Page One

For that dazzling postpartum impression

By Sari Friedman Special to the Daily Planet
Friday January 11, 2002

“My body had become a stranger to me,” writes Helene Byrne, a dance and fitness professional who, after giving birth to her first child, wanted to get back into her original shape as fast as possible.  

“Everything felt disorganized and disconnected,” she says. “Nothing worked well.”  

The postpartum reconditioning program Helene Byrne developed for herself succeeded to her satisfaction, and resulted in a book: “Exercise After Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best,” just out from Celestial Arts in Berkeley.  

Byrne’s program focuses on realigning the spine, restoring muscle tone, and increasing core strength.  

While most parts of the body recover naturally from the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth, muscle tissue does not rebound as easily, which is why special efforts at muscle stimulation are important.  

A pregnant woman’s abdominal muscles, for example, stretch so much they become unavailable for spine support. After giving birth, most women’s abdominal muscles can no longer support her spine and internal organs. (It’s a good thing babies are cute.) 

Women who have given birth vaginally face additional trauma to their pelvic floor which can result in conditions such as uterine and/or bladder prolapse. These conditions are in addition to non-muscular changes from pregnancy and birthing, such as compression on the vertebrae and intervertebral discs and increased laxity of the ligaments. A woman is much more prone to injury and pain at this time.  

The first five chapters of Exercise After Pregnancy describe the ways women’s bodies are altered by pregnancy and childbirth. Basic information, such as where the “Bikini Triangle” is, and how to do a “Super Kegel,” are explained.  

Chapters five through eight supply a comprehensive series of exercises to help with specific issues such as lower back strain. These chapters also focus on building core strength.  

Chapter nine contains a “Test for Abdominal Separation” and a “Test for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” There’s also information on which types of baby carriers can lead to additional muscle strain (Byrne says most baby frontbacks are problematic), and the optimal ways to breast feed and lift. 

While the wording in Exercise After Pregnancy contains a lot of jargon (such as “posterior tilt” and “kyphotic posture” – a definitions section would have been helpful), the exercise instructions are clearly, interestingly, and elegantly presented; the annotated illustrations are easy to understand, nice to look at, and well-explained; and the photographs are well laid out and helpful. The models – voluptuously fit new mothers all – are simply beautiful.  

But it’s the exercises themselves – some of which have cute names such as “Superwoman” and “The Egg” – which get my highest raves … and I say this after trying every position, squeeze and thrust. I’m not recently postpartum (though I couldn’t forget what being postpartum feels like if I tried.) The positions in Exercise After Pregnancy felt remarkably pleasurable, fun, straightforward and comfortable. 

Helene Byrne realizes, after a few months, that she won’t get into her exact pre-baby shape, but she still feels that her reconditioned and again fit body is wonderful.  

“By accepting that my body was just how Mother Nature intended it to be,” Helene Byrne writes, “I could appreciate what I had: A fit and beautiful ‘mommy body.’” Looking at my old clothes hanging in the closet was no longer devastating.” 

I hope Byrne’s next book is about stretch marks.