AUGUST 8, 2023 BY CHELSEA SKAGGS: COACH
You brought a baby into the world, mama, and there is hardly anything that can compare to that when it comes to powerful! Most women have a variety of emotions when it comes to postpartum bodies and fitness. We know there are many benefits to an active lifestyle (of course, keeping it safe!) but we also know it’s easy for women to be caught in comparison and self-criticism. As I talk more about postpartum exercise and being safe, efficient, and mindful, keep in mind this is not a race, this is not a “bounce back” competition because you are not a bouncy ball, and this is about you nurturing your health and fitness so that you can have energy and power and care for your new little one.
The Why Behind Postpartum Fitness
Firstly, it’s crucial to understand why fitness matters post-birth. Not only in general but for you personally. This isn’t about chasing your pre-pregnancy shape but about aiding recovery, building strength, enhancing mood, boosting energy, and nurturing your overall well-being. Throw out the magazine covers with titles like “How this celebrity lost 45 pounds in two weeks after having a baby.” And lean into what your body does for you and how you want to take care of it in this season.
In general, postpartum fitness is crucial for recovery both physically and mentally. Your body has done a lot with pregnancy and birth, and that takes recovery. You don’t have arm surgery and then expect it to just pick back up where you left off. You learn how to take care of it in order to rebuild strength.
Maybe a certain image or jeans size is motivating to you, and that’s fine. But truly, let’s go deeper. You have to know your WHY when it comes to postpartum fitness. Maybe you want to be able to hike mountains with your baby on your back. Or, maybe you want to be the mom who jumps into a game of tag at the park with your kids. Perhaps you want to keep enjoying your hobbies without feeling like your body changes are in the way. Identify what matters to you and focus on that, not on a particular number that someone decided makes you “worthy.”
Don’t forget that exercise has mental benefits too. While you continue to wade changing hormones of postpartum, exercise can give you a serotonin boost. When I have a tough day or complicated emotions, exercise really helps to reset that.
Timing It Right: When to Start?
Every woman’s post-birth journey is unique. Generally, a six-week wait is suggested before initiating rigorous exercises, but it depends on your individual recovery and the birth type. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting your exercise regime. Your midwife or OBGYN will give you clearance when they believe your healing is in a good place. From there, I recommend asking for a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist or someone trained in postpartum exercise like Strong Body Strong Mama.
Listen to your body. You don’t want to push so hard that you create an injury but also you don’t want to doubt how strong you still are in this season!
Gearing Up: Fitness Essentials
Equip yourself with some fitness must-haves for comfort and support. To be honest, some of those old sports bras and shorts are likely not going to fit as comfortably. I don’t consider myself a frivolous person, but I have to admit that workout gear that looks and feels good helps my motivation to get up and get moving. If you’re looking for comfortable and versatile, the shorts (with pockets!) from Beyond Yoga. If you’re looking for the more budget-friendly version of these, check out this pair of running and exercise shorts on Amazon.
Whether or not you are breastfeeding or pumping, you want to keep the ladies well-supported. A high-quality postnatal sports bra from KindredBravely’s activewear collection will become your best friend. They also have these maternity and postpartum-friendly workout leggings that hug those new mom-curves, an exercise-friendly nursing top for breastfeeding moms. Add in a seriously comfy yoga mat where chances are, your baby will be doing tummy time under and beside you while you try to get some movement in for yourself.
Start with low-impact activities like walking or postnatal yoga. As you gain strength, add more varied exercises. I recommend finding an online or in-person community. Two of my favorite resources include Strong Body Strong Mama and Fit4Mom. While I didn’t know about it during my personal postpartum journey, I’ve heard great things from friends about the Bloom Method postnatal fitness classes. Peloton even has postnatal yoga and core workouts on the app.
Postpartum Hydration and Vitamins
Stay hydrated, especially if you’re breastfeeding. I’m not kidding about this. You need water, mama. I know that keeping track of your intake is challenging when you’re tracking so many other things, so make it easy with a water bottle with time markers to remind you to sip throughout the day. I like this time-marked water bottle because you can get it as a half-gallon water bottle or a gallon water bottle. If you are nursing, this one literally says “turning water into liquid gold” which is cute! Nutrition-wise, consider incorporating a quality postnatal vitamin to support your recovery and energy levels.
Listening to Your Body: Safety Above All
Always heed your body’s signals. There is no reward for pushing yourself past your body’s limits and there is no race to “bounce back.” Here are signs that you need to slow down your postpartum fitness:
- Feeling excessively tired
- Experiencing discomfort, or a sense of unease
- Increased postpartum bleeding
If you think you’ve pushed it too far, take a rest day. Do some restorative yoga. Practice breathwork that doesn’t require movement, but still provides a great reset and boost to your body.
Tackling Physical Challenges: Postpartum Body Changes
Your body has weathered considerable changes, and you might face physical hurdles, such as a weakened pelvic floor or diastasis recti. These can feel like an unfair setback after carrying and birthing a baby, but many of use experience one or both.
Pelvic Floor Therapy
I can never say this enough: You don’t have to pee your pants just because you’ve had kids. The older generation jokes about it, but the truth is we now know how powerful pelvic floor health and recovery is. A pelvic floor therapist can help you understand more about your body and give you the knowledge to rehabilitate and strengthen it. My time working with a pelvic floor PT was the most insightful and empowering experience. I never knew as much about my pelvic region as I did from working with the pelvic floor PT. It’s helpful for exercise, postpartum sex, and just day-to-day life. If you are not in a place where you can visit a pelvic floor therapist, but you want to start to get to know your pelvic muscles, you can try a pelvic floor muscle trainer at home. (Also as a side note, this fancied-up thighmaster made me laugh when I saw it. I’m sure it’s great, but man I remember thighmasters growing up and swore I’d never use one.)
Diastasis Recti Recovery
Treating diastasis recti after having a baby is crucial for restoring your core strength and function, as well as improving postpartum recovery. Diastasis recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles, which commonly occurs during pregnancy (thanks to that baby kicking and stretching your abdominal wall.)
Postpartum exercises used to help diastasis recti include:
- Pelvic tilts
- Transverse abdominal contractions
- Controlled crunches
- Toe Taps
- Heel slides
Make sure that you’re doing these exercises under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional or a certified postpartum fitness specialist. That can be in-person or online. Another way to address diastasis recti is by maintaining proper posture throughout daily activities and avoiding strenuous movements that place excessive stress on the abdominal area can aid in the healing process. Many women like to wear a belly band wrap to help with posture and compression.
For more severe cases, where these types of methods are not helping the issue, a healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy or, in rare cases, surgical intervention.
Remember Your Strength!
Embarking on a postpartum fitness routine is about celebrating and caring for your powerful, life-giving body. Embrace this journey, and know that each step forward is a testament to your strength. So, are you ready to get moving, mama? PS: Need assistance navigating your postpartum fitness journey? I have two wonderful colleagues who specialize in this and I’d love to help you connect with them. You can email me at email@example.com