Post-Partum Recovery. Something we don’t hear enough about. Training postpartum is talked about even less. We get told to wait until our 6 week check up to be “cleared” for exercise and that’s basically the extent of it. During those first weeks, walks are fine and possibly some weight restrictions on what you should lift.
If you walked into a bookstore right now, you could find numerous materials on what to expect and prepare for DURING pregnancy. There is little, if any, that just look at those first months after you have the baby. But we are getting there!
With 2 separate certifications for pre and post-natal fitness, my goal is to keep spreading some knowledge and empowering women to look past just the baby weight, and look at all the additional ways fitness can help heal our bodies, inside and out!
• 6 weeks is D-Day. Once cleared, you can return to normal activity. We expect ourselves to walk back into our normal training routine and abilities.
• You can start with nice long walks as soon as you want.
• Peeing or incontinence is the new normal.
• To heal and get rid of the “baby belly” or Diastasis is to do lots of ab work: crunches, sit-ups, etc.
• If you had a cesarean, your pelvic floor is “fine”.
• Your goal should be to “get your body back”.
Reality with Training
6 weeks is the general timeline to heal before returning to exercise or when your doctor can clear you. There are, however, things we can do before that to help prepare us for that return stronger and more “whole” in terms of our body. These things not only help us return to exercise quicker and more prepared, but even those that shudder at the idea of working out can benefit from some early healing focuses.
It is a similar timeline as a knee surgery. You may have run 5 miles daily before the surgery, but after that surgery, you will have around 6 weeks of therapy just to prepare to start running again. You won’t necessarily be right back to that 5 miles daily.
The same goes for the postpartum body:
• Our pelvic floor carried at least 8-10+lbs of extra weight from baby and fluid. Muscles have been weakened and possibly compromised.
• Alignment changes have happened from lax ligaments and they may continue due to hormone changes still happening, especially while breastfeeding.
• Diastasis Recti needs to be addressed not just aesthetically but because the core helps in proper PF function.
There are things we can do starting around 2 weeks postpartum and beyond that would set us up to be in the best spot we can be at not only that 6 week mark, but for the long term.
Things We Can Do
I have to preface here, it’s always best to get guidance if you are unsure or if you have any medical conditions that should be taken into consideration.
Walking, core training and possibly light band work are all things we can start to do before that 6-week return to exercise milestone. Then at 6 weeks, we continue to work on these foundations and progress them with our preferred exercise routine.
Skip the crunches. At least right away. Can some perform them early on? Possibly. However, it isn’t needed or suggested right away. Same with planks completely horizontal to the ground.
Breathwork and connecting the core and pelvic floor to your breath is numero uno. This can/should be a focus during pregnancy as well as afterward. This helps pelvic floor engagement, coordination, and healing of the core. This can be something you start 10-14 days after delivery.
Try this: instead of pulling your belly button to your spine (like we hear so often), imagine blowing air out from the belly and drawing your belly button upward towards your diaphragm. Once you can get that, add in the pelvic floor contraction or kegel. Think about drawing the pelvic floor inward not just “squeezing”.
Some other exercises you can ease into as you feel comfortable: Dead Bug variations, Glute Bridge, Bird Dog, and Side Planks.
While walking is the prescribed method of movement those first 6 weeks, it is important to ease into this as well. Don’t set out on hour long walks right away. I made this mistake after my first daughter was born. Even with my training, I felt I was an exception. (Don’t we all). I was so worried about not working out like I had been accustomed to that walks allowed movement without my husband scolding me. However, I found myself at the end of a day not able to stand up more than 5 minutes. I would get such heaviness that I felt like my “parts” were gonna explode! I just didn’t allow time to let my PF properly heal and build up endurance.
Start with 10-15 min. See how you respond to that after a couple days. Then increase it by 5 min. Instead of aiming for a 30 min walk, do 15 min in the morning and 15 later in the day.
6 Week Check and a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist
Although your doctor may clear you for exercise at 6-weeks, be certain that this means light and gentle exercise, or a few steps down from what you were doing before pregnancy. For Example: breathing, leisurely walking, bodyweight, resistance band exercises, and possibly lightweights. I tell clients who have trained during pregnancy, their return will be the reverse of how we did during pregnancy. We slowly regressed things to accommodate their changing body, now we start there and progress.
One visual is this: during pregnancy, we slowly incline push-ups higher and higher (hands on a bar, bench, or couch/stair). So at our return we reverse that, working our way back to the floor.
The types of exercise that are NOT likely to be beneficial at this time are: lots of running, jumping, heavyweight training, or hundreds of daily reps of crunches, leg raises, and other traditional “ab” exercises.
I also suggest seeing a Pelvic Physiotherapist if you have the ability. Even if you think you are “fine” they can assess you more thoroughly and assure you are set up for long time success. If you had a cesarean, they can also help you in care for your scar and massage techniques. And remember, just because you didn’t have a vaginal birth doesn’t mean your Pelvic Floor and core didn’t take a beating.
Everyone will vary on what is doable for them. Remember everyone has different considerations: sleep, other children, and possible work obligations. So exercise isn’t always the first thought. I like to have clients incorporate their breath and core repair exercises to times they may already be down on the ground, like during tummy time for baby.
Your return may not be to where you were before pregnancy. We may feel like we can, but we benefit from slow progression and smart execution. Start small and work from the inside out. Take note of how your body responds, and progress slowly from there.