There are a lot of myths about postpartum exercise.
- Having a “fit pregnancy” means you will bounce back faster
- Leaking when you jump, run, sneeze, cough, laugh… is normal
- Women with prolapse can’t lift more than 10lbs
- All moms should avoid crunches, leg lifts, planks and more traditional ab exercises
But there’s one big one that towers over them all.
And by learning this one simple truth, you can avoid the biggest mistake that most new moms make when they return to exercise post-pregnancy.
This mistake can actually make it harder for you to get back into the workouts you love as soon as you’d like to.
Yes. That’s right. It’s that important.
So what’s the myth?
Well, at your 6 week or 8 week checkup your doctor or midwife will likely say that you’re good to go, you’re “cleared”, you can return to exercise.
And that’s awesome. You’re probably excited to finally get to workout again.
But what they often forget to mention is the simple fact that “cleared for exercise” doesn’t mean cleared for all the exercise.
So just because they give you the go-ahead to workout, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice to dive back into your usual pre-baby workouts – especially if those workouts have running, jumping, heavy lifting, or dynamic movements like walking lunges.
One of the biggest reasons you don’t want to just dive right back into the hard stuff right away is because your core and pelvic floor are nowhere near ready for that intensity just yet.
Whether you had a vaginal birth or a c-section, your body may not be completely healed at 6, 8 or even 12 weeks postpartum.
And the choices you make today can impact how your body functions and feels now, and in the future.
I don’t want to scare you.
But I also don’t want you to end up saying “I wish I knew then what I know now.”
“I wish I knew that doing those movements before my body was ready could make my pelvic organ prolapse worse.”
“I wish I knew that sit-ups that early postpartum could make my diastasis worse.”
“I wish I knew that my body wasn’t ready for running, jumping, planks… (you name it) yet.”
“I wish I knew that leaking – even a little – isn’t normal and that was my body saying it might not be ready for that intensity just yet.”
“I wish I knew…”
This doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to do the workouts you love – the challenging, sweat-drenching, “man, that was gooooood” things.
It simply means that you need to ease back into your workouts.
You need to follow the 3 R’s of postpartum fitness.
Rest & recovery are first. When you’re early postpartum, you need to give your body time to heal on its own.
Your body just went through an insane amount of changes in a short period of time and your entire system – especially your core and pelvic floor – needs time to heal.
You can’t push your body before it’s ready. You can’t expect your body to perform at a high level when it’s still trying to heal.
Imagine telling someone who just had knee surgery 6 weeks ago to go for a 5K run. That doesn’t make sense and sounds dangerous right?
I need you to adopt this type of mindset for your own postpartum recovery.
Your body doesn’t need intense exercise right now. It needs rest.
In fact, diving too soon into too intense exercise can make your recovery longer and harder than it needs to be.
If you want to feel stronger faster, the best thing you can do in that first month or two postpartum is to respect where your body is at and give yourself permission to do less.
- Less time on your feet
- Less exercise
- Less errands and chores and things that you feel like you have to do but you really don’t
I get that it’s easier said than done – especially if you don’t have family, friends or other support nearby to help out.
But the more you can rest – truly rest – the faster your recovery will be.
You don’t have to sit around all day for a month or two. But I do want you to be mindful of whether you’re pushing your body too much too soon.
- You’ll get feelings of heaviness in your pelvic floor
- Your back will ache
- Your hips will hurt
- Your core will feel like it can’t possibly handle one more second before it gives out
- You’ll leak or feel like you’re going to pee yourself
These are all signs that your body needs you to back off and the smartest thing you can do is listen to it.
You can do hard things again. Just not right now. And that’s okay. Allow that to be okay.
The second R is all about rehab.
This is where – instead of diving into that CrossFit class and deadlifting what you did before, or going to yoga and doing a full plank, or hitting that Mommy Bootcamp and doing 100 crunches – you’re going to start by rehabbing your core and pelvic floor.
This doesn’t mean just doing kegels at the stoplights or some simple core movements, like heel slides.
There is more to rehab than the exercises you choose.
It’s also about learning the key strategies you need to have to move well, breathe well, and engage your core well.
You just spent 9-ish months with a beach ball strapped to you. Your body is going to feel weird and different now and you’re going to have to learn how to engage your core well again, breathe well again and even just sit, stand and walk well again, now that you aren’t pregnant anymore.
Throughout your pregnancy you probably started to get into less than ideal alignment simply because of the weight of the baby out front of you.
You also probably started breathing differently because your diaphragm got squished up into your chest.
You also probably had a significant diastasis – which is supposed to happen during pregnancy – so getting your core to engage well again is going to take some time.
P.S. If you’re unfamiliar with what a diastasis is, it’s where the 2 sides of your rectus abdominis – your 6 pack abs – separate during pregnancy to allow room for your baby to grow.
This is totally normal and something we want to happen.
But for some women, the diastasis doesn’t heal as well as we want it to postpartum. And these women need some help to heal their core so they can feel strong and capable of doing more challenging movements without worrying if their body can handle it.
So yes, we’re going to do some more rehab-like exercises for your core and pelvic floor.
And it’s also about learning some key strategies to ensure that when you do get behind that barbell again, or you do go for that run, or you do that intense yoga class, you have the strategies you need so you can make it happen without compromising your core or pelvic floor.
The third R is where we retrain.
And here’s the fun reminder, as I mentioned before, when you follow those first 2 steps of resting and rehabbing and then following that up with retraining, you’re actually going to be able to safely get back into those hardcore workouts you love faster. Because your body will actually be ready to handle them.
This phase is about regaining the strength you lost during pregnancy.
Regardless how much you worked out during pregnancy, and no matter how fit your pregnancy was, you still lost some strength – especially during those last couple months where your body was completely different in size, shape and composition.
Your body lost some strength and that’s okay. It would have been impossible to maintain the same level of core and full body strength throughout your entire pregnancy – regardless how fit you were pre-baby.
So now it’s time to build that strength back up.
We do this by giving you progressively more challenging strength-based workouts so that each week your body gets stronger and stronger and stronger until suddenly you’re thinking, “Wait, I’m doing what I did before I got pregnant! I made it! I’m doing all the things! Yay!!”
This is the fastest way to get stronger and feel like yourself again.
Now I understand that this may feel like a long, slow road but – as I keep saying – it’s actually the fastest way to get stronger, safely get back into the workouts you love and feel like yourself again.
If you just try to dive right back in, you’re more likely to get injured or have issues, and then you’ll need to take a step back and maybe not workout at all for a while to allow your body to heal.
That doesn’t sound fun, right?
But if you start small, start slow, you’ll actually reach the finish line faster than if you just push your body beyond it’s capabilities and try to force it to be as strong as it was pre-baby right now.
You’d never pressure your baby to run before she can crawl. Give yourself that same patience and grace.
It will happen.
You can and will feel as strong as you did. You can and will be able to do all the workouts and live the active life you love.
You just need to follow this step-by-step plan first.
P.S. Have some gym-loving mom friends who need to read this and give themselves more grace and patience? Send it their way via email or by using the social share buttons above.