I just had a baby 2 months ago. And I’ve pretty much been excited to workout intensely since I was approx 6 weeks pregnant and feeling like complete crap. Something about the sound of a barbell slamming into the floor (I do crossfit) and sore muscles makes my heart really happy. Though I continued to exercise throughout my whole pregnancy, it just wasn’t the same.
After my first baby I returned to intense exercise 6 weeks after her birth. Since I had been cleared by my midwife I figured that was the thing I should do.
But as it turns out… that’s maybe not the smartest idea.
Not only can rushing back to intense exercise cause immediate pain and injury it can also cause issues that last for months or years after the birth of your child if you’re not careful.
I don’t say these things to scare you. I say them because no one told me this after my first daughter. I jumped right back into Crossfit and never once did anyone stop me and say hey… here are a few things you should know to keep yourself safe.
So Hey there friend… here are a few things you should know to keep your postpartum body SAFE and healthy.
You don’t have to wait 6 weeks to begin LIGHT activity.
Now I’m not your doctor so this might be a question you want to pose to them. BUT if you’re feeling really good a few weeks after giving birth it’s totally ok to begin some very light activity.
I’m talking short walks (increasing the length as it feels good), stretching, light yoga, and basic bodyweight movements.
You’re going to super tired these first few weeks so rest as much as you can, but if you’re feeling like you want to do something, take a walk and see how that feels, do some LIGHT work with a resistance band or dumbells.
Nothing crazy at this point
You PROBABLY won’t be ready at 6 weeks postpartum to begin intense activity.
For some reason in our culture 6-8 weeks tends to be this magic amount of time we are expected to heal and be good to go after having a baby.
Just because your OB/midwife gives you the ok to exercise again does not necessarily mean that your body is going to be ready to lift heavy weights, do box jumps, run, etc. And even if you FEEL really good your body is still healing from 9 months of carrying a human around and then pushing it out of your vagina.
This takes a toll on your body.
Too much too soon might seem ok at the time but SO MANY women I’ve come across have issues down the road like urine leakage, back pain and abdominal separation that could have been prevented/minimized by taking a little more time to let their bodies heal.
Bottom line: Ease into it, take it slow and remember that you have nothing to prove.
Consider seeing a physical therapist that specializes in women’s issues
Yes this is a real thing. Yes you should do it.
In many countries it is commonplace for women to get cleared from both their OB/midwife AND a women’s specific physical therapist before returning to exercise. But here in the U.S. if I mention that seeing a physical therapist post birth to a friend they look at me like I’m a crazy person. They’ve never heard of this.
A physical therapist who specializes in women’s issues (or a pelvic physiotherapist) can evaluate your pelvic floor strength, they can see if you have any abdominal separation (more about that in a second), help with back pain, and give you specific exercises to help you strengthen your core/pelvic floor.
Not sure where to find one in your area? Check HERE. And make sure to ask if they do a free consultation. Some do and it’s totally worth taking advantage of that!
Think it might be awkward to talk with someone about issues you may be having? Remember a whole room full of people just watched you push a human out of your vagina. You’ve got this.
Be careful to avoid injury
You’ve probably heard of the hormone relaxin by now? Your body secreted it during pregnancy to helps relax your ligaments in your pelvis allowing the baby to grow and eventually make its exit.
If you’re a nursing mama your levels of relaxin will continue to be high for months after birth. This means your ligaments could stretch too far allowing your body to sustain injury.
So watch how much weight you’re lifting and listen to your body. If something hurts (knees, hips, back) back it down or stop completely until it doesn’t hurt.
Exhaustion is a real thing. Take it easy on yourself.
One of the big things I struggle with when having a baby is finding the balance between wanting to get exercise in on a particular day and being SO FREAKING EXHAUSTING I can’t imagine doing anything the resembles exercise.
I completely get how sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
It. Is. Terrible.
And just when it seems like you’re getting sleep again and life is settling down BAM growth spurt, teething, night terrors, you name it hits and you’re back to being exhausted.
I think there are days where it is worth pushing through the tired and getting some form of exercise in (even a walk) because, for me at least, it can give me energy and totally improve my mood. And then there are days where I just need to rest my body.
Be kind to yourself. Someday very soon your kid will be sleeping through the night and you will feel glorious enough to exercises consistently again. In the meantime, take it day by day.
Don’t let the fear of “never getting your body back” drive you.
THIS. I struggle with this.
Will I be able to lift heavy weights again?
Will I be able to consistently get back to my workout class again?
Will I ever fit in those jeans I love so much again?
The answer is yes. I know this to be true because I’ve seen myself recover from one pregnancy and birth only to be fitter and healthier (physically AND mentally) than I was pre-pregnancy. I know that if I set my mind to something, if it’s important to me, if living that lifestyle of health is ingrained in me then yes it will all come back.
Probably not this month, or even next. But eventually
So while you’re on the road to recovery don’t let some crazy fear that you’re never going to bounce back occupy space in your brain. If it’s important to you then you’ll make it happen. In time.
No traditional core exercises
After you have a baby your core is weak as shit. You get a nice reminder of this every time you try to get yourself out of bed or off the couch. So it’s only natural to have the thought that you should do some ab exercises to strengthen it.
At least not the core exercises you’re accustomed to like sit ups, leg lifts, and planks.
Inside of thinking about training your abs think about training your ASS. A strong posterior chain helps your entire system function more effectively.
I have seen women go from having a 2 finger separation between their rectus abdominus muscles to a 4 finger separation simply because they were unaware of the separation and tried to strengthen their core with traditional abdominal exercises.
Wondering what exercises you CAN do? This blog is a fantastic resource
Do your research on diastasi recti (aka abdominal separation)
Diastasi recti was something I had NO CLUE about until I started working with moms. The fact that I didn’t know about this after the birth of my first daughter and I managed to avoid having lingering core issues between kids is a pretty big deal. I consider myself lucky.
So what is it?
As your baby grows it puts pressure on the connective tissue that holds your rectus abdominis muscles together. This is normal. After birth the connective tissue can potentially be more lacking in strength leaving what appears to be a gap in between the muscles. Exercises like crunches and leg lifts can put more pressure on the connective tissue weakening it further and increasing the gap.
Its very important that you spend time post baby learning how to strengthen these muscles properly before diving into intense exercise that can exasperate your weakened core.
That gap you have… it might never go back together and that is OK. It doesn’t mean you won’t have a normal looking stomach, or will be unable to do the activities you enjoy. What’s more important than the gap itself is how strong the connective tissue (your linea alba) is in between that gap.
Strengthen your pelvic floor now to avoid peeing yourself later
The pelvic floor is yet another thing I didn’t know I had until after I had a baby.
Lets have an anatomy lesson:
The pelvic floor is best described as the muscles that hold your bladder, uterus, and bowels in place. When you’re pregnant the pressure of a growing baby and the birth of that baby can dramatically weaken your pelvic floor muscles causing issues like urine leakage, sexual pain, and even fecal leakage.
In all seriousness though it’s a real issue. 1 in 3 women have some kind of issue with urine leakage 3 months after the birth of their child and 1 in 2 women have urine leakage 12 years after the birth of their child.
AKA this doesn’t just heal itself. In fact there is a small but real risk of a prolapse of your uterus, bowels, and/or bladder if you’re not careful. What’s a prolapse? See below
So… How do you strengthen it and avoid injury?
First of all I recommend seeing a women’s physical therapist as I mentioned earlier. The same person who evaluates your diastasi recti can also evaluate the strength of your pelvic floor.
Lastly, its SUPER important to learn how to properly engage your core and pelvic floor not only while exercising but also in the regular movements you do throughout the day (i.e. picking up your kids, picking up the dog food, etc). HERE is a great article/video to teach this.
Wear a supportive sports bra.
Post baby boobs are no joke.
Mine. Are. Huge.
Do yourself a favor and get a few supportive sports bras. My personal favorite is the Energy Bra
from Lululemon. It keeps my DD’s in nice and tight.
There you have it friends….
Seek out the resources I’ve mentioned and never be afraid to advocate for yourself. No one else is going to and I promise when you’re not peeing your pants when you sneeze in 10 years you’ll be glad that you took the time to slow down and help your body heal after it has performed SUCH a miracle.
Now I want to hear from you!
Do you experience issues with exercise after having a baby? Hit me up in the comments below. I’ll be checking in frequently and happy to help give you any recommendations or advice to get you healed and feeling awesome.