5 Postpartum Pelvic Floor Exercises to Try After Pregnancy
If you’re a newly minted mother who’s just given birth, you’ve likely also become intimately aware of your pelvic floor muscles. The small but mighty pelvic floor muscles sit in your pelvis like a hammock and support your pelvic organs, and are also closely related to your core, glutes and hip musculature.
It’s no secret that the pelvic floor plays a crucial role in pregnancy and labor, and after giving birth, it can wind up overworked, stretched, weakened or just generally needing a little love.
At about 6 to 8 weeks postpartum, a pelvic floor physical therapist can perform an internal assessment of your pelvic floor. Your therapist will assess the strength, flexibility and overall function of your pelvic floor, helping you understand where and how you may need to retrain these muscles to optimize your recovery.
Once you’ve been given the go-ahead from your practitioner, there are exercises you can start doing to bring a gentle awareness back to your pelvic floor. Over time, moves such as diaphragmatic breathing and pelvic floor contractions (also known as Kegels) can help you feel better.
Read on for more about taking care of your pelvic floor and simple home exercises to help you locate and train these muscles.
What to know about caring for your pelvic floor postpartum
Giving your postpartum pelvic floor a little TLC will look different for everyone. That’s because pelvic floor-related symptoms can vary from woman to woman.
Pelvic floor disorders (known generally as pelvic floor dysfunction) are among the most common conditions that can affect new moms, and it’s possible to have any number of symptoms during your recovery. For example, some new moms might experience pelvic pain or painful sex, while others might have incontinence or a feeling of heaviness or “bulging” (which might be signs of pelvic organ prolapse).
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There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to postpartum pelvic floor recovery, either, which is why it’s so important to try to connect with a pelvic floor physical therapist who can accurately assess your body. (And even if you’re not experiencing pain or discomfort, checking in with a pelvic floor PT can still help provide a better understanding of your body, recovery and the functional movements that’ll help you feel your best after giving birth.)
In addition to working with a pelvic floor PT and letting your practitioner know about any symptoms you’re experiencing, there are also some things you can do on your own to support your pelvic floor health as you recover from birth:
- Support your recovery. Postpartum recovery products such as a peri bottle, numbering spray or Sitz bath can all support proper healing from both a vaginal and C-section delivery.
- Aim for proper posture and mechanics. Early parenthood can involve lots of lifting and bending. Try to practice good posture, such as by not rounding your shoulders, keeping your shoulders over your hips and your hips over knees (to prevent “swayback” posture) and using proper lifting mechanics (including using a log roll technique to get out of bed if you had a C-section). This can keep your pelvic floor supported and healthy as you heal.
Postpartum pelvic floor exercises
Once your practitioner gives you the go-ahead, you can try the exercises below, which pelvic floor PTs often recommend to postpartum moms. Just remember: Everyone’s delivery and pelvic floor recovery are different, so the right exercise plan for you might be a little different, too. Connecting with a pelvic floor physical therapist can help you find the best pelvic floor recovery plan for you.
If anything hurts or you feel as though you can’t complete the exercises without proper form, stop and contact a pelvic floor physical therapist. Some of these exercises may appear simple, but they can be harder to execute properly than they seem!
This postpartum pelvic floor exercise works to strengthen the glute muscles and external hip rotators, which can grow weak during pregnancy. Clamshells also build back stability throughout the pelvis. The exercise requires you to coordinate your core and glutes, reminding them how to work together to support your body.
- Lie on one side with your legs bent at about a 45-degree angle with your feet, ankles, knees and hips stacked on top of one another. Rest on your forearm.
- While engaging your core and your glutes, lift your upper knee as you keep your feet together. Try not to rock or shift your hips or pelvis.
- Lower your top knee and repeat. Do 10 reps on each side.
Your pelvic floor works in coordination with the abdominals and diaphragm, and all three need to work together. Whether you’ve had a vaginal delivery or a C-section, diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to connect the abdominals, pelvic floor and diaphragm to start stabilizing your core.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable spot, and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Take a deep inhale through your nose and watch your stomach rise and expand; feel your pelvic floor muscles “open” and relax.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, open the exhale, and feel your belly and lower transverse abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles contract. Repeat.
Do this for five to 10 minutes, two to three times per day.
Isometric lower abdominal contraction
Isometric abdominal work — the static contraction of a muscle — can help to restore the abdominal wall, shortening up those muscle fibers and assisting with recovery. A posterior pelvic tilt is a good starting point. Once you have it mastered, try to only do the abdominal contraction without tilting the pelvis.
- While lying on your back with your knees bent, squeeze your belly button toward your spine, flatten your back on the surface you’re lying on and slightly tuck your bottom underneath you.
- Breathe and resist pushing through your feet.
- Hold the contraction for five seconds, then relax.
Do two sets of 10 reps twice a day.
Kegel and reverse Kegel
A Kegel is a contraction (or “lifting” of the pelvic floor like an elevator rising) of the pelvic floor muscles. These exercises can help restore the abdominal wall and strengthen the pelvic floor, aiding in recovery from birth.
A reverse Kegel is the relaxation of the pelvic floor or “dropping” of the pelvic floor (imagine an elevator falling). Ask your pelvic floor physical therapist which type of Kegel is best for you.
- Contract the pelvic floor and keep the pelvis still. Your lower belly should get taut as you breathe.
- Think about lifting pelvic floor muscles up toward your head.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then relax completely, feeling your pelvic floor “drop” down as if you’re urinating.
Do two sets of 10 reps twice a day.
Remember: Relaxation between each rep and between sets is just as important as the contraction. None of these exercises should cause pain or make you feel like you might leak urine.
Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding means spending a lot of time with your shoulders rounded. This exercise can prevent any tightness in the chest, help you maintain a proper posture during your activities as a new mom, and prevent neck and back pain.
- Lie down on your back in a comfortable spot.
- Position arms straight on the floor in a Y position and lay flat for two minutes.
- Move arms to 90 degrees to a T position and lie flat for an additional two to three minutes.
Spend five minutes total on this exercise per day.
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