Having a baby is a big deal. Not only to your life but to your body as well. I’m not talking only about weight gain but major things happen to the body post baby.
I’ve been studying pre/postnatal fitness for the last 13 years. My insight did change though after having my son 4 years ago.
The changes you go through are immense. Post birth I feel there is so much pressure put on new moms to get back to pre-baby body within weeks. That expectation is not realistic for the majority of people. We see our friend, neighbor, celebrity, or person you follow on social media get back to her body quickly so you think well I should too.
We often forget about the stress on the body was under while pregnant, during labor, and now lack of sleep taking care of a newborn. Your body is stressed. Everyone’s body reacts differently to stress. Some burn body fat while others store weight when under stress.
Typically post birth you will lose an initial 10-15 pounds after giving birth. The baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid. Ideally you’re waiting until you get the okay from the doctor to workout which is around 6 weeks post birth.
Now when women get the okay to workout it doesn’t come with an instruction manual of what to do. So we assume since the doctor said okay we can resume our regular workouts that we did prior to becoming pregnant. If we really break that down we haven’t done those workouts in about 11 months. So as with anyone starting a new workout program we shouldn’t start off where we left off. I will go over why you don’t want to jump right back in and then go through each month post birth a general guide to working out post baby.
Why you don’t want to go all in 6 weeks post birth
Lots of things happened during the birth process. Some women feel completely normal 6 weeks post birth others don’t feel so great. So you already know what camp you fall in around 6 weeks. Your pelvic floor has done some hard work the past 9 months. Even if you did not have a vaginal birth your pelvic floor is still under pressure from carrying the baby throughout your pregnancy.
It is not as strong at 6 weeks postpartum which is why if we jump, run. push heavy weight above our head we don’t give the pelvic floor enough time to heal.
In the US we don’t have mandated pelvic floor physical therapy like they do in Europe, or Australia for healing post birth. Some women might need to do kegels, & clams, while others might not, as the pelvic floor has tightened up on them. A good pelvic floor physical therapist can tell you if you need to work on relaxing or tightening your pelvic floor muscles.
We should not have to go to the bathroom, or slightly pee every time we jump, run, or laugh. That is where physical therapy can help. You should’t have to live with that and if that is happening pt is recommended.
Along with pelvic floor concerns Diastasis Recti is another common complaint of women post birth. That is when the linea alba muscles in your abdominal wall slightly seperate. Some doctors check for this postpartum but not all do.
How to test for Diastasis Recti
Lay down on your back place your middle & pointer fingers together (side by side, not vertical) on the middle muscle of your abdomen. It might feel a bit squishy which is totally normal. Next perform a slight crunch upwards. Notice if you can fit more than your 2 fingers in the gap of your belly. You want to do this in 3 locations; right below your belly button, right above your belly button, and right below your chest. You might have separation in 1, 2, or all 3 spots or none. Having a 2 finger gap is considered NORMAL. More than 2 fingers seek a qualified pre/postpartum trainer to help give you proper core moves. Planks, crunches are not always advised if you have a 3 finger separation there are better moves.
2nd pregnancies 85% of women get diastais recti to some degree. Again totally normal and manageable.
What to do if you have a separation, and 50% of women do develop it. You want to strengthen the core by doing toe dips, lying on the ground and pushing your low back to the floor & releasing, heel slides. Rebuilding the core is the first step and after your separation is healed or on the mend and your transverse is getting stronger than you can add back in planks while continuing the core stabilization exercises.
1 month post birth
- Walking is the best thing you can do. While you walk maintain good core control and notice your pelvic floor.
2 months post birth
- Squats if you feel like exercising. Don’t worry about how low you go just starting to notice your pelvis and how your squats have changed (for now).
**Also don't try and squat super low maybe just 1/4 the way down. Take it from me who gave myself a glute tear from squatting to early & to low after I had my son.
- Bridges are also a good exercise to start with. Lying flat on your back and lift your hips to the sky hold for 10-30 seconds. You will most likely get the green light to exercise at 6 weeks post birth and start slow. Don’t start with running. So many injuries happen because that is the first thing women gravitate towards as they think it’s the only way to lose the weight. Which is not true. Patience is needed. You still might be very sleep deprived so hard exercise is not recommended yet.
3 months post birth
- Start to gradually add in longer walks maybe up to an hour.
- Lifting weights doing compound movements as time is usually a cause for concern. Compound movements are working 2 body parts with one move- squats with a bicep curl, side lunge with a lateral raise. Planks can be introduced if you don’t have any separation around the 10-12 week mark.
4 months post birth
- Continue with planks, compound exercises, more intense cardio. Jacobs ladder, rowing, incline walking.
- Avoid running still if your pelvic floor hasn't healed or you feel pressure while in the pelvis region while working out.
- Overhead presses starting with lighter weights.
5 months post birth
- If you were a runner before and feel pretty good running can be added back into your routine. Start with an easy jog interval jog 1-2 minutes, walk 1-2 minutes. Do this for 10-20 minutes to see how you feel the next day.
6 months post birth
- Jumping can be added back into your routine watching how you feel during the move and following day.
- Running can remain the same or pick up the pace or resting intervals depending on fitness level.
- Continue lifting and focus on working more back body muscle groups- rear delts, triceps, glutes, lats. As those muscles tend to get shortened from holding your child, and feeding your child. Make sure you stretch your chest muscles and quads as they often get tight from sitting.
7 months post birth
- You can increase your intensity if you are feeling good.
- Strength training should still be targeting the back side of the body to help increase strength where it is needed while constantly bending over to pick up your child, or if you have an office job typing, driving etc.
8 months post birth and beyond
- If you want to get more bang for your buck during your workouts combine cardio & strength. That has been a huge time saver for me. I often recommend doing 10 minutes of intense cardio from 4-6 months, and increased cardio to 20-30 minutes from 7-9 months postpartum.
- I like to add lifting exercises in between cardio bursts or do 10 minutes of intense cardio followed by 20 minutes of a lifting workout. Time is something that we are trying to save and workouts can be done at home or at the gym as long as you stay consistent with them and listen to your body you will recover before you know it.
Yoga and Flexibility
That can be done throughout your post pregnancy journey. I would start with a restore class after your 6 week postpartum mark. Tell the instructor that your 6-12 weeks postpartum and you might need some modifications for poses. I needed this when I was 6 weeks postpartum.
Certain poses did not feel good yet and the instructor gave me great alternatives. Hamstrings, chest, back complaints are quite common post baby. So even if yoga is not for you making sure you do stretches to target those areas will help you feel better on a daily basis.
Everyone has their own unique labor & delivery as well as postpartum journey. So honor your body and do what’s best for you. These are guidelines that I personally followed as well as have my clients follow. All have recovered from ab separation and do not complain about incontinence during workouts. So this has been my personal study for the last 13 years and want to help other women who might not have a set path post birth and are looking for a little help. Hopefully this will be a good start for you.
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