When pregnant, the body undergoes various changes, such as unexpected swelling, balance problems, sleep disturbances, and pelvic floor discomfort. Although these symptoms typically diminish after childbirth, it’s important to prioritize the strength of your pelvic floor during pregnancy and recovery. This underscores the importance of exercising the pelvic floor postpartum.
According to DPT Marcy Crouch, these exercises play a crucial role in reducing leakage, discomfort, and descent in women after childbirth. The muscles of the pelvic floor, which support the pelvic organs, go through significant strain during pregnancy and delivery and require proper rehabilitation. Similar to other muscles, the pelvic floor can be trained and strengthened.
The advantages of engaging in postpartum pelvic floor exercises
Most women are given clearance for sexual activity and physical activity six weeks after childbirth, but certain exercises, including breathwork, can be commenced earlier.
Pelvic floor physical therapist Jami Wilson recommends beginning with rest for the initial few days postpartum and gradually incorporating breathwork to activate the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. Pelvic floor exercises can aid recovery and address any pelvic floor dysfunction developed during pregnancy, such as painful sexual intercourse, pelvic discomfort, incontinence, or pelvic organ descent.
If experiencing discomfort, a pelvic floor physical therapist can evaluate your pelvic floor strength and function and assist you in retraining and reinforcing these muscles.
Dr. Crouch emphasizes that when these muscles are not functioning properly, it can lead to discomfort, incontinence, pelvic organ descent, constipation, sexual dysfunction, and other issues, highlighting that strength is only one aspect of their function.
Once given the green light for physical activity, gradually integrating pelvic floor work into your routine can help reactivate core muscles that have been inactive for months.
In order to help women incorporate pelvic floor exercises into their postpartum routine, Dr. Wilson offers a list of her recommended exercises and advises gradually increasing their frequency.
6 recommended postpartum pelvic floor exercises from a physical therapist
These exercises do not require equipment and can be initiated based on individual comfort levels. If experiencing any pain or discomfort, consulting a doctor or pelvic floor physical therapist is crucial.
1. Abdominal breathing
Begin practicing this immediately after giving birth and continue throughout the postpartum journey. It can be performed while lying down on your back, side, or hands and knees.
Take deep breaths into the abdomen, down through the pelvis, and use your fingers around the lower rib cage to guide the breath. Relax the pelvic floor while inhaling and notice the slight lift on exhaling. Visualize the pelvic floor expanding with each inhale and contracting as you exhale. Maintain an even breathing pace.
Complete one set for three minutes once a day.
2. Lying heel slides
Start practicing this exercise at approximately two weeks postpartum.
While lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, slide one leg out straight as you engage your abdominals. Ensure your body, including pelvis, glutes, and hips, remains on the floor. Alternate legs for each rep.
Perform 10 repetitions once a day.
3. Supine Bridge
Commence this exercise at around two weeks postpartum.
While lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, raise your hips off the floor while engaging your pelvic floor and core. Slowly lower back down.
Repeat 10 times once a day.
Begin this exercise approximately four weeks postpartum.
Start in a hands-and-knees position, then extend one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously, ensuring stability and balance. Alternate sides for each repetition.
Perform five reps once a day, four times a week.
5. Lateral Plank with Clamshell
Initiate this exercise roughly six weeks postpartum.
Begin on your side, lift your hips, and open your top leg while maintaining stability.
Repeat 10 times on each side once a day, four times a week.
6. Deep Knee Bends
Begin this exercise at around six weeks postpartum.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, inhale, then lower into a squat, focusing on proper knee alignment and glute engagement.
Perform 10 reps once a day, four times a week.
Dr. Wilson suggests assessing comfort and pain levels after 10 repetitions and increasing the number of squats accordingly.