A postpartum woman receives the “all clear” at the six to eight-week appointment with their OB or midwife. She’s told she can resume any activity she wants. What does that really mean when it comes to physical activity? She’s wondering, “Where do I go from here?”
“Do I jump back into my favorite group class?”
“Go for a jog?”
“Hit the weights at the gym?”
“Just stick with yoga and walking for right now?”
There’s a severe lack of guidance and support during the postpartum period for women once they’ve received that final check-up. I’m currently in this phase of the postpartum recovery after giving birth to my third child back in July.
Most of us may still feel like our bodies just aren’t quite ready for the more demanding or high impact types of activities yet, but where do we begin? What should we focus on first to get back to those activities that we loved doing previously? It could be that our body doesn’t feel right yet, and we just want to feel normal again while at the same time caring for our kids and meeting the demands of daily life.
Here are some suggestions for that transition period between the “all clear” and meeting our postpartum goals:
Acceptance of our new postpartum body
We need to acknowledge the trauma and transition that our body has recently experienced and come to terms with the fact that our body is not the same, nor will it ever be the same. However, it’s by no means ruined! Our body just did something amazing over the past nine months, and it is not meant to bounce back quickly. It will take time to recover, and this process may not be linear. It can be challenging to practice patience, but consider this time to get to know and understand your new body better. With this understanding, you will be better equipped for achieving long-term health and wellness goals. This process can be made even more challenging while breastfeeding (Breastfeeding and Returning to Fitness).
Listening to our postpartum body
When we better understand our bodies, we can be more in tune with them. We’ve probably heard the guidance of listening to our bodies during pregnancy. What are we listening to/for during postpartum? Pain and discomfort are some of the apparent signs that a particular activity may not be appropriate. Bleeding may return. This is usually our body’s way of telling us what we’re doing is a bit too much. Any urinary or fecal incontinence (leakage) is a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction and should not be ignored. Persistent and reoccurring coning and/or doming of the abdomen with certain activities should be avoided because of the vulnerability of the linea alba (this is the line of connective tissue where the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy). Other signs and symptoms of issues that should be addressed are; pain during sex, heaviness or pelvic pressure, or the feeling that something is falling out of you (yes, seriously). See below for more guidance.
Build a solid foundation
Start with simple movements that you are already performing throughout your day, such as carrying, bending, and squatting.
Start outperforming these movements with just bodyweight or with a light load and progress slowly. Also, there is a lot that you can learn about your body through breathing and then gradually connecting that breathing to movement. Part 1 of this blog addresses more specifics on the importance of breathing. Progress slowly and intentionally, paying attention to how your body feels while working out and the days following.
See a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
A PFPT checks the function of the muscles and tissues of both your pelvic floor and core which is not something your OB or midwife usually does. This is an excellent opportunity to learn and better understand how your body functions and should function, setting you up on your own individual path of recovery for your new postpartum body. Also, if you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above, please seek out a PFPT.
You do not need to silently suffer through these frustrating issues or accept them as a usual burden of motherhood.
Take the time to seek out help and find someone that provides you a way ahead with your goals in mind. We, as moms, tend to put our wellness and ourselves on the back burner until it’s too late. As challenging as it may be, prioritize your wellness occasionally. When you do find the time for workouts or activities that you enjoyed previously, be intentional about what you are doing and ask yourself the question, “Is this appropriate for my body right now?” Above all, avoid comparing yourself to women around you and embrace the journey.