How and why you need to reset your breathing after having a baby.
Updated: Jan 9, 2019
In my experience the most important exercise for mums is Breathing - and yes, it really is an exercise when you focus and do it in an intentional way.
The right kind of breath will set the foundation for good posture and a strong, well functioning core and pelvic floor. This is especially important if you have Diastasis, suffer from any kind of leaking when sneezing, running or jumping, Pelvic Organ Prolapse or any kind of pelvic floor stress.
We breathe on average about 24,000 times per day, so giving your breathing some attention can make a big difference in how your body responds to exercise and how you feel .
Here is WHY this type of breathing is so important and How it can help support your core and pelvic floor.
During pregancy the internal organs get pushed up into our chests to make room for the baby.
This compresses the diaphram, squashes the lungs and leads to mixed up breathing patterns.
It isn't uncommon for mums (and other people) to have what is called Paradoxical Breathing. This is just a fancy way of saying we breathe shallowly into our chest and shoulders and often have little no pelvic floor movement at all, or we become belly breathers- bulging the tummy out as we inhale .
After the birth of my second child and I discovered I had a Diastasis, I knew I had to start recovering and the very beginning was with my breathing.
I had a moment (or two or three) of feeling defeated and overwhelmed at the journey ahead of me.
I remember thinking "Oh crap!- my body is so messed up ,now I can't even breathe right!"
Yes, I had a little pity party for myself, but then I buckled down and learned what I needed know to get better and this is what I am sharing with you here.
So How should we be breathing?
Let me start by saying that if you are here and breathing, you are doing it right. Let's get rid of the guilt and that label of "breathing wrong".
Let's focus instead on learning to breathe in a way that will also support your core and pelvic floor and aid your body's road to recovery.
To understand what is going on when we breathe and what we want to happen, we need to start with some anatomy (I am keeping this super simple, so if you hate anatomy, bear with me for a little bit.)
Your deep core muscles are more than just your abdominals. They extend from the pelvic floor all the way up to your diaphram.
If you think of the deep core muscles like a tin can.
The pelvic floor is at the bottom, the back of the core is supported by the multifidus muscles, With the transverse ,obliques and retcus abdominals at the front. Capping off the top is your diaphram.
They are all interconnected and should work together as the central stability system and powerhouse for your body.
Paradoxical breathing disrupts their function and ablilty to in a work syncronised pattern with each other.
The Breath cycle
When you inhale, your diaphram should expand out (360 degrees) like an umbrella opening . You should feel the muscles in your upper back stretch open as your lungs fill up with air, and your abdominals begin to work.
Your chest will also move as you breathe in and your belly will expand, but in a much smaller movements. (They should not be the main places you breathe into).
As you exhale, the diaphram contracts up , pulling your ribs in and down, and pressing the air out of your lungs.
The pelvic floor should mirror the movement of your diapharm (remember they are connected via the core cannister). As you inhale, the pelvic floor should expand and open and it should gently contract and lift on the exhale.
It is important not to push down or force the pelvic floor open as we inhale. It should be a gentle movement, like a jellyfish swimming. The pelvic floor should lift naturally as we exhale.
Often with new mums, this syncronised movent of the diaphram and pelvic floor is mucked up.
The lung compression from pregnancy messes with your ability to take a full 360 degree breath, while being pregnant and giving birth can cause trauma to the pelvic floor (yes -even if you had a c-section!).
The 360 Breath
The full breath with pelvic floor connection is often callled a Core-Breath, Piston Breathing (because the diaphram and pelvic floor pump up and down together like a piston) or my favourite, the 360-Connection Breath (beause of the 360 degree expansion of the diaphram all the way around).
Here's your how to:
Set your posture. Your core works best with your ribs over your hips, so let's start by lying down or sitting with a neutral spine and stacking your ribs over your hips.
Put your hands on the sides your ribs and breathe in. We want to feel the ribs open sideways as your lungs inflate.
On your next breath in, focus on sending the air into your back and feel your "umbrella" open.
Repeat this for a few breaths and really feel the movement of your diaphram.
Once you have your "Umbrella" opening fully, you can turn your attention towards the pelvic floor.
Inhale and try to relax and open your pelvic floor.
It's really important you don't push down and force it open, especially if you have pelvic organ prolaspse, diastasis or urinary incontinence.
Pushing and straining down on the pelvic floor can make all of these conditions worse and should be avoided at all costs.
A nice big inhale will not overly stress your pelvic floor so don't be scared to breathe deeply.
Don't try to control the movement at this stage, just notice the muscles releasing from their stretch and contracting to their resting postions.
The next step is to add an intentional pelvic floor contraction to your exhale. Breathe into your back and feel your pelvic floor relax and expand at the same time.
As you exhale, actively contract your pelvic floor gently- about 30% is what we are looking for.
This contraction or kegel has 2 parts. The best desription I have heard is to think of it like a gun on a tank- you want to retract the gun, then lift.
Don't squeeze your Butt! . We want only the pelvic floor to do the work as we try reconnect and regain consious control.
A full 360 breath connected to the pelvic floor is something that takes practice. Our end goal is that movent of the diaphram and pelvic floor will syncronise and become automatic so you don't have to think about it.
Be patient with yourself, remember that pregnancy and birth can disrupt the signals from the nervous system, so the brain has to relearn these connections. (It took me about two weeks of 360 breathing to relearn the active control of my pelvic floor after my second c-section).
The 360 Breath is something that you can start to practice as soon after birth as you feel able to. Regaining control and connection to your pelvic floor will help fast-track your recovery and is always the first exercise I teach in my mums.