There is no greater awakening than the contrast between how a woman envisions herself as a mother and the actual reality of the situation. Put aside all of the “I will definitely do X, Y, or Z as a parent” assertions, particularly when it pertains to physical activity.
Postnatal fitness will probably be an entirely different game than you expected. (Just take a look at celebrity trainer Emily Skye, whose journey through pregnancy was completely different from what she had planned.) Even the most well-intentioned new mothers may discover that their fitness takes a backseat when they have a newborn at home. Here are some essential facts about postpartum exercise that might not be on your radar.
1. Your core will be stretched, or even separated.
Not surprisingly, one of the most significant disparities between your pre-baby workouts and postpartum exercise lies in your core. A study from 2015 indicates that virtually all women experience diastasis recti (when the right and left abdominal muscles separate) toward the end of pregnancy, and up to 39 percent still have some degree of separation six months after giving birth.
Putting diastasis recti aside, “most women are taken aback by just how distinct their core feels once the baby arrives,” says trainer Maura Shirey, a certified instructor in pregnancy fitness and the owner of Bodies for Birth. “The core remains excessively stretched, and the woman is left with a stomach that feels very dissimilar. Women will use words like vulnerability, disconnection, absence, vacancy, and nonexistence to describe how their postpartum core feels in the early days.” Coupled with a weakened pelvic floor, this can make it quite challenging for new mothers to return to their fitness routine since core strength is essential for overall health and basic fitness. Shirey suggests focusing on strengthening the transverse abdominis (the deepest muscles in the core) to regain strength and stability. (Try these abdominal exercises that can assist in healing diastasis recti or consider consulting with a physical therapist or trainer who specializes in postpartum training.)
2. Each birthing experience and recovery is unique.
“Recovery time after childbirth varies for every woman,” says Gina S. Nelson, M.D., fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and an obstetrician-gynecologist at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. “Based solely on my experience, I believe that your level of fitness before pregnancy is the primary factor in determining how well you’ll fare in postpartum recovery.” If you have good fitness habits and a certain level of conditioning beforehand, you will likely have a smoother transition back to your fitness routine after giving birth.
That being stated, the overwhelming majority of females will have the capability to resume all regular activities, encompassing physical activity, by six weeks after giving birth,” she expresses.
3. You’ll encounter brand-new discomforts.
You hear all about relaxin (the hormone that helps loosen joints for labor) during pregnancy, but it actually remains in your system well beyond the birth of your baby. “Some sources believe that relaxin may persist in the body for up to 12 months after weaning,” says Shirey. This implies that your joints stay looser than usual. That lack of stability increases your susceptibility to discomfort, aches, and potential injury.
Your new lifestyle might also result in some discomforts: “Motherhood can be a very ‘reactive’ time, where we’re not taking the time to consider how we’re moving and positioning our bodies because there are pressing needs that feel (and often are) more urgent (baby is crying, needs a diaper change, is hungry, etc.),” says Shirey. “You find yourself remaining in extremely uncomfortable positions until a leg or foot becomes numb, with a full bladder, in an attempt to keep the baby asleep.” She suggests focusing on proper alignment both during exercise and in everyday life.
Photo: Fizkes / Shutterstock.
4. There are emotional hurdles as well.
Postpartum depression (PPD) has received significant attention in recent years-and rightfully so, since the American Psychological Association estimates that one out of every seven new mothers will experience PPD. Even women without diagnosable depression will likely undergo hormonal changes and potential mood swings as a new mom. (Emily Skye and Kate Middleton have both shared their personal experiences with the “post-baby blues.”)
“I observe this as a highly emotional period for many women at some point or another,” says Shirey. While many women encounter some slight mood changes during or after childbirth, 15 to 20 percent of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety, as stated by Postpartum Support International.
While PPD or general postpartum emotional changes may result in a lack of interest in physical activity, Dr. Nelson affirms that engaging in exercise will enhance your emotional state and increase self-assurance, which is particularly crucial when faced with unrealistic expectations regarding your post-baby physique and fitness level.
“I often discover that there are highly impractical anticipations regarding the appearance of postpartum fitness,” states Shirey. “I attribute this to the influence of social media and the overall insufficiency of reliable information available on the internet. With a predominant emphasis on ‘regaining your pre-baby body’ postpartum and Instagram photos of celebrities wearing waist trainers and skinny jeans shortly after giving birth, it can be overwhelming to distinguish what is attainable for postpartum recovery.”
5. Rest is equally significant.
Undoubtedly, your precious newborn will sleep approximately 20 hours a day initially, but this occurs in shortened intervals. Consequently, many mothers struggle to obtain sufficient consecutive hours of rest in order to feel rejuvenated and energized enough for exercise.
“This can create a bit of a ‘catch-22’ situation,” claims Shirey. “Exercise possesses the potential to generate more vitality, but it also has the potential to be utterly exhausting, especially when you are already sleep-deprived.” Exercise should not contribute to exhaustion, so it is essential to listen to your body and consider less strenuous workout options when necessary. “On certain days, an invigorating walk with some inclines might feel great,” she suggests. “On other days, when experiencing heightened fatigue, engaging in stretching and breathing exercises might be more appropriate.”
6. A support system is vital.
An obstacle that may hinder postpartum exercise is the fact that the baby requires supervision while you engage in physical activity. The days of spontaneously grabbing your gym bag and departing without a second thought are a thing of the past. Now, you have three choices: exercising with the baby (which often means your workout is relegated to a secondary priority), paying for childcare (some mothers may not feel at ease with a stranger caring for their infant in the early stages), or entrusting the baby’s care to your partner, another trusted family member, or friend. This highlights the significance of having a dependable support system. “An unorganized family life lacking sufficient assistance poses a major obstacle to resuming exercise,” explains Dr. Nelson.
7. There are considerations for jogging strollers.
Prior to becoming a mother, most female runners typically assume they can simply load up the stroller, and their annual half marathon schedule will remain unaltered. However, there are various factors to take into account. First and foremost, conduct thorough research to ensure that your stroller is specifically designed for jogging. (Believe it or not, there are strollers labeled as “jogging” even though they are unsuitable and unsafe for jogging.) Similar to any baby product, there are stroller options available at different price points. Nevertheless, expect a stroller suitable for jogging to be pricier than its non-jogging counterparts.
Additionally, Shirey advises consulting with both your baby’s pediatrician and the manufacturer of your jogging stroller to ascertain when it is safe for your little one to accompany you on a run. Most babies are not ready until they are between 6 to 8 months old. After considering all these factors, “They can be surprisingly challenging to push and require getting accustomed to,” cautions Shirey, “so it is best to be patient, start off gently, and focus on proper alignment and core strength while dealing with this additional resistance.”
Photo: Tomsickova Tatyana / Shutterstock.
8. Breastfeeding torches calories, but it’s not a workout.
Nursing may not qualify as strength or cardio, but breastfeeding and producing milk does require a significant amount of metabolic resources, says Dr. Nelson: “Breastfeeding necessitates an additional 300 calories above that required at the end of pregnancy,” she says.
Because you burn calories from breastfeeding (but it doesn’t necessarily count as exercise), you may notice the scale dropping while your clothes still don’t fit the way they did the last time you were at that weight. Shirey says that most women experience some level of de-conditioning during pregnancy. She recommends gradually and methodically advancing resistance training to build or rebuild strength and muscle tone.
Very demanding workouts can actually affect breast milk too, though your supply should remain intact as long as you’re consuming enough and hydrating properly. Dr. Nelson suggests consuming extra calories and increasing water intake by one or two liters per day while nursing.
“Beyond sheer calories and hydration, I know of nothing about working out that reduces milk volume,” says Dr. Nelson. Studies show that regular exercise at moderate to high intensity does not alter the quality or quantity of breast milk, but that extremely intense anaerobic exercise (read: jumping, sprinting, etc.) may impact the taste of milk due to physiological byproducts of exercise (such as lactic acid) and may influence your baby’s nursing behavior, according to a review published in Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology.
9. Take it easy and understand it’s worth the effort.
With all of these challenges and precautions, it’s still valuable to make time for exercise as a new mom. “When women resume workouts after a baby is born, they often comment on how much it means to them,” says Dr. Nelson. “The time they spend on themselves takes on a heightened importance which they cherish.”
There are so many benefits to postpartum exercise, says Dr. Nelson. “I encourage new mothers to be patient with themselves, their babies, and their families. I would like them to be self-accepting and to give themselves permission to take time for a workout once they have recovered. They should be encouraged that it will be beneficial for them and beneficial for their family too.”
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