Cleared for Exercise

These were the three words I could not wait to hear after having my first child. I sat in the office in a body I did not associate myself with: empty squishy tummy, the kankles that never left, still in maternity clothes, bags under my eyes, and exhausted. All I wanted to do was return to exercise. I could not wait to work off the 70 pounds of weight my body loved putting on during pregnancy. I was cleared for exercise.

First workout

I have been through some pretty intense workouts in my college track days. The kind of workouts where you cannot physically move after completing them, but those did not prepare me for my first workout post-partum.

I went out for a run without the baby. Immediately, every joint ached and I felt completely disconnected with my body. Needless to say, I wound up walking less than a mile in. I resumed my workout at home with strength training. I was exhausted, and my muscles felt like flab. My attempt to exercise my core was abysmal. Discouraged, I sat on my living room floor crying. What happened?

First, I had just had a baby. I know this is one thing I hated hearing and still do hate hearing is, “you just had a baby.” To me, it always seemed like an excuse that I wasn’t ready to use. The truth is, however, that when you return to exercise, your immediate postpartum workouts should not be executed like a traditional workout. Your body has gone through considerable changes to create your sweet bundle of joy. Your body needs time and TLC to return to its pre-baby state. The postpartum period should be looked at as rehabilitation, not weight loss. Your body is still undergoing immense changes, and you are mentally wrapping your head around midnight feedings, diaper changes, hormones, tending to other children and re-adapting to your life as it was before the baby. Finally, you are exhausted. Being sleep-deprived is a stressor. Increased stress causes cortisol levels to rise. When cortisol levels are increased in the body, it makes losing weight more difficult.  Exercising is a stressor also increasing cortisol levels. Too intense of a workout routine can have negative impacts for your fitness goals.

How should postpartum workouts be viewed?

As I mentioned before, the workouts are not traditional workouts. You have spent 38-42 weeks with restricted movement of the core. The first step is reconnecting you to your core. This is done through a series of breathing and activating your core muscles. These “exercises” can be done in the first couple weeks postpartum regardless if you have had a C-section or a vaginal birth. It may feel impossible, but rest and recovery is a priority. Giving birth no matter if you labored for 5 minutes or 2 days (medicated or not medicated) is a very taxing and traumatic event for the body.  

About three to four weeks post-partum, continue with core breathing, but we want to begin to introducing hinging motions such as squats and bridges. Again, we are not adding weights or overly exerting ourselves. The focus is on reconnecting our core and assisting our body in moving without a growing baby in our body. Depending on the month your baby is born, getting out for walks is a great way just to get out of the house. Be sure to walk on flat, level surfaces and keep walks around 10-15 minutes. It is very easy to over-exert yourself.

In your second month post-partum, your workouts will resemble the workouts in the final month to two months of your pregnancy. Again, there is so much going on inside your body, your body is still recovering from birth, and you are sleep deprived! Resistance is slowly added in with resistance bands. We are still working on reconnecting the core muscles and making sure the pelvic floor is functioning with the added resistance. Intensity is LOW.

At three months postpartum the intensity is still low and resistance is still low. It is at this time where clearance is given for workouts, and we are eager to drop the weight to return to our pre-baby weight. Trust me, you will get back there. I will never tell anyone they need to love their stretch marks, “baby” weight or anything in between because I did not. What I will say is to stay focused on your realistic goal, be patient with yourself, and let it go.

  1. Stay Focused On Your Realistic Goal: Your goal will be obtained. You are going to have rough workouts, skipped workouts and amazing workouts. It is crucial to have a realistic goal for these reasons. Ultimately, you want to return to your pre-baby weight, shape and look. Permit time for yourself to reach this goal, ideally, 12-18 months.
  2. Be Patient: If you are like me, I want results yesterday. I get frustrated when the process is slow. However, creating your baby was not an overnight process; therefore, adjusting to your new normal and your body changing back will not happen overnight. Again, stay focused on your realistic goal.
  3. Let It Go: Let go of the societal pressures to look as though you have never had a baby and your own pressures. Your body is not up for discussion, your dietary habits are nobody’s business, what size your clothes are, or if they are maternity clothes is certainly not a topic of discussion. It does not matter what celebrity waltzed out of the maternity ward a size “0” or what a friend of a friend also was a size “0” after giving birth. As I stated before, you do not have to love your stretch marks, squishy belly or extra weight but do not guilt yourself or engage in negative self-talk. Let it go, focus on your goal.

Having a baby will not prevent you from doing the workouts and the intensity of workout you did before having a baby. The postpartum time needs to be looked at as a time of healing and rehab, not an attempt to quickly undo the 39-42 weeks of pregnancy in 3-4 weeks. It is not realistic and will result in frustration and injury.