With the start of the new year, many women look to begin a new or revived exercise regimen. After all, ’tis the season for gym membership deals! If you’re entering the new year as a new mom, you might also be eager to return to your pre-baby workout habits. Finding time postpartum to focus on exercise can do wonders for your energy and emotional state (but don’t worry if you DON’T feel ready to be active again — take your time and do what feels best). Debra Flashenberg, a doula, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and prenatal yoga instructor, offers tips on how to ease back into fitness after the birth of your baby.
By Debra Flashenberg, CD(DONA), LCCE, E-RYT 500 and Director of the Prenatal Yoga Center
I remember chatting with a friend about a month before I was due with my son about my po
st-baby gym routine. At that time, I was an avid morning gym goer — 6:30 am spin classes — things one can do before baby! I was under the great delusion that I would miss a couple of weeks and then be right back into my fitness regimen.
Reality struck me rather quickly after giving birth that it would take more time to ease back into physical shape than I had estimated. My pelvic floor needed work, I was hopelessly looking for any sign that I still had core muscles and I was downright tired and delirious from sleep deprivation. Many of the mothers I talked with experienced a similar awakening. We all had been somewhat surprised by the postpartum body compared to that of pregnancy. (Full disclosure: these women had been steady prenatal yoga students and were in very good shape during pregnancy.) The shared experience was atrophied muscles, bad posture, achy body and general fatigue. Given that was the physical state postpartum, it would take a mindful approach to returning to a fitness routine.
The first thing to take into consideration when easing back into a fitness routine is to be realistic and patient. It took around 40 weeks to form the pregnant body and it could take nearly as long to fully return to your pre-pregnancy physical self. Birth is a transforming event. I remember very clearly my midwife announcing to me, “the landscape of your pelvis will never be the same.” No matter if your labor is quick, long or surgical, the body undergoes a huge transformation to expel a baby.
Starting Back Slowly
As a general rule, I recommend that women do not return to postnatal or mommy and me yoga until their bleeding has stopped. If a woman gave birth via cesarean section, she needs to wait 6 weeks before rejoining class. If you push yourself too hard in the beginning, then you can actually be setting yourself back from real recovery. That of course does not mean you need to be held hostage in your house for 6 weeks. A walk can be considered a good start to your road back!
Watch for Your Bleeding to Stop
Once you do embark on some heavier activities, pay attention to signs from your body. Some women find that their bleeding that had tapered down starts to get heavier again, which is a sign that the body needs more time to heal.
How Is Your Pelvic Floor?
Also, if the pelvic floor is weak, putting intra-abdominal pressure (like crunches, pilates or general ab work) can put too much pressure on the pelvic floor and inhibit healing or even lead to a chance of organ prolapse. One of the first forms of exercise you can start to incorporate daily can be a kegel routine, restrengthening or even re-familiarizing yourself with your pelvic floor muscles.
It is very common that women experience a separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominals — aka the six-pack muscles. Your care provider can check this for you when you return for your six week check up. If it is severe enough, you may need to work with a physical therapist to help draw the muscles back together. So, when easing back to an abdominal workout, be mindful not to overdo it. In postnatal and mommy and me yoga, we focus more on plank pose and variations of plank instead of old fashion crunches. It is also advised not to do extremely deep twisting poses which can also inhibit the muscles from repair.
Wiggly, Wobbly Joints
Relaxin, the hormone that is responsible for softening the ligaments and joints during pregnancy and childbirth, can stay in the body for up to six months postpartum. This can lead to wobbly, unstable joints and a loose pelvis. Again, just be mindful that the activity your choose is not too jerky in movement.
Find All Sorts of Exercise!
You do not need to attend a scheduled class to start to return to a general fitness routine. As I mentioned earlier, walking is a great place to start: don’t discount walking as a gentle cardiovascular exercise! At one point, I was told to avoid higher impact cardio since I was healing from some pretty severe pelvic floor issues and was instructed to try swimming. Fortunately, I have been an avid swimmer for years, so it felt like a nice welcome back to exercise and rediscovering my body. The nice thing about swimming is that it is gentle on the joints and pelvic floor, and is great for strengthening the core and back muscles.
Once you do start to ease back into your routine, please remember to hydrate well, especially if you are breastfeeding. If you are out for a stroll with your baby, put your water bottle in the cup holder as a reminder to drink often.
At the end of every postnatal or mommy and me yoga class we incorporate a few restorative yoga poses and then savasana (corpse pose). Even though many new moms hear the old saying, sleep when your baby sleeps, very few (I believe) adhere to these wise words. So, including a few moments to simply relax post-workout can really help replenish you. If you are feeling rested and restored, you will have so much more to offer to those that need you.
I hope that these ideas of how to ease back into a fitness routine post-baby have been helpful. Enjoy your baby and your new life!