A woman’s body is capable of doing amazing things. Creating human life, for example! As a personal trainer who works with new and expecting moms, I believe it’s important for moms to understand how and why her body is changing after giving birth, and how the right exercises and professional assistance can help. I’ve fielded a lot of questions about how our bodies change when we transition into motherhood – and what we can do after the baby arrives. Here are a few of my favorites, along with a few points about how easing back into a fitness routine is ideal. (Read the prequel: Mom’s Expecting Body: A Few FAQ’s – And How Exercise Can Benefit You & Your Baby.)
Do I really have to wait six weeks to exercise?
Yes! Making a baby is a lot of work. Initially, the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are in a REHAB phase; it’s important to minimize jarring – such as running. Hormonal effects will be present 6-16 weeks postpartum and will contribute to continued joint laxity and possible hot flashes. That, along with sore breasts, vaginal bleeding, weakened pelvic floor muscles, and abdominal and pelvic organs rearranging to their pre-pregnancy locations… definitely mean it’s in your best interest to listen to your body and allow it to recover before easing back into exercise.
If I have a cesarean section, when can I return to exercise?
A cesarean section is major abdominal surgery. Recovery from surgery will vary from individual to individual. And like any major surgery, it is advisable to seek physical therapy afterwards. A physical therapist’s work is incredibly valuable to promote tissue healing and to prescribe therapeutic exercises to regain abdominal strength. A therapist can perform soft tissue work (different than massage work) to break up any adhesions in the scar and around the incision site. When you return to your healthcare provider for your six week check-up inquire about physical therapy. The sooner you seek help after surgery, the better.
What type of exercises can I do after the baby is born?
Kegels. Pelvic floor muscles were stressed through your entire pregnancy and are the main muscle group responsible for pushing your baby out during delivery. These muscles together with their surrounding tissue help stabilize other muscles in our body, support abdominal muscles for strengthening, and can prevent back pain and urine leaks when working properly. Even if you had a cesarean section, starting Kegel exercises will help restore muscle memory. You will experience urinary leakage the first few weeks after childbirth. This is completely normal, but it’s not normal if you continue to leak three or four months later. Practice Kegel exercises to restore your pelvic strength. And don’t be afraid to tell your doctor if you continue to leak urine well after your child is born, there is help.
I’m supposed to be happy but I’m really sad, is this normal?
There are so many emotions that come along with motherhood: happiness, love, joy, and excitement. But there also could be mixed emotions such as feeling overwhelmed, sad, moody or anxious. These mixed emotions are not unusual, and most new moms have temporary mild symptoms of depression mixed with feelings of happiness after having a baby.
The “baby blues” is a short-lived period of mild depression postpartum extremely common among new moms, affecting up to 85% of new moms, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Alarmingly, one in ten of these women will experience the most severe form of the baby blues, postpartum depression (PPD).
Recent studies have shown staying active and exercising after birth can be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression. Know that you are not alone, seek out a support group in your area. If you live in Chicago, check out groups such as the Chicago New Moms Group or the Blossom Method for support.
I’ve started exercising again and heard about an abdominal wall separation, what is that and do I have one?
A separation in the abdominal wall is called Rectus Diastasis. Diastasis may occur during pregnancy or during delivery. It is a condition in which the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen separate. It doesn’t hurt, and you may not even be aware that it exists. But it’s important to check. A separation may lead to increased low back pain, pelvic instability, urinary leakage, or reduced functional strength of the abdominal wall. Ask your healthcare provider to check for a separation at your check up. A minor separation may repair itself without any intervention. There are specific exercises, such as abdominal splinting, that can be prescribed to help mend a more significant separation. Regardless if you have a separation, it’s imperative to restore the strength of deep abdominal muscles after pregnancy.
Active Moms’ Club, in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago have collaborated on a new, unique study: Rectus Diastasis and Post-Partum Recovery of Core Abdominal Muscles. RIC studied AMC’s “From the Core: Postnatal Recovery” class participants in fall 2013 sessions and winter/spring 2014 sessions. Stay tuned for results!
I want to return to exercise safely after baby, where do I begin?
It is important to have a targeted fitness program to help restore your core strength after childbirth. Let Active Moms’ Club help you navigate the do’s & dont’s. From the Core: Postnatal Recovery class is designed to meet the unique needs of mothers with new babies who are six weeks to six months post-partum. Post-Baby Body Express Training is designed for women tight on time and want to get their body back after baby. You’ll learn the (level appropriate) corrective exercises to address your post baby body, specifically, whether it be an abdominal wall separation (diastasis recti), a cesarean section, other physical issues that occurred during pregnancy and delivery, or simply the desire to achieve and maintain a healthy/stronger level of fitness.