Having a baby is tough. Like, really tough. While pregnant, I completely underestimated the physical and mental transformation coming soon. Once Benji arrived, life completely changed. I could be angry and sad at the same time, and completely overwhelmed and in love too — the hormones were real. I was the master multitasker, able to pump and feed myself and my son (with a bottle) at the same time. I also spent hours questioning every decision, my role as a mother, and how I would possibly get out of the house with a baby in the winter time.
What I’ve learned is…my feelings were normal. I was not alone. And neither are you. It gets easier.
Ready to Move
I remember getting the itch to sweat and move my body a few weeks after Benji was born. I wanted to do the one thing that felt “normal” to me, something I missed and craved. Some women, like me, crave movement right away. Others don’t. There is no right or wrong. It happens at different points along the journey. What I learned (through trial and error) is that just because you are ready for postpartum fitness, doesn’t mean you really are – psychologically or physically.
Here are a few things to consider before kickstarting a fitness program:
- Why is it important to return to exercise?
This is more a psychological check-in. For me, I was quick to return because exercise was and is part of my identity. I felt like I had lost something, and I wanted it back. That’s okay. Being aware of our motives will help us establish healthy and attainable goals. Yes, I wanted to return back to fitness, but I knew it would take time.
- Do exercise that feels good in the body
The postpartum body is different and the body needs time to heal and rebuild. Take part in activities that make you feel empowered, uplifted, and safe.
- Check in with your body
It’s important to check in with your body during and after your workouts. How does one exercise make you feel? Are you exhausted even before the workout begins? When did you last eat?
I know how tough it can be to workout with a little one at home. Finding a coach who can help guide you through recovery is beneficial long term. Leaning on your partner for support is important.
Returning to Exercise
I’ve created a few guidelines for returning to exercise after having a baby. These guidelines will vary substantially depending on your labor and delivery. As always, please check with your doctor to make sure your body is ready to move. Do what feels good in your body and what you feel comfortable with.
Phase 1: 0-6 weeks – Rehab and Retrain
The main focus during this phase is allowing your body the time and rest it needs to recover from delivery. It’s important to note that rushing through this phase does not lead to a faster recovery, and could actually lead to more dysfunction and a slower return to exercise.
- Get rest (when possible)
- Build a feeding schedule/routine with the family
- Establish gentle movement and re-establish good breathing patterns and core-pelvic floor connection
During the rehab & retraining phase we place a huge emphasis on core & pelvic floor restoration. By moving the body in a more planned way with focused breath work we can start to help mom reconnect to the muscles that have been “turned off.” There are tons of activities we do everyday as new moms: picking something up, sitting down and standing up, and lifting a car seat, among others. Introducing movement patterns during this period will help set a mom up for success long-term (Note: If your partner is available to help with the carseat in the first few weeks, allow them to).
Walking: Walking is a fantastic form of exercise for new moms. But, beware of overdoing it. The perineum can be quite sore and swollen after delivery, and long periods of standing can make these symptoms worse. Slow, flat walks for 10 minutes (first outing) – 20 minutes, 2x per day is a great start.
Core-Pelvic Floor connection breath: The connection breath will help with regaining body awareness and better muscle function.
Gentle Stretching and Mobility Work: Some mamas may find it helpful to do some gentle movement to alleviate soreness from delivery. Some of the most gentle exercises to start retraining your core include pelvic tilts, open book, and knee rolls.
Optimal Alignment: While everyone’s posture can look a bit different, there are a lot of postural tendencies that happen during pregnancy that we’ll want to address during this phase (and in the future). We simply want to be aware of what the body is doing through the motions of everyday life.
A few things to look for with posture:
- Do you hold your baby on one hip?
- Are you arching through your lower back and pushing your shoulders back?
- Do you find your chest/rib cage pushing forward? Focus on rib cage stacked over the pelvis.
None of these are “bad” per se, but just habits we want to be aware of. Think about how you move, bend, stand, and pick things up off the ground. How can we build better movement patterns and retrain our core?
The focus during this period is truly rest, recovery, and taking part in activities that feel good in our bodies.
Ready for the Return to Exercise? Check out my next post here that takes you through Phase 2: Week 7 – 18
Skip ahead to read Phase 3: Week 19 and beyond (Bulletproof Your Body)