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day 1 to week 3
You can begin the following gentle exercises and stretches the day after delivery with your physician’s approval.
1. Kegels Contract the muscles around the vagina (imagine you are stopping a stream of urine) and hold for 10 seconds, then slowly release. Aim for 5 sets of 10 reps at a time; do 3–4 times during the day. Strengthens pelvic-floor muscles.
2. Standing Shoulder Blade Pinches To work on posture, stand with your feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked, arms relaxed by your sides. Contract your abdominals to bring your pelvis into neutral alignment. Keeping shoulders relaxed, squeeze your shoulder blades down and back as if trying to hold a pencil between them. Begin with 10–15 reps, building to 2 sets of 20 reps. Strengthens upper-back muscles.
3. Cat Back Stretch Begin on all fours, knees under hips and arms under shoulders, back straight and in a neutral position. Inhale, then exhale and round spine up toward the ceiling, tucking tailbone underneath and relaxing your head and neck. Inhale and return to just past the neutral position, slightly arching spine, head up. Do 4–6 reps. Stretches back muscles and strengthens abdominals.
4. Belly Breathing Lie on your back in bed or on the floor, knees bent, feet flat. Inhale and expand your abdomen, then contract abs as tightly as possible, pulling navel in toward your spine. At the same time, tilt pelvis upward, bringing hips toward lower ribs. Begin with 10 reps and aim for at least 15 reps per day. When you can do 15 reps, begin to lift head, neck and shoulders up with each ab contraction. Strengthens abdominals.
5. Hamstring Stretch Lying flat in bed or on the floor, bend your right knee in toward your chest, and wrap a towel around arch of the right foot. Holding an end in each hand, straighten leg in the air until you feel a stretch in the rear of the thigh. Hold for 20–30 seconds, then point and flex your foot 10 times to begin to loosen calves. Repeat with other leg. Stretches hamstrings and calves.
(You also can include any other light stretching for major muscles: quadriceps, upper and lower back, chest and shoulders.)
Continue with exercises 1–5; add or substitute some of the exercises listed below as you are ready.
6. All-Fours Belly Breathing Begin on all fours, knees under hips and arms under shoulders. Inhale, then exhale as you contract abs and release. Do 10 reps, building to 20. Strengthens abdominals.