One of the initial questions I asked my OB after I had my firstborn was, “When can I start exercising again?” The answer was to start with walking right away, and “gradually resume” everything else. As a lifelong athlete, my next thought was: How?
How on earth to I re-teach my body how to move the way it used to when right now it feels like a complete stranger’s body? How will I get back to exercising without affecting my milk supply? How will I find the time to work out? How will I inspire my tiny baby to grow into a person with a lifelong love of movement?
A quick Internet search could have convinced me that recovering after pregnancy was solely a matter of flattening my tummy. My postpartum checkup could have convinced me that recovery was just a matter of nether-region healing. As a physical therapist, I know better. Pregnancy affects the whole body, head to toe, and not just the way it looks.
For any athlete, exercise is so very much more than a mechanism to look a certain way. It’s about how you move and feel, how you challenge yourself, how you clear your mind at the start or end of the day, how you heal, how you center, and how you stay mentally and physically healthy. Once any athlete becomes a mother, exercise takes on a new and deeper dimension as a way to inspire her tiny baby to love movement and exercise for a lifetime too.
I researched my questions about exercise after pregnancy on my own, and after almost two years of researching what started as one simple question, I decided to write down all that learned and share the information as a book. As I put the finishing touches on a post-pregnancy exercise progression, I found out I was pregnant again. Eleven months later, at my postpartum checkup, a midwife I’d never met before did a 5 second exam of my nether-region and proclaimed, “You’re good to start exercising, if you haven’t already.”
All the research I’d read through and the hundreds of hours I’d spent learning and writing about exercise after pregnancy flashed through my mind. I had learned so much between my first and second babies – the first time I got the simple advice to resume gradually, I took it at face value, along with many, many bumps in the road. After my second pregnancy I received the same advice, to resume gradually, but this time I used the wisdom of decades of researchers to guide my recovery and came back feeling better than ever.
Gradually resuming exercise after pregnancy sounds so simple… If only it weren’t for all of the complexities of pregnancy that had affected my body from head to toe. If only it weren’t for the breastfeeding worries or the workouts I’d do on the floor next to my bed before dawn so as not to wake my sleeping baby. If only it weren’t for the injuries I’d need to ward off or the struggle of that first full mile I’d run.
If only the appearance of a healed nether-region meant that my pelvic floor was firing correctly and I wouldn’t have occasional leaks when running hard or laughing (don’t let anyone tell you that’s just the way it is after becoming a mom – it doesn’t have to be that way). If only it weren’t for the postpartum fatigue that kicked my butt. If only postpartum recovery and exercise boiled down to the simple matter of my vagina.
There’s a gap between where the advice about exercise at your 6-week checkup leaves you and where many women strive to be athletically. If you find yourself falling through the cracks of that gap – if you’re experiencing incontinence (leaks and accidents), if you’re facing a sports or orthopedic injury like back pain or foot pain, if you have a diastasis recti (separation of your abdominal muscles), or if you’re just not able to perform functionally or athletically like you feel like you should be able to, don’t panic.
Physical therapists can help with all of these challenges, and there are different kinds of physical therapists that are best suited for each issue, including women’s health, sports, and orthopedic physical therapists. If you need help finding the right kind of physical therapist near you, or if you want to explore the research and self-help options first, here’s a research-based online guide to help you get started.
With all of the demands of motherhood, the mommy guilt, and the complexities of recovering from childbirth, seeking help for yourself might seem like it’s just too much, or it’s selfish, or you simply don’t have the time. Take this as your permission to just get started now – and if you need an extra incentive, know that getting help for yourself is good for baby, too. Trust me, there’s plenty of research to show it!
Your search for answers about exercise after pregnancy doesn’t have to end at the abrupt conclusion of your 6-week postpartum checkup. The research is there. Help is available. If you get started now, I promise you won’t regret it!