Updated: Sep 16, 2020
It’s happened. You finally have a few minutes. Your new babe is fed, sleeping soundly, and you have some time. You think, “I can do this. I can finally fit a workout in. I can finally get back into that pair of jeans that have been shoved to the back of my closet for the past 6 months.” You want to move, you want to exercise, but how? A quick tour of Google is overwhelming. The postpartum workouts vary wildly. Some people aren’t doing anything, others started working out at full speed, but all you really want to do is not pee yourself while running.
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be ALL encompassing and should NOT replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose of this blog is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.
Returning to fitness postpartum is one of the many challenging motherhood transitions. Our bodies have changed and exhaustion is running rampant, but there are several things that can be taken into consideration as early as the birth of your adorable new babe to help ease into your return to fitness in a safe and manageable way! We’ve put together 5 tips to help you get moving safely, build strength and endurance, and lay the foundation for a healthy, functional, postpartum period.
Take your time. So often we want to jump in headfirst and do exactly what we were doing a month ago before our babe came Earth-side, but in reality, our bodies are most likely not ready yet and we run the risk of introducing subtle long term complications - like peeing when we run and jump. Before returning to any activity, all postpartum bleeding should be cleared up, including any spotting. We have a dinner-plate sized open wound inside the uterus where the placenta detached and too much activity too soon can prolong bleeding and discomfort. Check with your OB or midwife to make sure you have no hidden complications and are ready for movement. Lastly, it can be extremely beneficial to see a pelvic floor physical therapist. A PFPT can assess you for any pelvic floor disorders and help you learn to re-engage your core and pelvic floor to prevent any long term functionality issues. This process can take time! Taking time, being patient, and recognizing the need to evaluate where we’re starting from can set us up for a stronger, more successful healing and rebuilding period. Plan on a minimum of 4-6 weeks but up to as much as 8-12 weeks depending on your body before you start completely rebuilding. Slow is fast. Take your time, your body will thank you later.
Breathe! Breathwork is the foundation of all that we do and something you can start doing as soon as your babe is born. Taking a step back, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath is often the first steps towards running that marathon you’re dreaming of. Your diaphragm and pelvic floor work together to strengthen each other. By slowing down and focusing on taking slow deep breaths down into our diaphragm while expanding our belly we can naturally strengthen our pelvic floor, reconnect to our core, and focus inward to learn these transformed bodies. Work on diaphragmatic breathing for at least 5 minutes every day and you’ll notice your core and pelvic control getting stronger every week. Sitting at that stoplight? Breathe. Standing in the checkout line at the store? Breathe into your diaphragm. The more we do it, the more natural it becomes, and the more core and pelvic floor strength and coordination we gain.
Beware: the sit-up. As you’re getting dressed and feel the urge to poke what is left of your beautiful pregnancy belly, you might feel like a soft rubbery jellyfish and the urge to drop to the floor right then and blow through 100 sit-ups is strong. When we think of core work, the situp or crunch is our default exercise, but unfortunately, these can be some of the most damaging exercises in pregnancy and postpartum. The situp strengthens our rectus abdominis which are the muscles along the front of our belly - often associated with the “6-pack”. These are the muscles that separate due to the stretching along the center of your belly (the linea alba) during pregnancy. This often results in an unavoidable condition called diastasis recti. This is entirely normal and happens in every pregnant belly, however whenever we do situps and crunches during pregnancy we could be making the separation worse by adding pressure along with those already stretched muscles. During postpartum recovery, these muscles need time to come back together on their own. If we add in situps and crunches too quickly, you can strengthen these muscles in the separated position they achieved during pregnancy and slow down the natural process in which they close. We want to help these muscles close, not slow them down. We recommend waiting at least 4-6 months before adding situps back into your workouts and in many cases, waiting up to 12 months is even more beneficial.
Add weight by babywearing. Now, we should be wary of situps, so how do we strengthen the core? The first way goes back to tip #1: Breathe! This breathwork helps continually strengthen the core muscles and allow any abdominal separation and pelvic floor weakness to improve. Next, don’t be afraid of weight. We’re not saying go out and lift 100 pounds right after you give birth, but loading your core with light weights and focusing on the breath as you do so can naturally engage more of these core muscles, regain strength and aid in any separation healing. One of the best ways to start doing this: babywearing! Carrying your baby close helps bonding and development with your baby as well as allowing you to slowly start loading your body with weight to aid in your return to fitness. Start just by wearing around the house for a little bit every day then progress to taking walks and adding distance while focusing on the diaphragmatic breathing throughout this movement. Working up to 45 minutes of babywearing walks every day will go a long way towards rebuilding your core and getting you moving in a safe and functional way. This will give you a solid foundation for when you’re ready to hit the big weights. Added bonus: your babe will love moving around and being so close to you.
Work your way up. The week before you gave birth you may have walked 3 miles, but just because we did it before, doesn’t mean we should do it now. Our bodies went through an amazing transformation and now we’re in a delicate time full of healing, bonding, and enjoying those sleepless nights with our littles. Take it slow and start small. Every week, aim for a little bit more than last week. We might start with just some movement around the house. Next week you might decide to walk to the stop sign and back. Then add in some daily stretching, eventually, work up to some postpartum fitness classes 1-2 times a week. Take it slow and know that a slow rebuild will always result in a stronger foundation and the ability to push further later - and don’t forget to breathe!
It’s so easy to get lost and forget everything your body and mind have gone through to transform, grow, provide for, and bring these babies into the world. Often we have the urge to jump right back into where we came from forgetting that just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Give your body time. Time to adjust, time to heal, time to recover, and time to rebuild. Your body will thank you later. Take your time, breath, don’t just jump right into situps and running a marathon, babywear, and slowly load your body with weight and work your way up one step at a time. Doing so can give your body the space to recover, strengthen, and prevent any long term complications that may result from jumping back in too quickly. No one wants to pee jumping around while having an afternoon dance party in the living room with our kiddos. Taking these tips can help set you on the right path to return to fitness safely with longevity and a strong foundation.
In the SWVA area, we have established a pregnant and postpartum fitness class working on just this! Housed within CrossFit Unwritten in Salem, VA, and designed for pregnant and postpartum moms from all forms of exercise and activity, the Empowered Moms Series (https://www.crossfitunwritten.com/empowered-mom-series/) runs in 6-week cycles focusing on safe modification to stay active during pregnancy and strengthen your body for labor and delivery, as well as allowing you a safe space to rehab, rebuild and comfortably return to your fitness postpartum. Spending time with and getting to know other moms going through or having been through similar circumstances is just an added bonus. Come join us!
Some additional resources loaded with great information about pregnant and postpartum fitness can be found at the links below:
CrossFit Unwritten Empowered Moms Series-https://www.crossfitunwritten.com/empowered-mom-series/
Pregnant and Postpartum Athleticism - https://pregnancyandpostpartumathleticism.com/
BIRTHFIT - https://birthfit.com/
Mamastefit - https://www.mamastefit.com/
Written by Whitney Batchelor
Whitney Batchelor is the mom of 2.5-year-old Cade and 4-month old Aspen. She has 8 years of coaching experience is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, a USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach, and a Precision Nutrition Sport and Exercise nutrition coach. After becoming pregnant with Cade and desperately searching for local resources in pregnant and postpartum fitness while finding nothing, she began studying to aid in her postpartum recovery and subsequent pregnancy fitness and obtained her Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism coaching certification. She believes in constantly learning and is regularly working on new certifications and methods to make sure she is always growing to educate, support, and empower other moms to do the same. Whitney is a research mathematician for her day job and when not chasing her toddler around can be found training and competing in Olympic weightlifting, reading, and spending time outside.