Kim Vopni has two boys, and she is the founder of EPI-NO Canada. We met through a twitter conversation about the damage that crunches can do, and I learned that she has been trained in diastasis recti rehab. Kim holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Western Ontario and a Post Graduate Diploma in Health and Fitness from Simon Fraser University. She is also a Trained Post Partum Doula which has many clients referring to her as The Fitness Doula. I was delighted when she consented to an interview for this blog, and the information she provides here backs up so much of what I’ve become passionate about!
1. If you had five minutes with a mom who hasn’t got her body back after having her last child years ago, how would you encourage her?
There has been so much mis-information or lack of information out there to help women regain the form and function that is often lost during pregnancy and childbirth. Women are doing what they think is right – the crunches, the bootcamps, the triathalon training but they are really creating more dysfunction in themselves and continuing to be discouraged by what they see in the mirror. They have not failed, they have just been misguided. If I had 5 minutes I would tell her to stop doing crunches of any kind and I would teach her how the core breath to allow her to engage the core correctly and encourage a return to normal function.
2. If you had five minutes with an expectant mom who is due in two weeks, how would you encourage her?
I would focus on teaching her what I call core breathing. I would advise her to work on learning to relax her pelvic floor (part of the core breath) and I would recommend she start doing perineal massage or using an EPI-NO. I would suggest positions for birth that use gravity, that allow the sacrum to move and that are more supportive of keeping the perineum intact.
3. You are known as @FitnessDoula on twitter, so what differences do you see in the birth experiences of moms who are in shape compared to moms who are not as fit?
I am a trained Postpartum Doula so I do not attend births. Most women become clients after they have given birth and it is my experience that women who incorporate exercise into their life before and during pregnancy are better prepared for the demands of childbirth. If you are conditioned and if you train your body in preparation for pregnancy and birth you will perform better and recover quicker. That being said, super fit people are not immune to the dysfunction that can develop in pregnancy. Women, and often super fit women, can often have a hard time relaxing so they develop a weak and unstable core because it is always ‘on’ Women often hold tension in their pelvic floor and when it comes time to give birth, if they can’t relax, the baby will meet that resistance and they are more likely to tear. Training for birth involves strengthening and stretching but it also involves relaxation and visualization.
4. Moms are encouraged to buy many things for their babies, but why should a mother invest in certain products for herself to improve her fitness and wellness for birth and beyond?
I’ve heard a line used many times over the last couple of years and it is almost overused but it is true – ‘like putting an oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others, you need to take care of you in order to take care of others.’ I think many women go into birth with fear but also with an attitude that ‘it will all work out in the end – my mom survived, millions of others have survived so I’ll be ok’. The reality is that while the women may have survived, they are now alive and suffering and often suffering in silence. Pregnancy and birth are miraculous but they can create huge dysfunction and health care professionals need to play a bigger role in educating women on how to better prepare, better perform and better recover. If part of giving birth better means investing in some physiotherapy sessions or in a pelvic floor product or in an abdominal support/exercise program then I believe that should be a priority. Core and pelvic floor dysfunction can be devastating and costly both time wise and financially. Paying for proactive, preventative products or services is well worth it in my opinion.
5. What is the best thing a mom can do to heal her core and get strong again after having a baby?
If I had to pick one I would say Rest Rest Rest – especially during the first week. If I am allowed to add to that I would say;
Breathe (in alignment) – you can do this seated or lying down so call it active rest – this coordinates the breath with the pelvic floor and the deep abdominals (the transversus abdominus)
- Become aware of posture – make sure the tailbone is not tucked under and that the posterior pelvic floor is not gripping. The bottom of rib cage should be in line with front of pelvis
- Wear a wide and comfortable abdominal binder. (Haven’t found the perfect one yet…) NOTE: an abdominal binder is not going to magically shrink your waist – it will help heal the connective tissue and encourage the abdominals to move back together but the key is to wear it as well as do your core exercise.
- Avoid mommy bootcamps!!!
- Avoid running and other high impact activities for 6 months
- See a pelvic floor physiotherapist within the first few months
6. What is your favorite core exercise and why? What is your least favorite?
The core exercise that I love is the bridge. I love it because it works the glutes which most women need, it can be done anywhere, it works well with the breath, you can add a ball between the thighs to incorporate the adductors, you can progress to lifting one leg off the floor… the possibilities are endless. It is also one of the exercises in the Pfilates (Pelvic Floor Pilates) program that I think is great! My least favourite core exercise is the crunch – it encourages a poochy tummy, it encourages rounded shoulders and forward head and it puts pressure on the pelvic floor – need I say more?