Now that you’ve read my first post on why I think postpartum moms need more guidance and support regarding their return to exercise, you’re ready for part 2!
4 General Postpartum Considerations to Return Back to Exercise
When can I start exercising, lifting, running, and jumping?
These are common questions I receive and my answer will be, “It depends!”
Before reading further, I encourage you to read Part 1 of this series (if you haven’t already!) to understand the background pertaining to this conversation.
As you receive your all-clear, here are some steps to consider in your postpartum recovery timeline through the 4th trimester and beyond!
1. Visit a pelvic-floor physical therapist
If there’s one thing I’ll tell any newly postpartum mom (really any woman who’s experiencing pelvic-floor symptoms or pain), it’s that they need to schedule an appointment with a pelvic-floor physical therapist – or at least know that they exist.
Regardless of your birth experience, having a baby is a major trauma to the body where muscles are stretched (and in many cases may be torn). In addition, there are many physical changes that have occurred and your body will continue to change through the coming months and perhaps years, depending on if you breastfeed.
During your postpartum appointment, ask for a referral to a pelvic-floor physical therapist. These therapists are able to further evaluate the strength and function of your pelvic floor in relationship to your whole body, and also provide recommendations on what exercises may be most beneficial for you as you start to implement a routine.
(In the state of Colorado, you do not need a medical referral to see a pelvic-floor physical therapist.)
Referrals to a PT won’t become a common practice unless we advocate for them. Having and knowing your baseline of the overall health of your pelvic floor is important moving forward so that you can be aware of changes that could occur later on in life.
In France for example, it’s common practice to be prescribed pelvic-floor physical therapy for 10 or more sessions! How amazing! Because it’s late while I’m writing this and I’ve been chatting pelvic floors all day, I’ll leave you with this little chant:
“I see Paris, I see France, let’s give our pelvic floors the same great chance!”
Go advocate for your pelvic floor – you’ll be happy you know it a bit better!
2. Pelvic-floor and core awareness
Awareness of common pelvic-floor issues is everything. Most women don’t know that back pain, leaking, or heaviness are signs from your body that not everything may be working as well as it could. Many don’t even know what a pelvic floor is – I didn’t!
If you’re feeling heaviness, bulging in your vagina, pain, incontinence, or feel like your core has no control, please reach out for help.
Common Issues and Some Symptoms: (Not all encompassing)
If you feel symptoms while you’re exercising, please stop the movement and either try something different or stop altogether for right now. Your body may not be quite ready, and that’s OK!
Time can sometimes take care of these issues, and other times we need additional help from number 1 above. If you have questions or are concerned that you don’t feel quite normal, trust your instincts and reach out for help.
3. “Slow is fast”
“Slow is fast” is now one of my favorite ways of thinking, although often frustrating because I sometimes just like to get to the end result already! However, setting a foundation of function, balance, and strength first before adding in intensity, high load, and dynamic movements such as running and jumping can help set you up for a better recovery.
Food for thought: If someone is returning back from ACL surgery or an ankle sprain, they don’t typically jump right back in to a 5K or one-rep max squat. They build strength and range of motion, they assess, and then they build from there.
Walking, light resistance training, breathing, and pelvic-floor exercises as prescribed by your pelvic-floor PT are all usually a great place to start shortly after birth. By working with a pelvic-floor physical therapist or a specialized postnatal fitness professional, you can develop strategies to help you integrate functional movement back into your life and that allow you to meet the demands of motherhood, like carrying car seats or 5-year olds!
If you’ve had a c-section or perineal tearing, even walking may not be comfortable at the beginning, so start slow and short. It doesn’t have a to be a mile-long walk all at once.
With whatever movement you decide to pursue, progressively add movements that support your overall function, gradually adding back in all the fun, dynamic, explosive stuff one rep and one mile at a time. This concept is called progressive overload.
Slow is fast.
Fitness professional Brianna Battles, CSCS, gives an excellent example of progressive overload in her Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism course (provided below). (1)
An example might look like this:
- Squat to a box understanding body positioning and breathing patterns, and find what supports your body.
- Remove the box and do body-weight squats with the same awareness.
- Add volume or weight to the squat.
- Perform jump squats, Olympic lifts, etc.
These progressions are applicable to everything! Literally, walk before you run! There is no hard and fast timeline to this – it may take weeks or months to feel ready to progress. That’s okay, because this is about you.
I get it. Sometimes it can be boring to go slow when all we want is to work hard. But that time will come. One of my favorite quotes is from Antony Lo, a Physiotherapist from Australia who says, “it’s not forever, just for now.”
You’ll get back to finding movement that supports you, and you can oftentimes integrate those movements in as you reconnect with your postpartum body!
Slow is fast.
Build the foundation and your goals will come.
If you’re looking for a slightly more detailed timeline, please visit some of the best I’ve seen from fitness professional Brianna Battles, available here; Pre- and Postnatal Fitness Specialist, Jessie Mundell’s blog and podcast, available here; or the Pre- and Postnatal Exercise Specialists of Girls Gone Strong, available here.
4. Realistic goal setting: one size does not fit all
Please don’t compare your postpartum progress with someone else’s!
We are all different.
In addition, while there are movements considered better suited for the 4th trimester, not all of those movements may resonate with you and your goals. Sometimes we need to do something different that allows us to connect with our bodies and minds.
For example, just because a program advertises to new moms doesn’t always make it the best option right now in our return back to fitness. If there are dynamic movements such as burpees, running, jumping, “6 pack abs,” or if the program is pushing weight loss on you as a new mom right away, I would use caution. There can be (if you want it) a time for that, but is this the best time for it?
Oftentimes, it’s the community we seek to be a part of which is so important as a new mom. If you sign up for a program, I would recommend talking to the coaches/trainers to see if they can modify programming/volume/movement/load to meet you where you are as you progressively and intentionally build your strength back. (I know that’s not always fun, but it’s worth it and you’re setting such an incredible example for other new moms out there!)
We have nothing to prove to anyone by returning as quickly as possible. We need to function well first so that we can continue to do the activities we love.
In my opinion, the best way to add exercise and movement back in to your lifestyle is to look at the already functional movements you perform daily and be aware of how movement in general feels.
- How are you breathing? (Are you holding your breath all the time?)
- How are you carrying and holding your car seat?
- How are you squatting, picking up laundry, carrying groceries and kids, and basically all the things!?
All of these movements can add up and make for a pretty phenomenal way to start restoring your foundation and get movement in! Become aware of your own unique considerations for healing and restoring strength to your body. If you aren’t sure, please visit with a PFPT or specialized pre- and postnatal fitness professional to help you along the way.
Advocate for more
Ultimately, try not to feel rushed to get your body or your pre-pregnancy fitness levels back right away, as there are so many postpartum considerations. Allow yourself grace as your body continues to change and adapt to this new season of life.
Slow is fast mama, enjoy the time. While it’s cliche, the saying is true: the days are long but the years are short. You’ll be back to doing what you love soon, but first focus on intention over intensity.
If you are someone or know someone who will be having her postpartum checkup, have her ask specific questions. If you don’t receive answers that validate you, please seek a referral and be your own advocate (and the advocate of others!) as we continue to keep progressing and changing the conversation in regard to all components of postpartum recovery.
1. Battles, Brianna, CSCS, Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Course, Progressive Overload