Once a woman becomes a mother, everything changes—her body, her obligations, her priorities. Not only does she need to heal physically, but she’s responsible for another human being. It’s easy for her to put her needs aside in the interest of the baby’s.
The first month after giving birth is a time to recuperate and adjust. The pelvic floor has been stretched significantly during birth and may even have been cut or torn to facilitate delivery. The cervix has to close back down from dilating to 10 centimeters (4 inches) and then stretching to let the baby pass through. The uterus shrinks a lot in the first few days, but it will take at least a month to return to its postpartum size, and the internal organs have to settle back into position after being crowded for so long. If the mother had a Caesarean section, the pelvic floor will be intact, but she has had a major abdominal surgery that will take several months to heal.
Perhaps one of the most surprising (and possibly disappointing) aspects of the postnatal period for a new mother is that she still looks about four to five months pregnant. The baby and the afterbirth add up to only about 15 to 20 pounds of weight lost immediately. In the first week or two after giving birth, she still has a lot of extra fluids in her system that are slowly being flushed out or reabsorbed. Her abdominals and the skin over the belly are loose after being stretched out for nine months.
These first few weeks can also be hugely emotional as she learns to take care of her new baby and adjust to her role as a mother. This intense responsibility, combined with hormones that are still present in the system (and will remain for months if she is breast-feeding), can lead to mood swings and even depression.
Easing Back into Practice
Doctors and midwives recommend that a new mom wait for at least six weeks (eight weeks, if she’s had a C-section) before restarting exercising. She may have exercised regularly during pregnancy, but she doesn’t have the same body she had then—or ever before. (Even if this pregnancy wasn’t her first, her body and recovery needs won’t necessarily be the same after each birth.)
The abdominals are the muscles most affected by pregnancy, and so they’re an obvious set to focus on. The shoulders and neck are another area that can be very sore in the postpartum period. Simply carrying a newborn around will strain the upper back, because the tendency is to hunch over the baby instead of standing up straight.
By the end of the first eight weeks of motherhood, the postpartum mother should be ready to resume her regular practice, but remind her to listen to what her body is ready to do.
The Importance of Rest
This time is exciting, exhausting, thrilling, and scary. A new mother will be flooded with conflicting emotions while simultaneously trying to manage all the physical demands of parenthood. Taking time for complete relaxation at the end of class is a good way for her to recuperate and calm her mind. It may be the only time in the day she gets to focus on her own needs.
Baby the Mother
Some points to consider for postnatal mother:
Encouraging patience. It took nine months and one birth to get to this place, so a new mother should give herself another nine months to get back to “normal.” If she tries to rush the healing process, she could actually prolong it by aggravating any strained muscles, tears, or incisions. She needs to listen to what her body is ready to do. Focus on the center. A postpartum mother’s torso is the area that needs the most attention. She needs to work on her abdominals and lower back by starting with gentle stretches and gradually moving into strength-building poses, as well as lots of chest and shoulder openers to ease soreness in the upper body.
Turning the focus on her. The early months of a baby’s life are its most helpless. She will be spending so much time caring for and worrying about this little person that she will neglect her own health and needs. Therefore she her to relax and focus on herself while practicing, so she will be refreshed and ready to parent again after class.