdominal muscles). Yoga is also good, but you have to be careful not to overstretch because of the relaxin still present in the body.
Which muscles are important to strengthen in order to protect your body from injury from picking up and carrying your growing baby? – The core, erector spinae muscle group and S.I.T.S. or rotator cuff muscles. The S.I.T.S. muscles stabilize the shoulder girdle. It is important to have good posture and stand properly. Many of us have to learn to stand properly and actively practice. With all training, a posture analysis exam is conducted and any issues will be corrected from the bottom up depending on the client’s postural deviations.
Are there any exercises that can be done to tighten the muscles in the pelvis after childbirth? – It is important to strengthen the pelvic floor. This interconnected web of muscles, ligaments and fascia are responsible for holding all of your reproductive organs and bladder in place in your body. That is a very important role! One should be careful of rushing into high impact workouts such as running too soon after childbirth. It is not uncommon to see women with prolapsed bladders because the pelvic floor muscles were not strong enough.
Source: Core Walking
Some Pilates exercises that can be done to strengthen the pelvic floor are:
- gently squeezing a Pilates ball between the knees
Source: Sports Injury Clinic
Source: Positive Med
- Imprint and Release
How often would you recommend working out in the postpartum months? – This will be different from individual to individual, but ideally 2-3 times per week. It is great to mix in walking for light exercise.
Is there anything else important in the body to focus on after childbirth? – Yes, nutrition and hydration are key. A balanced diet of good protein and leafy greens is essential to properly nourish your body. Bad food takes more energy to break down and can be counter productive.