When I had my first son in 2013, I thought the healing process would be relatively easy. I was fit, I worked out through my entire pregnancy and did ‘all the things’ I was supposed to do. And it’s my profession, so why wouldn’t it be easy?
But when it was time to jump back in, boy was I dead wrong.
Fast forward many years and another child later, and my approach to postpartum exercise is entirely different.
We approach postpartum like an injury. Because it IS.
Mothers go through a really intense process of pregnancy, carrying a baby for 10 months, and then the birth, which in and of itself is a traumatic experience.
Regardless of how you gave birth – whether vaginally or by cesarean, this trauma remains.
Why is it so traumatic? Here are just a few of the things that happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy and in postpartum. (You might find a lot of these are familiar!):
Ribs spread – you may have noticed your bra size changed. This is because your ribs spread to create more room for baby. This also leads to:
The diaphragm (the breathing muscle) gets compressed. The baby is growing and has to go somewhere, and it’s usually up! You’ll feel this as shortness of breath as the baby gets bigger. The more ‘flat’ your diaphragm becomes, the harder it is to take a deep breath. And this flatness hangs around in postpartum too.
The internal organs are squished and moved around, and it takes time for them to resettle after the baby is no longer taking up the space in your abdomen.
Abdominal muscles are stretched to make space for the growing baby.
Back muscles compensate and get locked down to protect your spine from pinching under the additional weight of pregnancy. Then they stay this way in postpartum if we don’t do anything about it!
Posture changes – this is a big one. Your entire posture shifts as the baby gets bigger. We go from pre-pregnancy upright posture to the ‘pregnant waddle’, and then straight to the forward-leaning posture during postpartum. Essentially, we have 3 layers of posture patterns that we are layering on top of the next. And then we wonder why our backs / necks / shoulders / hips / legs / ankles hurt! Eek!
The pelvic floor takes on great amounts of pressure during vaginal labor, but even if you had a cesarean, you still had the downward pressure of a growing baby for 10 months. It’s a lot!
Hips widen and stretch to make room for the baby and to prepare for birth.
Hormones loosen ligaments and tendons, which stays after birth. AND, if you’re breastfeeding, the hormone relaxin stays in your body until a few months after you’re done breastfeeding, which contributes to the postpartum ‘loosey-goosey’ feeling.
Sleep deprivation!! This by itself is enough to send our bodies into a tailspin!
If we take the viewpoint of seeing pregnancy and childbirth as the injury that it is, then we need a different viewpoint on our recovery.
With any other injury, we would go to the doctor, get a diagnosis, go to Physical Therapy to get exercises to work our way back to ‘functional’, and THEN go back to our ‘usual’ workouts and THEN add on intensity.
Let me give you an example – if you strained or tore your rotator cuff muscles, you wouldn’t jump right back in to handstands the next time you went to yoga! Even saying that seems totally silly. Yet this is the message that is being sent to mothers – that childbirth is ‘natural’ and our body should heal by itself and nothing ‘extra’ needs to be done to get us back to pre-pregnancy strength.
No, no, NO! It doesn’t completely heal by itself! Parts of our body may naturally recover, but with the massive amounts of changes that happen in pregnancy and childbirth, we have to address the whole picture. We need to help our bodies recover in postpartum like any other injury our body sustains.
Ready to check out the strength of your pelvic floor and core? Jump into this quiz to find out where your baseline is!