The Insider’s Guide on How to Exercise Postpartum
If you think you can go back to your old routine (straight away), think again
Two weeks after having my baby, I was ready to exercise. As I was sick during my pregnancy, I found walking for more than 500 mt hard, and straight painful.
After giving birth, and after replenishing my body with plenty of whole foods, my body kicked into gear, and the energy came back. I was missing participating in all the classes I used to attend to, and I was craving some me-time, away from bub.
I read on many different websites that Postnatal exercise can help with weight loss and psychological wellbeing. It can also hasten recovery and assist with muscle strength and toning.
I wasn’t concerned with my weight, but I wanted to feel the sweat dripping down my skin, I wanted to feel strong, vital, and I was sick and tired of watching my husband coming back from a run with a glowing face, while I was stuck at home between one breastfeeding session and another.
In the quietness of my living room, while bub was asleep, I started selecting different HIIT and strength training videos from the net, I bookmarked them all, bursting in excitement at the idea of going back to my previous routine.
Ten minutes into my first video, I was dead, and that was before the end of the warm-up. I didn’t want to accept that the birthing process and all the sleep-deprived nights were so taxing on my system; I felt mentally strong, so why wasn’t my body following me?
I didn’t give up, and I kept on training, which led to delayed healing of the episiotomy, on top of getting stuck on my couch with a sore back. Although I had the energy, as the postpartum adrenaline was still rushing through my body, I had lost all my muscles during pregnancy, and my core was too weak to respond to my cues.
I wanted to get stronger, and I didn’t want to find myself stuck at home, isolated in the pain of another injury; it wasn’t good for my mind, and the relationship with my little family.
Which is why I did the smart thing:
Instead of jumping around the house like a maniac, trying to sweat out the overwhelming feeling of being a mother, I went to the doctor to make sure everything was healing properly, and I then made an appointment with a women’s health physiotherapist. The visit in itself wasn’t pleasant, but she gave me many useful tips on how to bring my body back to its previous strength, by following daily exercises and by avoiding activities I was doing (if you pee when you squat jump…stop jumping). She checked the abdominal separation if there was any visible prolapse and how I activated my glutes. Let me tell you, it was thorough and confronting 60 minutes of my life.
I have to admit all those pelvic floor and core exercises were pretty boring compared to all the various classes I used to enjoy in the past, but I had a plan, and for once in my life, I knew that slow and steady was the only way to move forward.
Going back to exercising had plenty of challenges and it was a rollercoaster of emotions, and injuries. As much as I tried to go easy on my body, I always had the drive to do an extra set, or move my body when exhausted, or going for a sunset run just to have some me-time. It didn’t serve me, and I paid the consequences, which is why I had to go back to really listening to what my body was saying, so it didn’t have to yell (and hurt me) in the end.
It was an overall mentality shift, and it allowed much more space for slow stretches, and time spent on the mat just tucking my lower back while my baby was sitting on top of me. In hindsight, I wished I had valued those slow moments much more than I did.
I went back to the basics
If I wanted to grow muscles and healed my tissues, I had to prioritise rest, hydration and nutrition more than anything else. I started focusing on my diet, I drank a huge glass of water every time I breastfed and sweat, and I came to terms that I had to allow myself to nap while my baby was napping. It sounds so common sense, but if you are anything like me, it was one of the most difficult times of my life. Not only I had to care for a new challenging human, but I also had to behave very differently from the person I was before. Which meant I had to reach out for help, as sometimes it was too difficult to do it all by myself, especially on days when my back was so sore, I couldn’t move.
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One step at the time
I started by walking and doing pelvic floor exercises regularly; I then moved to static squats and lounges; I then added weights; them more weights; I finally introduced cardio. I went from 10 minutes of walking to 40 minutes of exercising.
I wish I could say it was an easy and straight path, but it wasn’t. Every time I got hit with gastro and lost some weight, every time I had a cold (thanks childcare germs), every time I got stuck with a temporary injury, I had to start from scratch It took me a while to be ok with it, but I finally realised that my postpartum body was beautifully different from how it was before. My body was now able to carry the most precious gift I have received in life, it was capable of producing an abundant supply of milk, it was able to move, multitask and prioritise.
The only thing that was getting in the way was my previous die-hard mentality, which was preventing me from being as joyful as I could. Only when I let it go, my world shifted.
That’s when I stopped exercising when tired, and I stopped waking up at stupid times to get 30 minutes of sweat in; that’s also when I seriously nourished my gorgeous body, and I started hydrating as an athlete. That’s when my mind slowed down and the bond with my husband and baby strengthened.
Beautiful things happen when we let go of control, and we listen to the wisdom of our bodies.