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Rebuild Your Strength with Postpartum Exercise

Marin Mommies presents a guest article by prenatal and postpartum physical therapist Alicia Willoughby.

Being a mom is really hard physical work and it requires strength and endurance to do the job. Most mothers will say that having a baby was when their physical condition started to decline, whether it be chronic pain and discomforts, the inability to run without peeing or the aesthetic issue of still looking pregnant four years later. Pregnancy and birth cause huge changes to a woman’s anatomy, but with proper guidance and dedication, a mother’s body can be strong and discomfort free.

During pregnancy and birth, the muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the spine and pelvis become stretched out and even torn or cut. This causes the brain’s connection to those muscles to become impaired or even lost completely, which means the brain cannot voluntarily activate these core muscles. Without these muscles performing optimally, the risk of pain and injury increases dramatically because the spine and pelvis are no longer being stabilized. Regaining control of these muscles is crucial for a healthy and happy postpartum mommy body.

One way to prevent the loss of core control is by actively using these muscles throughout pregnancy. Most women let the abdominal muscles fully relax, allowing the belly weight to pull the spine forward. This is one of the main causes of pregnancy-related back pain. Prenatal physical therapy focuses on maintaining good posture and safely keeping the core muscles active, which will decrease back and pelvic pain, maintain strength in the muscles that push the baby out, and set one up for an easier postpartum recovery.

What are the best exercises to do postpartum to become strong again? The answer is not simple because if your brain is no longer connected to your core, then there isn’t an exercise out there that will strengthen your core. You first have to reconnect your brain to these muscles and this is the basis of postpartum physical therapy. If a woman has difficulty activating her deep core muscles on command with my cues, then those muscles are not active while that woman is picking up her kids, running, or doing boot camp. This is the reason why your back may hurt to pick up your kids, why your knees might hurt when running, and why doing boot camp isn’t flattening your belly (hint: stop with the crunches)! Your core muscles are hibernating and we need the brain to wake them up!

Postpartum physical therapy can help women close abdominal separations, heal physical discomforts, allow one to take care of her kids without pain and return to her desired activity level without limitation. Beyond the physical benefits, I see mothers regain confidence in their body’s appearance, heal from traumatic birth experiences by regaining their control over their body and be able to handle the challenges of motherhood with more mental and emotional resilience. My passion is using my skills as a physical therapist to help you feel good in your amazing mommy body.

Alicia is an orthopedic and women's health physical therapist whose passion and specialty involves providing care for women during pregnancy, postpartum and then throughout a mother's life. She provides convenient and personalized services such as one-on-one treatments, classes and workshops. She can bring the clinic to you with a home visit or you can meet you at Pomegranate in San Anselmo for her weekly clinic hours. Visit her website at or call her at (415) 578-5524 to learn more.

Photo: iStockphoto