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Getting back into shape post-partum

By SHAMALA VELU

Getting into an exercise programme after childbirth has many health benefits. For one, regular exercise can help you return to your pre-pregnancy shape. It also helps to raise your energy level to cope with the demands of motherhood.

Pilates instructor Jaclyn Thooi says postnatal pilates programmes are designed with the objectives of realigning the pelvis, helping to rehabilitate the pelvic floor muscles and strengthening the body.

“Exercising during the postnatal period with an appropriately designed programme helps also to build confidence and prevent or minimise postnatal depression,” she explains.

Thooi also points out that many new mothers, especially those who have had a caesarean section, have little time to rest and recover from their operation.

“They are sent home with limited instructions on how to care for themselves. If someone has a knee or shoulder surgery, followup visits are common. Therefore, rehabilitative exercises are very important for new mothers as well,” she says.

Thooi established bAlign Pilates Studio in Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur, with her partner May Cheng, after having personally experienced the benefits of pilates.

“Frankly, pilates does not help to reduce your dress size. Pilates focuses on breathing, core muscles of the abdominals, pelvic floor, postural alignment, builds strength and stability. These are all essential elements for an effective postnatal exercise programme,” says Thooi.

“In normal vaginal delivery, the clients may start exercising six weeks after birth with a qualified instructor. However, if one has undergone a C-section, it is better to wait three months and after gaining a doctor's approval,” says Thooi.

Pilates is a low impact set of exercises with various possibilities of modifications within its repertoire to cater for different needs of people. It is performed either on a mat or using special studio equipment.

However, Thooi says gentle breathing exercises can be done within hours of the birth.

“For instance, breathing and pelvic floor exercises are good. This gentle exercise helps to reactivate the abdominal muscles and realign the pelvis. It also improves blood circulation to the pelvic area, thus assists in the healing process,” she shares.

Try the supine breathing exercise:

1) Lie supine in a comfortable environment.

2) Bend knees with hips wide part.

3) Place your hands on the top of the lower abdominals.

4) Inhale through your nose and into your abdominals till it presses into your hands.

5) Exhale through the mouth and feel the abdominal drawing away from your hands.

For those familiar with pelvic floor exercises or “kegels”, you can repeat the above exercise with the activation of the pelvic floor as you exhale.

“The above exercise is gentle and has no impact at all. It helps to tone the abdominal muscles, improves breathing, blood circulation, helps to relax the body and retrains the pelvic floor muscles,” says Thooi.

The above exercise is suitable to perform within hours after delivery.

Below are some of the different exercises in the postnatal pilates programmes.

 

Bridging on mat

Important note: This exercise may only be performed after the postpartum mother has stopped bleeding.

Benefits: Improves mobility of the spine, strengthens the core muscles, hamstring and gluteus muscles (buttocks).

Step 1: Lie supine in neutral spine position, with knees bent and feet, hip apart. Extend your arms next to your hips.

Step 2: Inhale to prepare, as you exhale, tilt your pelvis posteriorly and continue to lift the spine off the mat one vertebra at a time. Coming to rest on the open space between your shoulder blades. At this position, you will have a nice straight diagonal line that connects the shoulder to your hips.

Step 3: Inhale at the top, as you exhale, articulate your spine back on the mat vertebra by vertebra.

Step 4: When your tailbone touches the mat, release your spine back to the neutral position (starting position).

Repeat this exercise 3-5 times.


Side-lying side leg lifts

Benefits: Strengthens the abdominals and hip abductors. It is also a wonderful exercise to develop pelvic-lumbar stabilisation.

Step 1: Lie sideways on the mat, head supported with the bottom arm. Ensure that the shoulders are stacked on top of each other. So are the hips. The shoulders are in line with the hips. Extend your bottom arm along the mat. The top hand should rest firmly on the mat for support.
Modify: Bend bottom leg for more stability.

Step 2: Extend the top leg to hip height. Inhale to lengthen and abduct the top leg while maintaining a stable pelvis.

Step 3: Exhale and abduct the top leg, smoothly and with control.

Repeat exercise 3-5 times.

* Note: Please check with your doctor before starting any exercise programmes and if you are unsure of how to effectively do any of these exercises, ParenThots advises seeing a pilates instructor for advice so as not to cause any injury.

How about yoga after childbirth?