Returning to Exercise Postpartum - What You Need to Know
You got that 6 week clearance from your OBGYN, or maybe you’re just feeling so good that you decide to jump back into fitness early.
Not so fast mama
The Six Week Visit
A typical 6 week postpartum visit with your OBGYN or midwife is simply checking to see if your cervix is closed and any stitches are healed. This is not a full examination of muscle recovery and function. Even if your birth experience wasn’t traumatic, there is still a level of trauma that occurs to the body, especially the core and pelvic floor. Six weeks postpartum isn’t a magical healing time for these muscles. This is where working with a pelvic floor physical therapist (PFPT) for a pelvic floor exam and a qualified trainer to help guide you back into the movements you love will really transform your recovery and future progress.
Outside of core and pelvic floor muscle and tissue healing, you’ll also want to be aware of:
- Hormone changes
- Breastfeeding supply
Fatigue and Stress
I’m a firm advocate for movement, but when your body is already drenched in stress from birth recovery, lack of sleep, learning how to parent a new baby, and navigating adding another human to your household, adding more stress on top (even if it is “good” stress like exercise) could do more harm. In times like this, slowing down and prioritizing rest need to be key components of your fitness plan. This can look like prioritizing flow and mobility work, adding in rest days, increasing the rest time between sets, or decreasing the number of high demand movements within a single workout.
This is one area where you will want to really lean in to listening to your body. Issues such as adrenal and thyroid dysfunction and hormone imbalances can sneak up on you during postpartum with the combination of hormone shifts, fatigue, and stress.
Slow and Intentional
Rehab, building a foundation, and taking your time to master the basics might not garner praise on social media, but it works.
An intentional return to fitness postpartum will help you extend your recovery, reduce your risk for core and pelvic floor disorders like diastasis, pelvic organ prolapse, and incontinence, and can actually help you hit your goals faster.
That’s right. Going slow and intentional can actually mean a faster return to hitting those deadlift PRs again.
Exercises You Can Do Early Postpartum
Breathing is the foundation to your postpartum recovery and strength building process. A diaphragmatic breath, inhaling and expanding 360 degrees around the ribcage with a gentle transverse abdominis (TA) contraction on exhale, is what I start all of my 1:1 clients with.
Not just a squeeze, a kegel is a contraction with a lift of the pelvic floor (think sucking through a straw – I’ve got more good analogies if you need them). There are several apps you can use to track your kegel duration, but this is where a visit with a PFPT is highly recommended to get the best prescription for what YOU need.
It feels good to move your joints after spending so much time sitting to hold and feed baby, especially after 9 months of growing that baby. I have my clients focus on shoulder and hip mobility with movements such as wall angels, good mornings, and shin box flows.
Wear your baby, push a stroller, or get some coveted time alone and go for a walk. Start out with short trips around the block and gradually build distance and time. Feeling symptomatic when walking? Sometimes changing to walking on a slight incline can help your body get into a better position.
You can return to fitness postpartum with the appropriate modifications and strategies. These four exercises are a great way to start rebuilding your foundation and get you back to the lifts and classes that you love.