Mother’s Day Feature: The 4th Trimester
This week is the last of our Mother’s Day Blog Series. Deb Flashenberg, owner of the Prenatal Yoga Center in Manhattan, and mother of two, shares some tips for helping new moms take care of themselves postnatally.
Many women find themselves surprised by the physical and emotional challenges of the “4th trimester.” This part of the journey into motherhood is often glossed over by friends and family. The focus often shifts from the pregnant mother to the new baby. This can leave the new mom in a fragile state, as she is now healing from giving birth and starting to experience the schedule and demands of a newborn.
During these first few weeks, “self care” may seem unattainable or even absurd — even a shower is a luxury. I believe that if the mother can find the support to help her take care of herself, she will have so much more to offer to those who need her.
Postnatal or Mommy and Me yoga is a wonderful way for the new mom to start taking care of herself. These classes offer emotional support from a community of other women going down the same path. They also attend to the physical benefits of rebuilding, restrengthening and restoring the postpartum body.
There are several specific groups of poses we incorporate into class for postnatal yoga. We focus on rebuilding the pelvic floor, abdominal, and back muscles and open and stretch the shoulder, chest and neck. We also always conclude class with some restorative poses. If you can not make it to class, don’t worry! Many of these of poses can also be done at home.
The pelvic floor is one area of the body that tends to get neglected during and after pregnancy. Many women believe that if they gave birth by cesarean section, pelvic floor strengthening poses do not apply to them. This is not the case. They still had the weight of the baby on their pelvic floor for a substantial amount of time regardless of how they birthed.
We include kegel exercises along with poses that help strengthen the adductors (inner thighs), which also help tone the pelvic floor. Any pose where you can squeeze a block between the thighs will engage the adductors.
It is important not to jump right back into a demanding abdominal toning routine immediately after giving birth. Most women have some degree of diastasis (separation of the rectus abdominis). When approaching postpartum abdominal work it is very important to focus on contracting the navel to the spine. Crunches, full sit-ups, and navasana-like asanas tend to make the belly bulge out more.
Recommended poses: Plank variations including forearm plank, Full plank and half plank, Side plank and modified side plank, Dolphin and Half chatturanga,
There is no other time in a person’s life when they naturally lose so much weight so quickly. For this reason, the postpartum mom’s back is very vulnerable. Her abdominal muscles have been compromised, stretched and weakened, so the mother’s back (especially the lower back) is unstable. The curves of the spine become exaggerated in pregnancy; it will take time for the spine to return to its pregnancy shape and stability.
Recommended poses: Shalabasana (locust pose), Sarpasana (baby cobra), Dhanurasana (bow pose), Plank, Dolphin and Half chatturanga
Breastfeeding, carrying a newborn, pushing a stroller and general newborn care often leads to the chest collapsing inward and the shoulders rounding forward. Fatigue and emotional factors also add to the need for chest opening poses.
Recommended chest opening poses for postpartum are: Supported matsyasana, Ustrasana, Supported bridge or bridge with block between thighs, Supta virasana, Tabletop, Purvottanasana, Dhanurasana and Cat/Cow
Shoulder and Neck Stretches
Because of the tendency toward a sunken chest, the neck gets misaligned and thrusts forward, often leading to neck stiffness and discomfort in the shoulders. Many mothers also suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis in the wrists. Shoulder opening poses will help relieve some of this discomfort.
Recommended shoulder and neck poses for postpartum are: Basic neck and shoulder rolls, Gomukhasana arms, Garudasana arms and Namaste behind the back.
Rearranging life after baby can be exhausting and overwhelming. Even though new mothers show up to class to help rebuild their body, it is important to recognize the amount of strain and stress the women are experiencing and offer restorative poses to help replenish their energy. This may be the only time all day that a new mother is focusing on her own needs, so be generous with the restorative poses.
Recommended restorative poses for postpartum are: Supta baddha konasana, Supported matsyasana, Supported twist on bolster, Viparita karani (legs up the wall).
Even if you can only do 10 minutes of yoga poses, you are likely going to walk away feeling refreshed and renewed. Remember- caring for yourself will help you care for others. Welcome to this amazing journey into motherhood!