Gwen Jorgensen’s pelvic health PT offers tips on how new moms can get their post-baby bodies back on track.
Jorgensen had a “relatively easy pregnancy,” she says, though she was lethargic the first trimester, had some food aversions and the only time she felt good was when she was outside for a walk or run. “I remember Pat would sometimes get worried because I’d go for a run, and I’d be gone for a long time, like maybe two hours,” she says. Past that first trimester, though, she was able to train basically throughout it—she even rode her bike the day she went into the hospital. She was able to get up to 100 miles per week for a few of the weeks. “As I got bigger, it was slower. I just felt like I had an internal regulator—I just couldn’t go any faster,” she says.
The delivery was a difficult experience—she was almost two weeks late and had to be induced. Overall, it took more than 48 hours to get Stanley out—that included using a balloon to help her dilate, 4.5 hours of pushing once she got to 10 centimeters and then using a vacuum to finally pull him out. It took the doctors more than an hour to stitch her up, and she had to stay longer in the hospital because of high blood pressure and a fever. She returned a few days later because some of her sutures came out. (The difficult labor and delivery make Jorgensen admit that she’s probably only willing to give birth one more try—she and Lemieux want a large family, but it might come via adoption.)
Soon after giving birth, Jorgensen started seeing a pelvic health physical therapist, who helped her to activate some small but important muscles that had been stretched out or “shut down” because of pregnancy. Her transverse abdominis and multifidus were two muscles that weren’t correctly “firing” for her, so she learned these two exercises to help wake them back up and utilize them in workouts. “Our bodies in general are really good at compensating,” she says. “When something shuts down, we have something else take over, and you can kind of fake it until you make it. I’ve just been having to go back and be very diligent about making sure that I’m using the correct muscles in all my exercises.”
Jorgensen’s pelvic health physical therapist, Jessica Dorrington, P.T., M.P.T., P.R.P.C., explains how to activate those two inner core muscles.
To activate the transverse abdominis, lie on your back. Place a hand on the inside of the hip bone in the front. Take a breath in, and gently let your belly rise to the ceiling. As you exhale, draw your belly button in to your spine one inch. You should feel a gentle tightening under your fingers, but if your fingers pop up to the ceiling, then you are doing too much.
It takes about two weeks for the brain-to-muscle coordination to happen—so practice away! Eventually your body will do this automatically. Once you have the hang of it, activate it before each repetition of your hip strengthening, gym routine, core exercises, lifting and your daily movements, or when going from sitting to standing.
This is a little muscle in the back that stabilizes when you rotate and when you bring your spine back up from bending forward. To find the muscle, it’s a little more difficult. Lie on your stomach, with a pillow underneath your hips. Think about starting to lift your tailbone up to your belt line. This should tighten your lower back muscles slightly without arching your lower back.
Once you have this down, you can challenge it side to side. In the same position, place both hands under your hip bones. Keep equal pressure on both hands and pull your tailbone up to your belt line and then bend one knee, making sure to not let your hip drop into one hand. If that’s easy, start initiating a leg lift off the ground, but pretend your leg is 1,000 pounds so you are just lifting it enough to start the motion.
Don’t have time to lie down during the day? No worries. Stand with your back next to the wall, feet about 8 inches away, knees softly bent. Lift tailbone to belt line gently without arching the lower back and then press your elbow into the wall for five seconds, 10 times. Repeat on the other side.