Updated: Jun 17, 2019
After further education, my views in many of these items have changed. Look for updated blogs to come.
Most mamas I talk to in the postpartum period tell me that they want to do yoga because it’s easy, slow, and mindful- exactly what a mom needs after having a baby.
That slow meditative practice is part of the reason I encourage moms to do yoga in general, regardless of how postpartum they are.
But, in today’s yoga ‘climate’ there are a lot of styles and classes that aren’t any of these things. Meaning, they might not be conducive to the adjustment a new mom’s body is undergoing or the changes the past 40 weeks have brought on.
Additionally, classes that don’t cater to prenatal/postpartum clientele might not be adept in working with this population- meaning adjustments and advice that might not fit the bill during this stage of recovery and could hinder recovery instead of helping it.
First and foremost, it is important to consult with your OB AND obtain a referral to a pelvic floor / women’s healthy physical therapist especially, if you are experience leaking, pressure or a bulging sensation in the vaginal area, diastasis recti, SI joint pain, pubic symphysis dysfunction, or any other pain postpartum.
As with any type of recovery there are special considerations we should be aware of in this “new” body of ours. Remember mamas, your body HAS changed and jumping back into any exercise should NOT be taken lightly. As for all exercises these are just guidelines; not all advice is for all bodies.
Many of the poses I mention I discuss in the relation to Diastasis Recti. If you are unfamiliar with this term you can learn more here.
Here are my recommendations for easing back into yoga over the first 4 months postpartum and how to work with each stage of postpartum and every change that occurs.
1. Deep stretching: Relaxin, a hormone secreted by the ovaries and placenta to help increase the flexibility of the pubic symphysis during pregnancy and dilate the cervix during labor, circulates through the blood and acts on other joints increasing our potential range of motion. While the production almost completely ceases postpartum (a bit is produced during the menstrual cycle), relaxin can circulate for up to 12 months postpartum (3-4 on average) and perhaps longer if you’re breastfeeding (I found opposing information on this). This hormone is often blamed for a variety of potential injuries and it isoften suggested that you don’t perform deep stretches because of the potential to “overstretch”. Here’s the thing- we can’t make this blanket statement. Perhaps in someone who is hyper mobile or has a hypermobility condition- however, this person should be working with their medical ram to decide what’s best for them. In the case of the pregnant body who does not have underlying health concerns: the chances that she injures muscle or connective tissue in a short “deep” stretch is somewhat unlikely.
But: If however the woman is giving feedback that a stretch isn’t serving her in some way, focus on the breath in each pose. As long as the breath remains easy and unforced the person should be able to tolerate the movement. Additionally there is NEVER a need to play tug of war with the body.
2. Deep twists: It is thought that twisting too deeply can cause the oblique muscles (lateral abdominals) to pull at the midline (Linea Alba), increasing the severity of diastasis recti. In addition, some people have a tendency to hold their breath in really deep twists, which can increase pressure on the pelvic floor.
But: Focus on twisting more gently, entering the pose half-way, and avoiding too much abdominal engagement. Remember to focus on the breath- it should be easy and steady.
3. Big backbends: Big openings in the front of the body put undue stress on the abdominal tissues by overstretching and/or causing rib flaring- both of which increase the pull at the linea alba, possibly causing exacerbation of diastasis.
Instead: Avoid big bends altogether and practice bridge pose, baby cobra or supported bridge. Work on bringing the ribs into the body and engaging the transverse abdominis and pelvic floor when entering the lift of the backbend.
4. Wide stances: If you have struggled with pelvic pain of any type be it SI joint pain, pubic symphysis pain or sciatic pain, the wide stance in standing poses (where lots of hip extension is key) may aggravate these conditions further. Yes, we might have increased range of motion but in our standing poses we’re trying to increase strength which will increase stability within these joints. If the stance is too wide we will not be able to create the force necessary to increase strength.
Instead: Step the feet closer together and feel firm grounding in the outer edge of the back foot (anchored foot).
5. Traditional crunch-like motions: Boat, leg raises, ‘yoga sit ups’ can all cause pull at the linea alba- the connective tissue for the abdominal muscles which can cause diastasis to worsen or re-open. While there is some evidence to support that crunches might help strengthen the core a majority of us mamas don’t engage the muscles necessary or, in the proper way, to perform crunches properly postpartum- putting us up for more risk than reward.
Instead: There are plenty of poses you can do to engage and strengthen the core postpartum. I talk about five of my favorites here.
6. Prone poses where the belly is unsupported: Think downward facing dog and plank pose. This is a hard one as, a majority of the articles I’ve read and continuing education I’ve taken leave this as a “maybe/ maybe not” when talking about safety for DR. Here’s the thing; if you’ve been doing downward dog or plank for years and/or your diastasis is asymptomatic and has been assessed and cleared, they might not be off the table. But, my question to you would be, why even risk it? There are so many other things you can do for FOUR months… is this really going to impede your progress?
Instead: You can modify down dog by placing your hands on the wall or excessively bending the knees. Plank can be avoided completely or, you can substitute kneeling side plank.
Remember, this is a phase. While it seems I’ve left no room for any yoga yoga to be had, there are TONS of poses and alterations to poses, still available that can offer you both the challenge and mindfulness you need at this stage postpartum.
Yoga should be used as a tool to heal mindfully and regain strength slowly- it's not a contest to stretch as deeply as possible or to bounce back to headstand quickly. There will be a time and place to practice as you did or as you have hopes of doing. But, until that time, enjoy the slow, nurturing practice that yoga can be.