Postpartum Fitness is About More than Losing Weight
The following is a contribution from a friend and mentor. I asked her to write this because I wish I had known more about this topic after the birth of my first son. I was so consumed with how quickly I could lose the baby weight that I was peeing myself while working out and rushed some areas that needed more time and healing. Our society often glorifies quick weight loss (for some reason specifically for new moms) and fails to mention all of the important things that go into our recovery and well-rounded care of our incredible bodies. I know you will enjoy reading and learning from Julie.
Birth can be so beautiful and empowering. You spent months preparing yourself for your bundle of joy’s arrival and read all the pregnancy books out there. You planned the nursery, chose the perfect name and exercised throughout your pregnancy. Then it hits you... you gave birth to your sweet baby but you are left feeling confused and frustrated about your postpartum body. Nobody told you what your body was going to look like or how you might feel about your body after giving birth. At your 6 week check-up, you are told that “everything looks fine” and that you can now have sex and return to your regular exercise. Say WHAT?!
Here you are, being given the green light and not really knowing where to start. Everywhere you look someone is trying to sell you some sort of magic potion or program to lose weight. You are tired, sleep-deprived, maybe even depressed and having a hard time juggling a new demanding baby and your body that desperately needs some care. So, you get your running shoes out and start running and participating in a high intensity fitness class so that you can hopefully lose the baby weight.
I wish I could tell my first time mom self:
Does this sound familiar to you? After having 3 babies of my own, I wish I could tell my first time mom self that postpartum fitness is NOT all about losing weight. YES, I said it. Weight loss should not be the main focus especially in the early postpartum months.
While it is ok to want to lose the baby weight eventually; resting, healing and bonding with baby should be top priorities. Your body went through tremendous changes in pregnancy with fluctuating hormones and a growing belly. In pregnancy, both estrogen and progesterone are high and will drastically decrease after delivery. Also, breastfeeding will produce a hormone called prolactin which will make your estrogen levels even lower. All of these changes in your hormones make it difficult to lose fat. Not to mention that cortisol can run at a high level due to stress and lack of sleep which makes gaining fat more likely than losing fat. Please remember that your body is AMAZING and grew a tiny HUMAN. Not letting your body heal properly in postpartum could lead to some major setbacks in the future.
We need more support
Here’s the reality. Women need more support and guidance in early postpartum. They need more than a short visit at 6 week postpartum giving them the green light to exercise and have sex. One out of two moms will have incontinence (leaking urine) after birth and will be cleared to exercise without much talk about the pelvic floor, core, diastasis recti or strategies to get back into fitness appropriately.
My advice as a Pre and Postnatal Coach is to rest, rehab and retrain in those early postpartum months. Healing your body from the inside out to establish a strong foundation and to avoid problems down the road is the best way to go. Spending time reconnecting and strengthening your deep core and pelvic floor will give you so many benefits. You want to focus on regaining function of your body (including your bladder) to avoid struggling with core and pelvic floor issues for years and years. You can’t simply jump back into high intensity workouts without addressing the foundation and expect your body to follow along without injuries. If you do too much too quickly, you could set yourself up for some setbacks that could lead to incontinence, worsening of diastasis recti, back or pelvic pain or pelvic organ prolapse to name a few. Although these issues are common, they are not normal. There are a lot of resources out there to help you feel better and avoid feeling embarrassed every time you cough or sneeze. If you have been struggling with incontinence or other pelvic floor dysfunctions for years, let me tell you that it is NEVER too late to seek help from a Pelvic Floor Therapist and a knowledgeable Health and Fitness Professional.
Shift our thinking
When thinking about losing the baby weight, we need to ask ourselves the question “why”. Why is it that we feel the need to look like we never had a baby? Why do we need to erase everything our bodies went through? Most likely, there is an underlying cause of why we feel pressure to lose the baby weight so quickly. We need to shift our thinking to embracing our amazing bodies and giving ourselves grace in the postpartum period. Let’s switch the focus to giving our bodies time to rest, rehab and retrain. There is more than looking like our pre-baby self, we can seek a body that feels strong and supported and a body that can function optimally without leaking and aches and pains.
Once you have rested, spent some time bonding with your baby and given your core and pelvic floor a little TLC, then you can start enjoying higher intensity activities if that makes your heart happy.
Do you have questions about postpartum fitness, core and pelvic floor rehab? If you enjoyed this article and want some guidance in your postpartum journey, grab your FREE 15 minute consultation with Julie now. Email email@example.com with the subject “Strive Less Live More” to schedule a free call.
Julie Leonard is an exercise physiologist, a pre and postnatal corrective exercise specialist with a focus on core and pelvic health and a mom of 3. She specializes in preparing women mentally and physically for birth and postpartum to achieve better birth experiences, easier postpartum recoveries and more fulfilling lives. Learn more about Julie and connect with her on Facebook here and Instagram here.