When you’re pregnant, your body goes through a lot of changes (cue the resounding, no duh): Your center of gravity changes, your abdominal muscles stretch (and, in the case of a C-section, are cut and repaired), and your pelvic floor goes through nine months of pressure thanks to a baby sitting on top of them. Cue a little bit of pee dripping out when you do jumping jack, or not being able to contract your core into a crunch. These symptoms can make it a real challenge to go back to exercising after a baby (as if you don’t have enough to think about with the whole “keeping a tiny human alive” thing).
Most women assume that all of this is something they need to suck up and deal with for the sake of motherhood, but that’s actually not the case. While these things are normal for the first six to 12 weeks—considering, ya know, your body brought a human into the world—there are certain things you can do to build strength in your pelvic floor post-birth that can help make working out after that point much less terrible, especially if these symptoms are continuing for longer.
Here, physical therapist and pelvic floor pro Staci Levine, DPT shares her tips for how to get your pelvic floor primed and ready to get back to the gym. And remember: It took your body nine months to grow a tiny human, so cut yourself a break if you’re not ready and raring to go right away. Before you get started, check with your practitioner to make sure you’re cleared to exercise, but even more importantly, “be patient with yourself,” says Levine. You’ll get there—and these things can help.
Try these exercises Postpartum, care of a PT
Consider taking up Pilates: With it’s gentle, core-strengthening movements, Pilates might just be exactly what your body needs. “Everyone is different, but start with basic low-level Pilates exercises to engage your core and pelvic floor in supine position (lying on your back), then progress to sitting, quadruped (hands and knees), and stand to help re-educate your core muscles to fire first,” says Levine. She suggests working with a physical therapist or personal trainer, who is trained to work with postpartum women “to make sure there are no compensations, while performing exercises that could lead to injury down the road.”
Take it s-l-o-w with cardio: Even if you were in tip-top shape before giving birth, you probably shouldn’t plan to jump right back in and run a full marathon after the fact. “From a cardio perspective, start with short, frequent walks, progress to longer walks to increase endurance, and then slowly return to whatever activity is desired—whether that’s spinning, running, or something else,” says Levine. “Start with five to 10 minutes, and take at least a day off in between to see how your body reacts. Then, increase the amount of time you’re doing cardio by no more than 10 percent per week.” Don’t worry—you will get back to those pre-pregnancy miles.
Build strength throughout your core: Your core is made up of nearly a dozen different muscles (including your pelvic floor), and many of them had to really work hard for you during childbirth. To build strength, you’ll want to think of the muscles individually as one whole system, and you can work them appropriately with these moves, care of Levine:
To engage your pelvic floor: Imagine closing the vaginal opening and drawing it up in to your body. Try holding this for three seconds while breathing, then relax all the way for six seconds. Start by doing this in supine position, then sitting, and then standing for about 10 repetitions each (as long as there is no pain), and progress the length of time you hold the contractions as a way to build strength. Note that it can take at least six to eight weeks to build strength, so don’t get frustrated if you don’t see immediate change.
To engage your abdominal wall: Lie on your back with your forefingers just inside your hip bones, and imagine drawing your hip bones together so they are touching. You should feel a slight hardening of your abdominal wall. Try to hold this for five seconds and breathe. Start with 10 repetitions lying down, and when you’re ready progress, do them sitting, then standing. When you’re ready to start lifting weights and doing cardio, keep this position and breathing top of mind.
Even if you didn’t just give birth, leaking during workouts is totally common (and normal!)—here’s why it could be happening, and what to do to deal. And this is what happened when one W+G writer went to a, ahem, personal trainer to strengthen her pelvic floor.