How To Safely Get Back Into Exercising Postpartum
Author: Jane Grates
November 21, 2017
Today, guest author Jane Grates is here to correct some of the misconceptions that come with postpartum life. She is giving tips on how to focus on your normal lifestyle and body building as a new mother.
There are a lot of popular misconceptions out there about pregnancy and postpartum life, and I think chief among them relates to the postpartum period and exercising. If you look to Hollywood for inspiration — and fair warning, I don’t advise that you do — you’d think that literally seconds after a woman gives birth, she has suddenly lost all of her pregnancy-induced weight, can magically fit back into her pre-pregnancy skinny jeans, and go out and rock a fast 10k and a killer high intensity interval (HIIT) workout.
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
The reality is actually quite the opposite. Giving birth — whether it’s vaginally or by Cesarean section — can be fairly traumatic, even if everything goes smoothly and normally. A lot goes on physiologically (and emotionally!) during childbirth, so it stands to reason that the immediate postpartum period after childbirth — and in particular, the first 6 weeks — can be rather precarious as well. Even if Hollywood starlets make you think that you can give birth and go back to life as normal, for the rest of us, we really ought to take things slowly so we can heal and properly bond with the newest member of our family.
Below, I’ll share some tips about how to get back into exercise safely postpartum. It’s important to note, however, that as a new mother, it’s imperative that you first talk to your own medical practitioner to get clearance to begin exercising postpartum. Even if you feel “fine,” let a licensed medical professional make that determination for you. Do not undermine the gravity of what your body just endured; growing a child and then bringing that child earthside is no small task!
My tips for getting back into exercise safely postpartum include the following:
Absolutely get the OK from your doctor, nurse, or midwife first. It’s common practice to have follow-up visits with your OB or midwife six weeks after birth (and sometimes before then), and it’ll be at these initial visits that your medical professional will determine whether he/she thinks it’s safe for you to resume normal activity, including exercise. As I mentioned before, even if you think you feel “fine,” please please please let a professional make that call. Your medical professional can also determine whether you have any issues related to diastasis recti (DR) and whether you should be referred to a woman’s health-specific physical therapist before beginning arduous exercise in earnest again.
If you can, work with a woman’s health PT. A lot of women don’t realize that there are women’s health-focused physical therapists out there who work almost exclusively with mothers post-childbirth. These therapists will teach you modified exercises that’ll help address any issues with DR you have — taking care to not exacerbate what you may already have — and if you’re fortunate to have made it through pregnancy and childbirth without DR, the therapists will be able to teach you proper postpartum core strength exercises. As you’ll quickly learn, Kegels aren’t the end-all, be-all. As you may imagine, our hips, deep abdominal muscles, and our back all really take a beating during pregnancy and postpartum — and carrying around our adorable, growing babies don’t make matters much easier! — so if you can, definitely try to work with a woman’s health PT right away after childbirth.
Once you’re cleared for exercise, take things sloooooowly. Again, I’ll blame Hollywood for this, but it seems like lots of women put themselves under crazy amounts of pressure to get back to their pre-baby weight or their pre-baby look. It’s an absurd idea simply because you can’t “undo” pregnancy or childbirth — you can’t take that away from your life, since it has already happened! — and realistically, you needn’t feel like you should. Again, your body just did nothing short of a miracle over the past 9 months, and if you’re breastfeeding, you’re still literally sustaining life, which is no small task! Once you want to begin exercising, please take things really slowly and gingerly. Even if you exercised right up until the day you delivered, approach your postpartum fitness as you would if you were a complete beginner. If you run, run much more slowly initially than you usually would. If you lift weights, minimize the weight load or the reps that you’d usually post. If you cycle, maybe lessen the intensity or the time you ride. In time, you will definitely be able to work toward — and exceed! — your pre-pregnancy milestones, but thinking that you’ll be able to do that right after giving birth is problematic and will likely lead to injury.
Set goals, but write them in “feather.” Once you have your baby, you’ll learn that any semblance of “normal” or “schedule” that you had before will be turned on its head, upside down, and inside out. Your time is no longer your own, since you’re now responsible for the life and well-being of a helpless little person, and again, if you’re breastfeeding, your body isn’t your own right now, either. Add to those elements sleep deprivation, figuring out career demands, and trying to care for other children, a partner, or elders in your family, and it can be really overwhelming. It is reasonable to want to set exercise goals each week in an effort to help give you some accountability — and the opportunity to check-off an item from your (seemingly never-ending!) to-do list each day — but please be flexible. Do what you can, when you can. Just because you couldn’t work-out today doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to work out tomorrow. Try not to get too far ahead of yourself or sweat the details, and just take things a day at a time. Life with a newborn is chaos; give yourself some grace.
Take the long-term perspective. Finally, when you’re adjusting to life with a newborn, it can be frustrating, and you may feel powerless, because your life has completely changed. You may want to rush through these trying times and sleepless nights, but I promise you that they’ll be over before you know it. (I know you probably don’t want to read that, but hear me out!). Your baby will only be this small for a very short time in his/her life. Enjoy it. Revel in those baby cuddles, that sweet baby smell, how she/he falls asleep on you without even trying, all these precious little moments that will become more and more fleeting as your child ages. Though you may feel like you want to do it all now — be a rockstar mother, be an amazing lover and partner, rock an incredible postpartum bod, and be killin’ it at the office — relax. Exercise can wait. Do what you can, of course; do what makes you happy; do what brings you to a satisfactory level of health; but don’t sweat it. Your first few months (minimally) postpartum are probably not going to be the most conducive point in your life to break your marathon PR, but maybe a year or two out will be the right time. Know that you’re an exerciser for life and that sometimes, simply training for life is enough. That in and of itself can be a very gratifying and laudable goal.
Exercising postpartum can be very tricky, and it’s definitely worthwhile — and necessary, I’d argue — to do so under proper medical supervision. It’s imperative that you remain patient with yourself and the process and know that change won’t happen overnight. After a while, you may even be able to get your child in on the fun as well, creating lifelong memories along the way.
Fitness enthusiast, feminist, hand letterer and front-end developer. Doing at the sweet spot between simplicity and sustainability to answer design problems with honest solutions.