Stop trying to get your pre-baby body back.
Postpartum is a time of extreme highs and lows. Every 24 hour period can bring hundreds of different emotions and often they are totally inexplicable. In the months following birth, you can definitely chalk much of this up to hormones. The sudden fall in estrogen and progesterone alone can make an even temper a thing of the past.
That being said, every woman is different.
Everyone will react to the postpartum period in a different way, and that’s ok!
As a trainer and a mom myself, I know the insecurity, doubt, and inner conflict that can follow child birth. Women are bombarded by images of models and actresses flaunting their perfect beach-worthy tummies less than a month after giving birth.
Is that real?
While many moms know that having a perfect dimple-less body postpartum is unlikely and unattainable for most (especially for #2 and beyond), we all want to feel confidence or at least experience what our bodies were like before baby.
Let me put it into the perspective of a sports injury. Say you’re a competitive runner and you break your foot. You have a cast on for a couple months so it can heal unhindered. The cast is removed and you are sent to physical therapy to regain movement, strength, and function in your foot. You return to running a little bit at a time. What will happen if you go run a race on the way home from getting your cast removed? You get the gist.
Child birth is not an “injury,” per se, but it is one of the most physically, emotionally, and - some would say – spiritually challenging events that can happen to a woman. Because the wounds are not visible in everyday life, those on the outside sometimes forget what a mom has gone through. It’s no wonder that proper recovery is often overlooked by doctors, nurses, midwives, and moms themselves. Why should women pretend like child birth was a walk in the park?
Rest, recovery, and rehabilitation should be words we hear postpartum.
So where do we start in changing this perspective?
LET’S STOP TALKING ABOUT GETTING OUR PRE-BABY BODIES BACK.
My body will never be “pre-baby” again. Nor should it be! What an absolutely miraculous feat it has accomplished – a feat that first needs to be acknowledge in my own head and in my own heart. Every stretch mark is a reminder of my little miracles and although we may be told they are not aesthetically pleasing and we may spend 5 minutes every night rubbing cocoa butter on them, they are part of what made our experience ours.
“Alright,” you’re thinking. “But I still want to be able to wear a bikini and not wear a maxi dress all day at the beach in 95 degrees.”
Even if you or someone you know is at her “pre-baby” weight (lucky duck), no woman will say that her body is the same. Aside from the very obvious changes “down under,” your uterus needs weeks (or months) to go back down to its starting size and your boobs (breastfeeding moms, especially) are giant and/or not your own anymore and don’t even get me started on the rounded shoulders and sad, droopy bum!
So, if we can’t get our “pre-baby” bodies back, what should we be doing?
Here’s my step-by-step guide for getting, for lack of a better term, “in shape” postpartum:
- Rest. Seriously, give yourself a chance to recover. Even if every morning you check your reflection in the mirror to see if things look any different. Have you heard the term “good things come to those who wait”? It applies here very well. This is your time with baby (and possibly other children), so treasure this time and they, and your body, will thank you later.
- See a women’s health physical therapist. If anyone can give you a good idea of where you’re really at with recovery, it’s a good physical therapist who specializes in women’s health. This can involve both external and internal therapy and can be immensely helpful to deal with trauma, scar tissue, wound healing (from tearing or a c-section), and abdominal muscle rehabilitation from stretching and separation. Check out this PT locator http://www.womenshealthapta.org/pt-locator/
- Be honest with yourself about pain and discomfort. Anyone who has had a baby knows that there are many “bits” out of place postpartum. Bleeding can last for weeks or months and usually this is totally normal. If anything seems abnormal, for example, if you experience blood clots, get in touch with your doctor or midwife. Their job doesn’t end when they catch baby! Better to be safe than sorry in the long term. Additionally, if you have vaginal swelling, bleeding, or pain after activity, that may be your body telling you to dial it back. Do what you can and if you can’t, ask for help.
- Understand that the 6 week postnatal appointment does not give you the green light to jump back into intense exercise. This is probably the most frustrating and difficult thing to cope with when you just want to get fit again. Simply stated, doctors and midwives are (usually) not in the fitness industry and (usually) know little about it. Were you jogging pre-baby? Were you Olympic lifting? Were you playing rugby? Do you see my point? Just because you get the go-ahead from your doctor does not mean you should dive right back in.
- Deal with your core and floor first. This is paramount. What parts of your body took the biggest hit during pregnancy, labor, and birth? Your core and pelvic floor muscles. They need time, recovery, and re-strengthening. For now, avoid crunches, sit-ups, and full front planks (including the full push-up position), so that your core muscles & tissues may realign and regain strength and tautness. Avoid the “mummy tummy” by getting proper instruction for postpartum core exercises. Want a kickstart? Check out this amazing article by pre/postnatal trainer (and my idol) Jessie Mundell: http://jessiemundell.com/5-best-core-exercises-for-post-pregnancy/
- Pay close attention to back pain. This is probably the most disconcerting postpartum issue in my opinion. Your spine’s “shallow S” shape on a normal, non-pregnant basis is replaced by quite a “deep S” during pregnancy. Most women have an exaggerated lumbar (lower spine) curve and rounded shoulders (thoracic kyphosis), during the later stages of pregnancy. This is totally normal, but your spine will not snap back into place when you give birth. The back should only be placed under load if it is in a neutral position, or the spine can be compromised. Herniated discs and sciatic nerve pain are among the issues that can result long term. Back pain can also be an indicator of core muscles that are weak and/or stretched and are not functioning correctly. Take your time before returning to weight training. When can you return to weight training? The key here is progression. Begin your first 4 weeks back (beginning at approximately 6-8 weeks postpartum after a normal, vaginal delivery and 12-16 weeks postpartum after a C-section) with bodyweight exercises only. Progress to about 20% of your normal weights for the next 4 weeks, then up to 40% for the next month, etc.
- Ignore the promises of a quick-fix diet. If you are breastfeeding, you should wait at least 8 weeks before cutting calories to lose weight so that it will not affect your milk supply. For more info on that see here:http://kellymom.com/nutrition/mothers-diet/mom-weightloss/ . That does not mean you can justify those extra donuts in the morning. It means don’t put yourself on diet shakes (I don’t care what kind they are) and beds of lettuce with carrots for every meal. Those of you who aren’t breastfeeding, the same timeline applies to you. Why? Because your body needs nutrients to heal. There is a direct correlation between eating well and postpartum recovery time. Most of the time, if your body has what it needs, it will do what it needs to do. If you deprive your body, even if you lose weight in the short term, chances are the weight will come back with a vengeance sometime in the future. Cultivate good eating habits and you will not regret it. You can read more about weight loss and hormonal changes from the brilliant Girls Gone Strong advisory board member Dr. Brooke Kalanick Larson here: https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/fat-loss-for-new-moms/
- Find someone in fitness who knows what he/she is talking about. Just because someone has had a baby or has known someone who had a baby or has seen someone from a distance who’s had a baby, does not mean that he or she is qualified to train a postpartum woman. Here’s a little test for a potential trainer: if he or she knows what the following terms mean (without consulting Google), they may be worth keeping: diastasis recti, linea alba, pelvic floor prolapse, kegel and pallof press.I jest. But seriously.Keep in mind that if you cannot find someone locally (ask your physical therapist), there are many resources online. I will list them at the end for you to check out.
- Know that everyone is different. Just like every baby is different, every mom is different and will recover at her own pace and in her own way. There is an endless number of factors that affect postpartum recovery and you are not alone! Many women have gone through what you’re going through right now and that can be a great source of support. If you don’t know any other new mommies locally, see if you can find a mommy & me class that will let you meet fellow moms. Sometimes even one word of empathy can mean the world when you really need it.
When will you feel “normal” again? It will happen. Not immediately. Be honest with yourself and you will progress.
Deep breath, mama, you can do this!