There is an interesting phenomenon with pregnant and newly postpartum mothers when it comes to fitness. It is hard to give up control of our body when you become pregnant. After 40 weeks of being at the mercy of our uterus, we are eager to get to our old selves. Our old bodies, just a bit of our old lives. Our new bundle of joy has us swooning, but there is still this quiet (or not so quiet) nagging voice that is telling us to jump back into life. If you were a fitness lover before pregnancy, you're likely chomping at the bit to get back to it. That is how I felt at four week postpartum with my daughter. I felt good. I didn't have any diastasis recti, I didn't have any pelvic floor issues. I felt ready. I was listening to my body. I COULD do the work. But does that mean that I should have?
With hindsight, that is a giant, resounding, no.
There is a wonderful book called The Fourth Trimester that was so enlightening to me with a newborn. My daughter, while safely moving and breathing on her own, still needed a high level of care in this fourth trimester. It was a huge transition for her to go from the womb to this noisy, bright, and chaotic world. So I held her close when she needed to be held. I gave her extra love and care as she adjusted to this new world. But I didn't give my own body the same consideration.
No matter the circumstances of your birth story, your body just underwent a huge change. Even the easiest, most pleasant pregnancy and birth is still a trauma to your body. Physically, your muscle mass has shifted, your tendons and ligaments were under strain, your nutrient stores are depleted from growing a human, your hormones are here, there, and everywhere. In ways that you may not even be able to perceive, your body is forever different. Don't let this scare you. Our bodies are also amazing, resilient, and strong, but the pregnant and postpartum body deserves a bit of extra respect.
Living in the world of health and fitness professionals, I often see women working out until the very end of pregnancy or jumping right back in and sharing that as a badge of honor. Sadly, I partook in that mindset myself, and it ended up poorly for me. My body healed pretty well postpartum, but heavy lifting, jumping, running, and a good dose of "core work" to flatten out my "baby body" left me with a weakened linea alba and pelvic floor dysfunction that didn't exist before. You can come out of pregnancy unscathed, but most women don't realize that your body is still in an altered state for months after giving birth. You're not working at 100%, even if you are feeling great, moving your body in ways that are not supportive of postnatal health can cause harm.
So what is a mother to do? It is more complicated that just "listen to your body." I have two considerations for you as you shift back into a movement routine.
First, sign up for an appointment with a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist/Women's Health Physical Therapist (or Physiotherapist depending on where in the world you are located). While your doctor will likely give you a thumbs up to get back to exercise at six weeks postpartum after just a few basic questions, a PFPT will do a full assessment and take a look at the structures and systems that you're working with. They will have specific movement and exercise recommendations for you, can help gauge your progress as well as highlight any red flags to keep an eye on moving forward. If you've been given the all-clear, you may still want to find a coach or trainer that has specific knowledge of postpartum bodies. Don't be afraid to ask your coaches about modifications if they don't present alternatives. I would love to see the fitness world be held accountable to working within their scope of practice. It may take a few tries to find the right trainer or gym but keep trying! You may have to advocate for yourself, but as long as you know what symptoms you are looking for, it is entirely likely that you'll find a good match to support your postnatal goals.
Second, remind yourself as often as you need to that this is a short season in the span of life. While you are eager to jump back into things, you body needs time to rest and rehab. The more time and space you allow for that healing, the better off you will be for the rest of your life. After all, postpartum is forever. I have spoken with too many women that had children 5, 10, and 20 years ago that have spent that entire time suffering from pelvic floor issues or diastasis and they wrote it off as "normal" never thinking that it could be fixed. BUT, even if you feel fabulous, your PFPT is pleased with your progress, and didn't develop any issues postpartum, I want the challenge the message about getting our "bodies back." Is being and/or looking fit more important that nurturing this new life and taking care of ourselves? Your body is perfect exactly as it is. Right now. No need to get it back, or make jokes about your "mom bod." There are more important issues at hand like your mental health, allowing your body to heal, and growing into this new role at a mother. Take a deep breath and try to embrace this season of life.
No matter where you are in the spectrum of motherhood, next time you are at the gym, take a moment to consider what is genuinely in the best interest of your health. Full health. Box jumps are fun, but are they necessary? Can you get the same intensity from a more gentle exercise that won't test your pelvic floor as much? Planks are standard programming at a lot of gym, but if you notice coning, can you switch it up? Do your movement choices support your long term health? Don't let the ego take over the rest and rehab that your body may be asking for.
*And if you would like to chat about your workout routine and get some objective insight about how to modify or move forward, I'd love to have you book in for a virtual session! My goal is for every woman to feel confident and in control at the gym.