This is the follow up to my last blog on training during pregnancy. You didn't think I would give my advice on what to do while pregnant and then leave you hanging once things really got interesting, did you? In case you forgot the major takeaway point of that article, I will remind you: you are awesome! You housed a tiny human for 9 months, continued to train in a way that worked for you, and made it through X hours of labor as gracefully as possible. I'm proud of you!
As in the last post, I want to put this right here before reading any further…
(Disclaimer: I am not an OB/GYN. Please always consult with your doctor about your training program, diet, or any concerns you may have during your pregnancy and postpartum period.)
Now you're home from the hospital with a new baby. What happens next? It is safe to say, things are different now. Besides the numerous thoughts of just WTF are you supposed to do with this tiny human, combined with the seemingly never ending panic every little cough and hiccup brings, YOU are also different. You're a mom. Giving birth actually changes the structure of your brain in what is thought to increase feelings of love and protectiveness and bonding with your child (read more about that HERE). Your body is different too. Your organs literally rearranged themselves to allow your uterus to expand. You have crazy amounts of hormones zinging through your body. Your hips probably feel wider. And don't even get started on your belly. Why doesn't it shrink back to what it used to look like right away? You are probably already looking forward to the day you can get back to the gym to start working on losing the baby weight and "get your body back".
Stop right there. Stop those negative thoughts. Let me remind you - you DO have a body. An amazing body that recently birthed a human.
It is time again to lament the accessibility and constant influence of social media - and the unnecessary pressure it puts on women in particular. We are basically smacked in the face with transformation photos every day. I know I am guilty of posting a selfie - or 9 - from time to time when I am proud of something I've accomplished, and I can understand and definitely relate to any and all feelings you may have about yourself and your body after giving birth. It's almost a desperate need to regain something that is familiar to you and that you are proud of. Before you embark on a weight loss journey after giving birth, I ask that you take a moment to think about WHY. Why do you need to lose those extra pounds so quickly or feel the need to jump back into training the way you used to?
If your answer is "because I am a professional athlete who needs to make a certain weight class" or "because I am a model who makes a living based on how I look" then by all means, you do what needs to be done in order to achieve that goal. If your answer is "well I saw my friend post photos of herself at 3 months postpartum, and I want to look as good as she does", I will lovingly tell you that you are not your friend (or whatever random person you compare yourself to on Instagram) so stop focusing on her. Now is the time to create a priorities list. What are the top three things you need to do for the foreseeable future?
May I suggest something like:
1. Feed the baby
2. Try to sleep
3. Take a shower
Keep it simple. Know that things will not always be this way. You are basically in survival mode for the first few months with a newborn. Your priorities will forever be in constant rotation, and you will save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress if you accept that and focus on what you are capable of handling at any given moment/day/week/month. Another thing you will learn is time passes quickly once you have kids. The days may seem long, but the years fly by.
I know the question you are wanting to ask: what about getting back to training? When can I do it? What should I do?
My answer is it depends. Giving birth is quite a traumatic event that your body goes through, and it needs time to recover. Even if you had the easiest birth in the entire history of birthing, I still believe you need to take steps to let your body heal, but those steps may look different for every woman. A few things to be aware of with your new postpartum body are
• Abdominal separation. This is known as diastasis recti and can be present in varying degrees postpartum. It’s important to have your doctor check your abdominal separation at your follow-up appointment!
• Relaxin. The effects of that hormone are still present in the postpartum period, and it can take months for your ligaments and joints to return to their original positions and stabilize.
• Posture. Carrying a baby 24/7 and breastfeeding all have effects on your posture. Your shoulders round forward or your hips shift if you tend to carry him/her on the same side.
When it comes to getting back into a workout routine after having a baby, I will always try to make the case for taking things slow. Your life has just changed in a major way and your body has performed an amazing feat and it could take awhile to settle into a routine and find your new normal. It’s ok to feel lost and not know what you’re doing most of the time...and it’s also ok to feel like you are handling this transition like a rockstar. I will still suggest you wait to begin a training program until you see your doctor at your 6-week check up and get the ok to resume working out. Those first few weeks are an important time for you and your new family to bond and for you to rest and recover. The gym will always be there waiting for you!
In the meantime, there are many things you can do at home to get started on the path back to training. Addressing the three bullet points above with exercises designed to promote closing abdominal separation, simple strength movements to help stabilize loose joints, and gentle stretches to improve posture is a good goal to focus on for six weeks. I recommend avoiding movements that “push” your belly out like sit ups and crunches and also any movements that let your belly “hang” like plank holds. Roll to your side to get out of bed. Practice engaging your deep ab muscles and just holding them tight. At first, 5 seconds might feel extremely difficult but try to add time every day.