Updated: May 18, 2021
Because of my orthopedic and sports therapy background, I work with a lot of women in the post-partum period (and anywhere along their journey of being a mom) who are looking to find balance in exercise, be stronger and more stable in their activity, relieve pain and discomfort, and enhance their performance - whether it’s in a sport or in the day-to-day busy life as a mom. I want to shift mindset away from the notion of “getting your body back”. Your body has been through 10+ months of adaptations and stresses and has literally changed forever. BUT that doesn’t need to be scary or disheartening…… feel what it feels like to EXPERIENCE this new body, this amazing body, this body that can be stronger and more stable than before. This transition can be an incredible journey to be able to increase your self-awareness, your strength, and your stability and to discover your weaknesses and make them strengths. There is no reason why you can’t get back to anything you love to do, but you need to progress and load the system in specific ways and build on a strong foundation. This is true when coming back from pregnancy but also from any injury, surgery, or illness - any time your body has gone through something that has created change.
In talking about specific post-partum programming, here is a general idea of what my program is built around for safe progression and effective foundation building:
0-3 months PP: This is active healing time! Time to rest, restore, and revive yourself through taking care of yourself, giving yourself time and grace, and accepting help. And time to foster a healthy mindset, and to absorb the beauty of the new life you created, the shifting routines, changing relationships. In terms of physical healing, you need to remember that your body is still being affected by hormone changes and it’s a good time to encourage healing through nutrition and gentle movement, avoiding high impact type of activities (your organs and ligaments are trying to shift back up into their proper position!), becoming aware of alignment and body positioning, being mindful and intentional about the breath, and starting to reconnect back in with your core, pelvis, and pelvic floor through gentle awareness exercises. Walking is wonderful because it gets the whole body moving, is usually out in nature, and causes some reflexing core and pelvic floor work to occur.
3-6 months: Your body is still adapting, making active changes, working hard to heal, and getting back to baseline. You can start strength training and focusing on proper movement patterns to create coordination in your deep core. Pay attention to breath patterns and mobility as well as strength. Exercise should still be very intentional and purposeful, building on a strong base with proper recruitment patterns. Jumping back into high intensity exercise is not recommended because it is easy for the body to “cheat” and ignore the deeper stability muscles it can’t properly find yet, which can lead to compensation patterns. Also, especially if you are nursing, your body is still being affected by hormone shifts and the connective tissue and ligaments are not at their best tension-generating strength to withstand intense, high impact moves. This is not time to kick your body into gear full force, but it is the most common time when women start feeling the pressure of “getting back in shape”. You will actually make more progress by slowing things down and being intentional about strengthening and movements - and you can get a great workout and effective calorie burn without high impact and high speed, until your body is ready and can properly control an increase in force.
6-12 months: Time to integrate all the deep stability work, core coordination, and alignment awareness into more complex moves. Train to get back into higher impact type of activities and explosive moves with that strong foundation and without symptoms.
12-18 months: Time to work hard on strengthening, performance training, exercise, or whatever it is you love to do! Knowing that pain or discomfort anywhere in the body, leaking pee/gas/bowels, heaviness in pelvis, and anything that feels consistently “off” are a sign that your body is not tolerating the level you are training at and something is awry in the way it is recruiting the muscle system.
So there you have it. In the orthopedic world, progressions such as this are discussed and used with regularity - think post ACL reconstruction, rotator cuff surgery, plantar fascitis, tennis elbow pain, etc. It’s funny to me that after giving birth….even if you have a c-section which counts as a major surgery….there is often no guidance on how to re-strengthen, re-align, and safely get back into activity and life. And that’s just physical support - don’t even get me started on a lack of emotional support. But that’s why I do what I do. I want to change the paradigm and elevate the level of perinatal care, giving women support, knowledge, motivation, and a clearer path to overcome anything they are dealing with.
So wherever you are in your motherhood journey, learn to tune into your body and don’t settle for things feeling “off” because you have been pregnant or are hoping to be pregnant again. Don’t wait. Taking care of you IS taking care of your family. We have normalized women’s pain, leaking, weakness, etc as a part of what we have to deal with after being pregnant and bringing life into this world, and that is not okay. We need to STOP normalizing dysfunction! But there are 2 sides of this coin that I want to make clear.
So many things “post-baby” have become “normal” and “expected” ….. and as moms we are lead to think “well I had a baby so this is what it is”….. leaking pee when we jump on a trampoline or sneeze, having a stubborn pooch in our lower abdomens, not feeling as strong as we want to in our core, back pain, pelvic pain or pressure, extra weight sticking around, not being able to run. After my third baby I had a pretty significant diastasis recti (abdominal separation) that persisted for a long time, and when I discussed it with my OB I was told “oh that’s normal and there’s nothing you can do - but you’ve had 3 healthy babies so what do you expect?” Thank goodness I had already started down the path of women’s health and educating pregnant and post-partum mamas in my career, and that was when She Thrives PT was born. I want to open up conversations about things that are often whispered about or fretted about within. Yes we sometimes normalize symptoms to feel better - if so many people are struggling with it then it just must be what happens, right? And it’s true that all of the above examples ARE common - so you are not broken, you are not doing anything wrong, and your baby did not destroy your body. BUT, also, you do not have to settle for any of it. Living with a dysfunction is not what life is as a mom. Put yourself on your list of things to do and get help if you are struggling with anything or feeling like something is “off.” This goes for anyone, not just moms. We so often learn to live in a state of mild dysfunction that we forget what feeling completely “well” feels like. This often happens with sleep habits, digestion, pain, stiffness, etc, but that is a discussion for a different blog :)
On the other side is giving yourself grace to have awareness of where you and what’s going on in your body and world, and to know where you want to be WITHOUT self-judgement or self-criticism. “This body’s work will not be forgotten, hidden, or erased” This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever read. There is too much pressure out there about “getting your body back”. It can lead to frustration, poor healing, and disappointment....and besides, would you ever truly want your body “back”? The one who was not a mother? Once you have transitioned into being a mother, however it happened, you are forever changed - emotionally, physically, and mentally - and there is NO negative connotation attached to the word “changed”. If you look closely at your current body and soul you will notice courage, love, and wisdom that wasn’t there before. Go forward with acceptance of who you currently are and honor all the things you have been through, and make this strongest version of yourself yet. But also don’t accept anything that feels “off” as normal. There is help for any changes you are struggling with - physical, emotional, or other - and you just have to give yourself grace to ask. You will be okay. You are beautiful and strong.
Want to explore more in your own body? Contact me!