When I got back into exercise after my first baby, there were a lot of things I didn’t know or assumed didn’t apply. I jumped back in and really focused on getting my body back. I was athletic and fitness came easy to me. What I didn’t realize was that I had to retrain and embrace a new body that went through a lot of stress and massive changes during pregnancy and delivery. On the outside I actually looked the same relatively quickly, but I didn’t feel very functional. My core was weak, I had trouble maintaining form under load, I had lots of knee and hip pain when running, and I experienced many postpartum symptoms that are common. Once I sought help from a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and learned a lot about how to retrain the body, I saw incredible results and was able to have a second baby and return to fitness without any issues. After going through my experience, I wanted to expand my knowledge as a trainer, especially since I was working with moms. I trained and became certified in postpartum fitness and it is my goal to help women return to fitness and feel empowered.
Typically when I start working with postpartum clients, I see a very common sequence of events:
9 months of pregnancy done. You feel great because you were able to stay active in some capacity
You waited your 6 weeks for your postpartum checkup with your doctor. All clear!
Your body feels healed and you feel like you want to exercise again. Woo hoo!
Time to shed that baby weight, right? Hold on. Not so fast.
It is important to acknowledge that your body goes through an incredible transformation during pregnancy. It expands and changes to accommodate growing and birthing a tiny human and the core and pelvic floor are weakened through the process. It is an essential, and often missed, step to restore function and strength in the core and pelvic floor after pregnancy, in order to ensure a safer return to exercise. One piece of advice that really stood out for me, was to treat postpartum like an injury. When you are injured, you typically take time away from your sport and/or exercise routine and you follow a rehab program, which involves rest, rehab and restrengthening. You allow your injury to heal and then you get back into it. This can be applied to postpartum as well.
Rest and Recovery
I’m pretty sure no one will tell you that those first few weeks with a newborn are a walk in the park. You are sleep deprived, hormones are all over the place, and you are healing from childbirth. Not to mention you are caring for a newborn at the same time. The main focus for you should be rest and recovery. Take it easy and if you feel like it, walking and light stretching can be beneficial at this stage. Recovery is around 6 weeks*
Rehabilitation: Core and Pelvic Floor
Once you are feeling up to it, you can start to focus on rehabilitation of the Core and Pelvic floor and I suggest following a program for about 8-12 weeks*. You may begin some light and gentle exercises as early as 2 weeks postpartum, but it isn't necessary at this time. When you feel ready, this is where you should start when getting back into exercise.
This would also be a great time to see a Pelvic Floor or Women’s Health Physiotherapist. Even if you don't experience any symptoms, they can assess for things like pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse, alignment, and c-section healing. They can also provide tips and techniques that can help speed up recovery.
Once you have established a base, you can begin to build strength and functionality in the body. Resistance training and functional movement exercises can be introduced at this point. It is also important to focus on breathing techniques through movement as well as alignment and form.
The temptation may be to jump back into high intensity, metabolically challenging exercises as soon as possible, but my recommendation is to wait until 3-6 months* postpartum and to go through the above 3 steps first. This may feel like a long time to wait, but it will pay dividends if you play the long game here and focus on building a solid foundation and movement patterns first. Master the basics and move well in a safe and controlled environment, then layer on intensity.
Once you do make your return to exercise, there are a few symptoms that you should watch out for and require attention:
Incontinence of any amount - this could occur during exercise or during everyday life, such as when you cough or sneeze
Hip, back, knee pain – during or after exercise
A bulging feeling in the pelvic floor or feeling like you are sitting on something
The sensation that your pelvic organs are falling out
If you experience any of these symptoms, see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. Even though many women experience these symptoms, it doesn’t mean they are normal. They can be managed.
A few other considerations are that you may also be managing erratic sleep schedules as well as breastfeeding, both of which can have a huge impact on energy, recovery, and weight loss. Be easy on yourself and constantly ask "should you" be doing something. Even if you can, it may not be the right decision that day. There will always be another day and another workout.
Remember that postpartum is forever, and it is never too late to start this process.
*The above timelines are general timelines. Every body is different and everybody will have a different experience postpartum.
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