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I remember chatting with a friend about a month before I was due with my son about my postpartum exercise 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.
1. 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!
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Repairing Diastasis
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.