When I was 6 months postpartum with Max, I landed myself back in pelvic floor PT. After a few months of a really well-behaved pelvic floor, I was finally making steady progress in my workouts. I was working out consistently and appropriately (in my humble but fairly educated opinion) and I was getting stronger. But then one day it felt like my bottom was falling out. Literally.
Spoiler: Nothing was falling out. My symptoms ramped because I was stressed. I was sleep deprived. My pelvic floor was tired of pulling more than its fair share of work while the rest of my inner core rehabilitated. So while nothing was physically wrong, my body was giving me signs that I needed to step back a little bit. (See tip #4)
Back in PT, my physical therapist told me that she often sees folks come back in around 6 months with an uptick in symptoms. For all the reasons above. When returning to exercise after baby, setbacks are normal. We can even say they’re expected. (See tip #3)
Even as someone who works in this space, I found that there have been many lessons to learn in my second spin through postpartum. Every pregnancy is different, every postnatal journey is different (See tip #9!).
And so, here they are. The most valuable lessons I've learned about postpartum exercise, based on my own lived experience, professional training and in-the trenches observations of my clients:
1) Slow is fast.
If you’re raring at the gate and jump back into your pre-pregnancy workouts right out of your 6 week check-up, you’re likely to get injured. And that means an EVEN slower return to sport. Take time to rest, rehab and retrain your body. Slowly build back your stability and endurance and then reintroduce load and impact.
2) Consistency is more important than any individual daily effort.
In early postpartum (6 weeks-1 year postpartum), we are building habits. Setting routines. Holding space for yourself to exercise on a consistent basis, is key to re-establishing a regular workout routine in the long-term.
3) Progress is not linear.
There are good days and bad days. There are seasons of strength, seasons of exhaustion and seasons of stagnation. There are also unfortunately injuries and setbacks. It's all part of the process.
4) Pelvic floor symptoms don’t necessarily indicate anything dire.
They’re an early warning system worth paying attention to, but they do not always correlate to a change in physical presentation. Sometimes a change in symptoms, like an increase in leaking or a heavier-than-usual feeling in the vagina, just means we're stressed, tired or dehydrated.
5) At the same time, there is such a thing as a workout you will regret.
Listen to your body. Pay attention to the early warnings. And refer back to #1. If you have a gut feeling that should take it easy, listen to your intuition. An injury is the quickest way to slow down your journey to where ever it is you are trying to go.
6) Nothing magical happens at 6 weeks postpartum.
Understand that the “all-clear” at your 6 week appointment is a permission slip to return to gentle exercise and progressive overload, not your pre-pregnancy workouts. On that note:
7) Get to know your friendly, local pelvic floor physical therapist.
If you are serious about returning to sport (or life, this is really for anyone), make a pelvic floor PT appointment part of your 6 week medical check-up. And then take their advice.
8) Keep your eyes on your own paper.
Don’t compare your progress to anyone else’s. Refer back to tip #1. Look, some people are unicorns. They can push out a baby and run a marathon a month later. That’s not most people. Unicorns are rare and so when they're sighted, it's newsworthy. They’ll trend on social media and you might think, if they can do it I can do it. But it’s a mirage. A myth. Most people benefit from taking time to heal. Most people will come back stronger if they are true to their own body. Trying to rush things to fit into someone else’s mold isn’t going to yield a satisfactory result.
9) Don’t compare your progress to your own experience in other pregnancies and postpartums.
Every pregnancy, delivery and postpartum is an independent coin toss.
10) Rest days and recovery are an essential part of the process.
And they are EVEN more important now than they were before you had a baby.
Postpartum can be the most frustrating. It can be so hard to put on the brakes when you want to hit the gas. But it's even harder if you're dealing with an injury or setback.
Here's a fact: you'll get there in the end, no matter how fast or slow you take things. The person going the speed limit might turn up the destination a few minutes behind the person going 10 over. But if the person going 10 over gets pulled over, the person going the speed limit is going to get there first. Plus they avoided the ticket and the points on their license. Speeding is rarely worth it.
Or think of it this way, when you look back in 5 or 10 years, this will feel like the blink of an eye. So be kind to yourself. Take the time you REALLY need. I urge you to consider that the goal should be long term strength and function. Taking 6 or 12 months to return to sport safely is a small price to pay for a lifetime of doing the things you want to.
If you’re looking for guidance in navigating your return to exercise after giving birth, I'm opening up a limited number of spots for personalized, online 1:1 coaching. Please send me an email to set up a free Meet and Greet to discuss your goals and how I can help you achieve them!
Take a deep dive into HOW to dial in your breathing strategy to and kick-start your postpartum recovery. Download your copy of The No B.S. Guide to Breathing for a STRONG Pregnancy and Postpartum.
My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.
Contact me with questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I work with people in-person (Seattle's Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and online to develop personalized pregnancy and postpartum exercise plans.