You just had your baby – congratulations! Pregnancy and childbirth are a wild ride between hormone fluctuations, sleep disturbances, major body changes, and the stress of bringing baby earthside. After birth, symptoms can include abdominal or vaginal pain, incontinence, and back pain.
Now that you’re on the other side, you probably feel like you’re living in a different body. So where can you start when it comes to movement, reducing pain, and reclaiming your body postpartum? Here are FIVE safe and easy exercises to start week one postpartum.
If you have any pain, please modify or discontinue the exercise, and reach out to a health care professional (like your local physical therapist at Evolve Physical Therapy!).
First Week Postpartum Exercises
The following exercises can be performed in bed to minimize the strain of getting to and from the floor. They are meant to be low intensity and a way to reconnect with your body, especially your breath, core, and pelvic floor.
These activities are appropriate following both vaginal and cesarean birth, with modifications available to minimize stress on the caesarean section (c-section) scar. Listen to your body, and give yourself grace – you’re moving with a brand new body after baby.
Postpartum Exercise 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing
Start in a hook-lying position – on your back with knees bent and feet flat.
Gently place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
Take a nice slow deep breath.
As you inhale, you should feel both hands gently rise.
Pause for a moment with a nice full breath.
Then, slowly exhale as both hands gently sink to the starting position.
This exercise can be performed for reps or time – 10 full breaths or 1-2 minutes is a great starting point.
*This exercise can be practiced in any position, including sitting and standing.
*For a simple variation/progression:
Inhale as instructed above, then pause.
To exhale, gently purse your lips together and push the air out like you are blowing on a bubble wand.
This slight force with exhalation allows for increased diaphragm and abdominal activation.
Postpartum Exercise 2: Reconnecting With The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor undergoes a lot of stress and change through pregnancy and delivery. After birth, the first step is to reconnect with these deep supportive muscles.
Start in the hooklying position and gently draw in through the pelvic floor.
To help “find” these muscles, think about gently squeezing on a tampon or trying to “pick up” a blueberry or marble within the vaginal canal. It should be a very light contraction.
If you still aren’t feeling anything happen, think about stopping the flow of urination midstream. It can be subtle and hard to feel, especially at this phase of recovery.
Be patient and don’t overdo it.
*You can also connect your breath to your pelvic floor. Naturally, as you breathe in, the diaphragm actively descends to make room for air to fill your lungs.
Likewise, the pelvic floor muscles relax, lengthen, and gently drop. With each exhale, the diaphragm returns to its higher resting position; the pelvic floor gently contracts and lifts as well. Lying on your back with your eyes closed, try to picture this pattern.
Breath in – diaphragm contracts and slowly lowers – pelvic floor gently lengthens.
Breathe out – diaphragm relaxes and slowly rises – pelvic floor gently contracts and lifts.
Postpartum Exercise 3: Pelvic Tilts
This exercise is easiest in hooklying – on your back with knees bent and feet flat.
Gently rock your pelvis backward allowing your low back to sink down toward the floor (or bed). Then slowly return to your starting position.
From there, gently rock the pelvis forward and allow the low back to arch away from the floor.
This is meant to be a small and low intensity movement.
Start with 10-15 repetitions, but feel free to increase the number if they feel good.
*To improve awareness of your body, imagine your pelvis is shaped like a bowl (full of soup!) when you are in an upright position.
To perform a pelvic tilt, think of gently tipping the bowl backward (where soup would spill out the back), then gently tip it forward (spilling soup out the front).
A neutral position would be holding the soup bowl level to keep everything inside.
*This exercise can also be performed in sitting, on an exercise ball, or in standing.
Postpartum Exercise 4: Cat/Cow
This is a spinal mobility exercise performed on hands and knees.
To start, hands should be under shoulders and knees under hips, with back flat.
Round your back up to the ceiling while allowing your head to drop down; imagine tucking your tail to fully round and flex the spine.
Pause briefly. Then, to move into spine extension, allow your chest and belly to sink toward the floor while gently looking up and untucking your tail.
Modify this range of motion to avoid any pain or aggressive stretching, especially following a c-section as this may irritate your incision.
You may find that you only tolerate going from neutral into flexion (rounding), which is a great place to start. Start with 10 repetitions.
*A modification to this exercise is transitioning to a seated position.
With feet on the floor, rest your palms on your thighs.
Start with rounding the spine, coming into a slouched position with head looking down.
Then slowly transition into a gently extended position by arching the back forward, pulling shoulder blades back, and gently looking up.
Again, avoid any aggressive stretch along the belly.
Postpartum Exercise 5: Open Book Or Sunrise Rotation (Thoracic rotation)
Lastly, open books are a spinal mobility exercise targeting rotation, and performed in sidelying.
Start by lying on one side, with a pillow under your head.
Bring knees and hips up to a 90 degree angle if tolerated, and rest both arms straight in front of you.
To start the motion, lift the top arm straight toward the ceiling and slowly reach back – allow your trunk and head/neck to rotate with you.
Follow your hand with your eyes to ensure full rotation.
After a brief pause, slowly return to the starting position.
Perform 10 repetitions if tolerated, and then switch to the other side.
*To modify this activity, start in a sitting position instead.
Make sure feet are supported and rest your hands on your thighs.
Take one arm and reach back allowing your trunk to twist with you; again, follow your hand with your eyes to promote a full spinal twist.
Avoid pulling on your incision if you are post c-section.
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Thank you for reading 5 Great Exercises For Week One Postpartum.
We hope it has helped you understand more about exercises that can be performed during the early phase of postpartum.
Please visit our Pregnancy and Postpartum physical therapy page to learn more about services.
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