Transcript: Essential Breathing Strategies and Posture Exercises For Postpartum Fitness

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Essential Breathing Strategies and Posture Exercises For Postpartum Fitness and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Having a baby is a traumatic event in so many ways, right! Your body adjusts and changes so much during your pregnancy and now you’ve given birth, you need to ensure you take care of you and do what you can to return to normality.

For many women, issues such as bladder incontinence, pelvic floor weakness or prolapse occur and it’s a difficult time. In this episode of First Time Mum’s Chat, I’m speaking with Tonie Lough, a personal trainer and author of “Getting to the Core of Postpartum Fitness”. Tonie talks about specific exercises you can use to retrain your natural system of core strength and bladder control. I hope you enjoy the insights that Tonie shares and listen till the end to find out where you can get her ebook and videos.

Helen Thompson: Welcome Tonie to First Time Mum’s, I’m delighted to have you here. I’ve been looking forward to having a chat to you about your ebook and I will let you tell us about that and what your passion is and what got you started writing your ebook.

Tonie Lough: Excellent. Thank you for having me, Helen, I appreciate it. The ebook is called ‘Getting to the Core of Postpartum Fitness’ and I put it out there to try to make this type of training as accessible for any mom wherever she is, because there are two foundational steps that I really go on and on and on as far as what we can do in our daily lives and in our workouts.

But I came to this work based on personal experience that I had after I had my son. Bladder incontinence issues that I had, that I go into a little bit more in the book about the details at the worst of it, for me, that really what it did, was it put me in such a place of not knowing what my body was doing, not knowing what to do to help my body and it kind of halted my life for a time. I stopped working out, I stopped doing all these things that, are good for us and it got me on the path to figuring out what was it that my body needed? Was there information out there and thankfully I found that there was how to incorporate that into my life and into my activity.

And then, I just started, it was working for me and so over the last several years as a personal trainer, I’ve specialized in working with moms because of my own experience and it’s been really helpful because so many moms go through the same thing. Whether it’s the bladder incontinence or the diastasis, which is the separation in the ab muscles or prolapse, or just core weakness, like there’s just so many possible lingering effects from postpartum that I found that the stuff that I was learning was helping to address so many other things that my clients were experiencing as well.

Helen Thompson: I think that’s good because so many mums have gone through things and they think, help, what’s wrong with me, why am I suffering from this, I never had this before. And if they don’t know what it is and how they can do it, well having a book like yours is obviously a great way to help them to do that. So thank you for putting out a book for first time moms, because it comes from first hand experience.

Tonie Lough: Yeah, excellent thank you.

Helen Thompson: I’ve had a glance at your book and you have 10 chapters and I’ve actually had a very good look at it and they’re all about breasts and posture and stress and pelvic floor dysfunction and so many other things. I noticed with the breath. I just wanted to ask you, what are some of the benefits of whole body breathing? Cause I know that’s something that I need to do and I know my whole body breathing is not as good as it could be.

So what are some of the things I can do to improve that and what are the benefits?

Tonie Lough: Sure, absolutely that’s a great question and a really good point to make is that so many people do what is called dysfunctional breathing or stress breathing, and don’t necessarily fall into these categories of the postpartum physical conditions.

I mean, men can have the dysfunctional stress breathing and that’s really where we just kind of breathe in our higher chest. So, I teach the opposite of that in the book. And so stress breathing, we tend to have like neck and back, upper back or even chest issues. And it’s just kind of a short, more shallow breath.

Then what I teach in that whole body breathing is to get with your nice, good posture. Right. So you’re nice and tall and you’ve got lots of access to your torso, essentially and the whole body is taking nice, big, deep breaths and trying to feel the lower belly expand first and then the ribs and chest. And it can be surprisingly difficult, particularly for a postpartum mom where say, you know, the lower belly muscles, you just might not have the nerves firing right! You might not even feel the movement quite so much. And so I often tell my clients to try at night at bedtime, after the kids have gone to bed. So you’ve got some nice, quiet time to really relax, because if you think a child’s going to come and jump on you immediately, there’s always a little bit of tension there.

And to start doing it with laying down. And a good kind of tangible clue or hint that I give is to put your hand on your chest and then a hand on your lower belly. So you’ve got both hands on the front of you and then try to see if you can make the lower belly hand move before the upper hand that’s on the chest.

And it can be a little bit of a mind game, but once you get it, then you get it. And so on the exhale, that’s the same thing. So on the inhale, you inhale. The lower belly expands first, and then the upper hand does. The ribs, are obviously part of the breath. And then on the exhale, try to exhale with the lower hand contracting first and then the upper hand.

And so it’s really a timing thing that we work on. Like I said, after bedtime. We work on it in times of stress. If you’re stressed, sitting at your desk. We work on it in daily habits, when you’re brushing your teeth or when you’re in the shower and then we also work on it with exercise, working that type of breathing into our workouts.

And then it starts to really stick, you know, when you’re doing it in all of those times.

Helen Thompson: I’ve just tried it while you were doing that and I find it quite hard to do because I’m so used to my tummy going out rather than going in. And I’ve always found that quite hard to do. And I’m going to practice that at home I think.

Tonie Lough: Practice it starting laying down because as soon as we’re sitting up or standing, some of our muscles are engaged just to hold us upright, right and so when we’re laying down, then you begin to have a little bit more access. Also one of the hints that I give that is not original for me, I got it from Dr. Sarah Ellis Deval. She’s amazing in postpartum health, but to take your tongue off the top of your mouth, when you’re trying to relax through the lower belly through the pelvic floor, because there actually is an embryo logical connection between the two. And so if there’s tension in the jaw then oftentimes there’s tension in the pelvic floor and lower belly and vice versa and so then if it’s relaxed through the jaw, through the tongue, through the mouth, then you have more access to the musculature through the pelvic floor and the lower abs.

But again, always, always try to start the first time laying down just because it makes it much, much easier. And if you don’t take your tongue off the top of your mouth, even if it’s relaxed on the top of your mouth, but oftentimes this is one of those really funny things that you’re like, you probably never thought about what your tongue is doing throughout the day but oftentimes it’s probably kind of pushed up towards the top of your mouth. Over the next few days see if you find it there. Cause oftentimes it is. And so just get it in a relaxed state, either on the top of your mouth or on the bottom of your mouth.

Helen Thompson: It’s interesting cause when you see people pushing bikes up the hill, you see people actually sticking their tongue out. I don’t know if that’s got anything to do with what you’re saying? I just thought of that.

Tonie Lough: Yeah, that is really interesting that you say that. I actually just in the last few weeks saw an article and I didn’t read it. I’m interested in the thinking of that, about the athletes that stick their tongue out when they’re performing their sport. Yeah and that is something I would like to delve further into.

Helen Thompson: So you’ve mentioned a bit about posture. Here’s me sort of sitting slouched up. I’m trying to sit up straight, observing what you’re doing. So posture is something I know I’m bad at because I get a lot of lower back pain and I noticed that when I sit up and I lift my leg up behind my back it stretches the muscles in my leg and I actually feel a lot better from that. So what tips have you got on posture, particularly for postpartum.

Tonie Lough: Yeah, the very first thing that I say about posture is to try standing nice and tall through your neck. And so once we do that, we’ve got the curvatures, the natural curvatures and our spine. Once we do that, we kind of get those more into the position that they’re supposed to be in and more aligned and so it kind of creates a good base of alignment through the whole spine, which is through the shoulders, through the ribs. So that is the very first thing that I do is just tell people to try to stand tall through the neck and you bring your chin in just a little bit. Not so much that you’re at double chin, because nobody wants to walk around like that, but that your chin is the opposite of jutting out. And that is a major problem with posture is because we tend to kind of jut out. You know, when we sit a lot, we kind of go into that slouch position.

When our shoulders slouch, our chin kind of comes forward a little bit more, and that creates the same action as the pelvis, actually. So then we’re kind of creating a C out of our spine because we’re forward at the jaw and then we’re kind of tacked at the pelvis. And so there’s a lot that you can do as far as integrating. We do a lot of habit awareness through the book and again, integrating it in our workouts, but the very first thing you want to do is go tall through the neck, bring the chin in just a little bit, so you’re the opposite of the jutting chin. And then you just kind of relax your shoulders down, away from your ears. Cause that kind of tight stress breathing that we were talking about kind of causes our shoulders to raise up just a little bit. And so you try to relax your shoulders and bring them away from your ears.

And then I’ve got some videos, as part of the book that really talk about where you’re finding your rib cage for your neutral, for your natural position and for your pelvis. And so it can be a little bit different for everybody, but I’ve got the really quick, short video on posture in the book and it’s tools for how to use your hands to find your neutral. It’s kind of confusing if you’re just listening to it, but with the video again, I’ll show you where to put your hand on your body, on your hips, on your ribs to kind of find where your neutral is.

Helen Thompson: With the videos. I think that would be a great tip, especially for people like me, who, who need to be handheld when it comes to getting my body into the right position. Cause I I’m very aware of my own body, but sometimes if somebody is telling me to do something, my body doesn’t quite understand what it’s got to do.

Tonie Lough: Yeah, absolutely and you’re so not alone, you know, we just get accustomed and our body gets accustomed to what we do on a daily basis. And so really getting it out of that can really make your nervous system go, wait, what, what are you trying to tell me to do? I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me to do, and that just makes it more difficult and so that’s what I have found with training these women over the years, is, you have to be able to feel it in your own body. And so that’s what I cue a lot in the videos.

And I say, you know, I’m trying to get in your head so that you hear the cues. It’s the same cues. It’s the tall through the neck, shoulders away from the ears, rib cage lined up over your pelvis, pelvis in neutral, you know, and I just say it over and over and over again, but then we’ll also give, you know where to poke on the body.

This is where we want you to be poking externally to kind of turn it on internally. And so we’ll walk through that step too. So there’s a posture specific video, a breathing specific video and then there’s the eight weeks of exercise videos, and then a couple other tips and tricks and cores and that type of thing.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. I actually printed out the breathing one because I thought when I looked at it, I’ve got to practice this. So I printed that page out. I haven’t started yet, but I thought I’d have a chat to you first and then start. So I’ll give you feedback to how I’ve gone with it.

Stress is always one that moms have with postpartum. It’s one of those things that I know people say, oh, I’m not stressed. I’m feeling fine, but I know from experience of speaking to moms, I know stress can be a big one and especially after having a baby and you’re going through all this, you’re going through all the problems with the bladder, whatever else you’re going through.

Stress on top of that can be hard. How can we be more aware of our stress levels to help with our life? Cause I think that’s a huge one.

Tonie Lough: Yeah, it is, it’s such a big thing. And like you said, there’s just so much to think about. And so if you’re adding the physical stress on top of the daily stress and the no sleep stress and the feeding stress and you know, all of that stuff, it just gets to be so overwhelming and then things have to go, right.

And so then you’re no longer well fine, I’m just going to back burner the bladder incontinence. I’m going to back burner this, the workout because you have to focus on things like the feeding and the sleeping. Right. So I absolutely, totally, I was there, I get it. And you know, the self care sometimes even gets a bad rap now because we do hear so much about it.

So people have had enough, fine, don’t tell me any more about self care. And so I tried to make it as simple as possible. Add in one tiny little thing. If it’s 10, 20 minutes, something short and small a week, that is some self care. If it’s a bath, if it’s taking time to read or nap or something along those lines because there are so many benefits to being able to have even a short period of time to yourself.

But the interesting thing about the breathing is that the breathing, if you’re doing the whole body breathing, it kicks on your parasympathetic system, which is our rest, restore, relaxing, regrow system. And so if you are in the midst of, the temper tantrum on no sleep while everybody’s hungry. Being able to have that resource, that tool of the deep breathing to be able to calm you down in the moment, I have found personally is just absolutely invaluable because it just gets you and your tiny little centered space, a little bit more calm.

I mean, there’ve been times it was funny actually, when my son when he was younger and having the temper tantrum. Okay, you go over there, I’m going to go over here. I need to take a breath. I’m taking my breathing and I’m calming myself down. And then I would say, you know, you need to take your deep breaths.

And there were a few years there where he would go purposely showing me the click and stress breathing. I’m not going to do your deep breathing, I’m only going to do this stress breathing stuff. It’s funnier now than it was at the moment.

Helen Thompson: But it does work cause I’ve had kids, who’ve had temper tantrums and I’ve had 20 kids, not having temper tantrums, but just asking constant questions when I’m trying to do something else, and I’ve just sat them all down and I said, look, let us just have a breathing exercise or let’s just have a stress free time and sit down and have a breathe or do this like the head shoulders, knees and toes. And I just do it really slowly. I don’t say anything I just sit there and it really diffuses it completely because they’re relaxing. Cause it’s taking their mind off things and they’re just totally relaxing.

Tonie Lough: Absolutely and in that temper tantrum or stress moment or whatever it is, we’re in the fight or flight mode. We’re in that sympathetic, right and you can’t be in both modes at the same time. So if you’re living in that stress, cortisol, sympathetic state in the moment, then once you start doing the breathing and the parasympathetic, which is the opposite, the balancing aspect of it, kicks on with the breathing, then it has to bring down the stress.

That’s just the function of the body. That’s what it will do. And so it’ll bring down that sympathetic system and kind of get them more into a balance. And it does that there’s the Vegas nerve, which goes from the brain all the way to most of the internal organs. And when you take these deep breaths, if you’re able to get the rib cage and the lower abdomen working, and we want the back in the ribs, it is a whole body breathing. Then it triggers the vagus nerve to release calming hormones and chemicals throughout all those organs that it’s connected to. So it’s a hard wired function of the body for the breath to be able to be a stress reliever.

Helen Thompson: It’s interesting, you talk about the Vegas nerve because I teach baby massage and the Vegas nerve comes up a lot and I knew it was to do with the breath, but you’ve explained you’ve expanded it in a lot more detail for me, so now when I teach, I’ll be able to explain that a lot more. So thank you. You’ve given me a good tip on that one. I appreciate that.

Tonie Lough: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s impressive. The body is all connected.

Helen Thompson: If we listen to our bodies and we communicate with our bodies, we learn so much.

The other one I wanted to talk to you about is pelvic floor dysfunction because I know that your pelvic floor, even before giving birth, even before you’re pregnant, your pelvic floor is so important and so many people say to me, oh, you need to work on your pelvic floor muscles.

Is it to do with bladder incontinence and core weakness and all that? Is that what the pelvic floor dysfunction is all about?

Tonie Lough: The pelvic floor dysfunction is a broad term for a lot of things that can be going on with the pelvic floor, whether it’s, weak muscles or overly tight muscles, or if it’s a prolapse or, any number of issues through the pelvic floor.The pelvic floor is intimately connected with the core as well.

So, they’re affected by each other, all day, every day. And so the interesting thing about pelvic floor dysfunction is that oftentimes we’re told, say for bladder incontinence, or we assume whether we’re told or not that it is because we have a weak pelvic floor because we gave birth or like you said, it can absolutely happen even prior to giving birth or pregnancy.

And what often happens is our pelvic floor, because of that embryological connection with the mouth, it holds a lot of our stress. So if we’re clenching our teeth because we’re stressed, then most of the time our pelvic floor is also in an overly tight clenched, if you will position. And so.

With the whole body breathing, we want the ribs, we want the abs, the lower abs, the back, the side ribs and the pelvic floor to expand, be able to expand and relax, and then also contract on command on our command. And so if you’ve got an overly tight pelvic floor, it can be really hard to just begin and do that.

And that’s where the tips like taking your tongue off the top of your mouth, doing it at night when you’re laying down and then begin to see, if on the inhale, if you can get nice relaxation through the pelvic floor. And so this isn’t just key goals and that’s where a lot of people think, oh, if I have any type of pelvic floor dysfunction, if I do Kegels, which is a contraction of the pelvic floor, then I’ll be fine and everything’s great. Well, if you’re contracting an already contracted muscle, you’re not going to get anything else out of it. They can’t contract and there’s only so far it can contract. And so if you’re trying to do Kegels to contract, then you’re getting nothing more from it. It can sometimes cause more pain if that’s one of your symptoms.

And so when we integrate the breathing and the posture with the exercises and put it altogether in a whole body, then we can relax an overly tight pelvic floor. And then contract a weak pelvic floor. So we get the muscles to do the function that they’re supposed to be able to do and fully relax and fully contract.

And so I know I can start to sound a little bit technical when we’re just talking about it, but with the videos, that’s where I go step by step. As I recall, I don’t think it’s a Kegel specific video. I think it was one of the tips videos, but I do go over Kegels and how to integrate them with the breathing so that you can get the most out of them.

Cause there is actually quite a bit more to them than, just stopping the flow of urine or whatever it is that some doctors say to do for them. So, yeah, the breathing and the posture, it’s interesting. I know I just keep coming back to it, but it is so foundational. Those are the two things really that, because if you’re not in good posture you oftentimes won’t have access any way to the pelvic floor muscles. If you’re in, what’s considered a posterior pelvic tilt, it kind of squishes the pelvic floor muscles together. So they’re not going to respond to your signal of relax and contract quite the same way as they would, if your posture was nice and tall and your pelvis was in neutral. So I walk through all of it through the video. So I do give some step-by-step through the content of the book, because everybody learns differently. Right. And so there’s, step-by-steps in the content, but then in the videos I walk you through it. Through, the relaxing, through the breathing, when and how to breathe, on what movements and, and what it feels like, and, and where to poke, to make sure that you can feel it in the correct spot. So, yeah, I try to make it as accessible and understandable as possible.

Helen Thompson: What are some of the common postpartum conditions that we haven’t discussed that some mom might be going through and she might not know what they are.

Tonie Lough: Well, because bladder experience was my experience and it’s also the number one thing that clients come to me for, bladder incontinence is the one that I do tend to talk the most about, like we have done. And then that the diastasis is the separation of the abdominal muscles.

Everybody’s body has to go through in order to make room for the baby. And it just depends on if it goes back together afterwards. You can have a good indication of whether or not you have it, if, when you’re laying down and you try to do like a small crunch up like a sit up, if there’s a tent or a doming looking action through the middle of your abdomen, then that’s a good indication that you might have a diastasis that’s lingering.

And we address that in the book and then prolapse is part of the pelvic floor dysfunction when organs actually start to descend through the rectum, the cervix, the vaginal canal. And that is really a big subject, I guess I would say because there are degrees to it.

If somebody has a lesser degree prolapse and absolutely they can do the exercises in the book and the higher degrees of the prolapse, I do tend to recommend out for pelvic floor physical therapy which I do recommend for everybody, if they have access to it. Pelvic floor physical therapy after pregnancy is amazing in, what you were talking about earlier in with the awareness.

And then, knowing if you have a pelvic floor that’s more weak or do you have a pelvic floor that’s more on the overly tight kind of spectrum of it. So I highly recommend that. No.

Helen Thompson: So my pelvic floor, I don’t think it’s brilliant, but I don’t think I’ve got a really weak one because I think if I did, I’d be having bladder incontinence. I’m going to check your book out and to see what I need to do. So I can understand what’s going on and I’m looking forward to looking at your videos.

Tonie Lough: Excellent. That’s fantastic. Yeah, I appreciate the feedback. I love it.

Helen Thompson: I’ll definitely give you feedback because I think it’s also good for other moms to have the feedback. We’ve covered a lot of ground here and so are there any final postpartum tips and tricks.

Tonie Lough: You know, the message that I try to get out most to moms is that it can be done. So often we hear this is just what happens after you have a baby and you just have to live with whatever the consequences are. You know, you can have a knee surgery and get more physical therapy than you do after having had a baby. And so, because so many moms just kind of live with it and once you feel like this is just what you have to live with it, then that can create such a space of despair and sadness. And there’s a lot of other things that can then become associated with that such as like the postpartum depression and that type of thing. And so the main message that I try to get out to moms is just, there is something that you can do. There’s always something that you can do, whether it gets you a hundred percent cured or even 80% cured, at 60, it’s better.

There can be improvement. And so just don’t despair, don’t give up, don’t throw in the towel. And sometimes if you’ve got three kiddos under the age of five, sometimes you do have to wait a second, right? Like sometimes you just have to focus on the task at hand. And I’ve had clients that have said, right now is not the time for me. I will do it maybe in six months or a year, try to set a date in the future, that is a time when you feel that you’ll be more able to address the symptoms going on through your body, but do know that you don’t have to live with them forever. There is something that you can do.

Helen Thompson: You’ve given us so many wonderful tips about your book, and you’ve told us so many things about it so if somebody listening wants to get in touch with you, how do they do that?

Tonie Lough: So ‘The Getting to the Core of Postpartum Fitness’ is the name of the ebook it’s available on Amazon Kindle. It’s also available at my website. My website is Mom Home Fitness. The URL is, all spelled out.

I’m on Facebook, mom, home fitness, and then on Instagram at mom underscore home underscore fitness. And if you don’t have an Amazon Kindle it has to be digital because of all the videos, it can’t be a book, obviously. I know there are apps for iPhones that you can download so that you can read a Kindle, but then you can also get a PDF at my website.

Helen Thompson: Thank you so much, Tonie, I’ve learned so much from you and thank you so much for being on this podcast. And I look forward to reading your book and giving you some feedback.

Tonie Lough: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I appreciate being on the podcast and any and all feedback. Thanks so much.