By Kate Horney
Staying fit during pregnancy reaps big benefits for you and for your baby. Moms who are active during pregnancy experience quicker recovery postpartum, and are more likely to workout post-baby. But even if you did not workout during pregnancy, it’s not too late to heal and rebuild strength postpartum.
Postpartum: What to do FIRST
First, spend time with your baby! Give yourself time to recover and heal. Even if you had a relatively easy labor, the act of delivery will take a toll on your body. Your body has spent nine plus months nurturing and growing your baby. Now that you’re postpartum, everything that your body did to prepare for baby is abruptly reversed. Don’t let social media put pressure on you to rush back into things. This can often do more harm than good.
It’s important to take time to let your body heal. In the first few weeks postpartum, your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size and position, and you may have afterpains as it contracts down. Most doctors recommend waiting 4-6 week postpartum if you had a natural birth, or 12 weeks postpartum after a c-section. But remember, everyone is different. Wait for the green light from your physician to begin exercise.
With that said, however, you CAN start right away healing and rebuilding your pelvic floor and healing your diastasis recti.
Your pelvic floor, after stretching for nine months, will take some time to return to near its usual position. You can help to speed up this process by doing regular pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible after your baby’s birth.
Doing your pelvic floor and abdominal rehabilitation exercises may help to reduce swelling and speed up healing.
Start gently by exercising your pelvic floor and deepest tummy muscles as soon as you feel up to it. Beginning these exercises early will help you to get back into shape and lower your chances of developing back pain. If you are one of the majority of moms who has diastasis recti from pregnancy, click here to read more about how to heal and rebuild your core. In about 60% of pregnancies the abdominal separation will be wider than 2 – 2.5 finger widths apart and you will be considered to have diastasis recti during your pregnancy. As a new mom, it’s important that you learn more about diastasis recti and test yourself for this condition.
Postpartum: When you’re ready for a workout.
When you’re ready for a workout, it’s important to get back into the habit of exercise slowly. Begin increasing your exercise gradually and start with exercises you did in your third trimester.
During pregnancy, the muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the spine and pelvis become stretched out and sometimes even torn. When this happens, your brain’s connection to those muscles often becomes impaired or even lost completely, which means the brain cannot activate these core muscles correctly. When your deepest core muscles are not able to be activated, you’re at much higher risk for pain and injury as your spine and pelvis are no longer being stabilized. Regaining control of these muscles is crucial, and it’s important to ease back into your workouts to avoid the risk of injury.
If at any point through your workout you notice signs of core weakness, it’s important to find a modification until the entire workout can be completed without any of the following:
- If you are straining from within your abdomen or pelvic floor during the exercise
- If you leak urine when doing any of the exercises
- If you notice pelvic or lower back pain during or after the exercise
- If you feel unstable in the core during the exercise
- If there is bulging or “coning” in your abdomen during the exercise
As you begin to ease back into a workout routine, be mindful of the ways your body has changed during pregnancy.
As the level of the hormone progesterone in your body drops, the tone of smooth muscle throughout your body improves. But pregnancy hormones can still affect your joints for up to six months after giving birth, so go slow and don’t over-do it.
As a result of the postural changes of pregnancy and the heavy front load (aka baby bump) that you’ve been carrying around for nine months, it’s common for specific muscle groups to become too tight, while other muscle groups have become too weak.
To fully heal and rebuild strength from pregnancy you must address all of these issues.
Muscle groups that become too tight as a result of pregnancy:
-Back of the Neck
Muscle groups that weaken as a result of pregnancy:
-Upper Back Muscles
-External rotators of the shoulder
-Front of the neck
I recommend 2-3 days of total body strength training combined with scheduled “rest” days for stretching and foam rolling the weakened muscle groups.
Total body workouts are optimal for healing and rebuilding strength postpartum because they give time for muscle recovery. Back-to-back workouts without a day to rest and recover leads to fatigue, increased cortisol, and risk of injury for postpartum moms. Studies show that total body workouts are linked to improved muscle recovery rates.
You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to get results. Healing and rebuilding strength postpartum is possible from the comfort and privacy of your own home. (Yes, you can get slim without the gym). All you need is a set of dumbbells, a yoga mat and some consistency. There’s no right or wrong way to be a fit mom, but I do think it needs to be said that you DON’T have to spend hours at the gym to be fit and healthy.
Remember, it took you nine plus months of pregnancy to get to where you are, so your body will need the same amount of time to recover its shape.
If you’d like to see my own personal postpartum workout program that I used to get my body back after I had both of my boys, check out my Beyond Baby 12 Week Postpartum Fat-loss System.