I remember writing the previous blogpost about my experience of working out during pregnancy. I remember being so excited to get back to my old fitness routine and getting super fit again after pregnancy. Also not even thinking about how much my body would change after having our precious little boy Matthew. I just didn’t know what to expect as a first-time mother to be.
The last two weeks before Matthew was born did not turn out the way I was planning in my very optimistic first-time mommy head. With our routine 36 week check-up and scan, our obstetrician picked up that baby’s heart rate was dangerously high.
From a very healthy pregnancy and talking about natural birth at our 34 week scan, to being admitted into hospital at 36 weeks-I felt devastated. My blood pressure was also higher than normal, but thankfully after spending one night in hospital I was sent home with some medication. Baby’s heart rate stayed down with the medication and bed rest was my fate until the Doctor felt baby was ready to come. We were told natural birth was not an option anymore with baby’s worryingly high heart rate, and the safer option would be a Caesarean (I hit a bit of depression after this, but knew we had to do what’s best for our precious boy). This would of course mean my postpartum fitness journey would also be a bit tougher and slightly different than what I imagined since finding out I’m pregnant.
Fast forward to the day after we met our beautiful boy, getting up for the first time after my Caesarean I realised for the first time I had major abdominal surgery. Like all new mommies who had to have a Caesarean, I had to literally just get up and go, you have a little life to look after and there’s really no time for recovery and to be in pain (thankfully I think). Hubby, being the amazing supportive man that he is, got me to walk every single night in hospital. We knew how important it is to move your body (for faster recovery and prevention of blood clots), and I’m so grateful for walking. Working out during pregnancy definitely helped with this-thank goodness for pushing through on those difficult days!
With a C-section, you are strictly not allowed any physical activity/exercise for the first six weeks. I thought I would go crazy as six weeks sounds so long for someone who is used to train 4-5 times per week. To be honest the first six weeks flew by and my body needed that time to heal after surgery. Every minute of every day was spent on establishing breastfeeding, and some sort of a routine. Even hubby took six weeks off from his own gym routine 🙂 He stepped up as new father and helped every minute he could. I am so lucky and extremely thankful!
The first workout after being cleared also wasn’t as “hard” as I expected it to be! I was so relieved, in fact I can remember thinking this is much easier than training with a big belly! I felt relieved to be able to move a bit more, my mobility was definitely much better than with the belly I’ve gotten so used to. I noticed that balance was a problem and it was as if I had to get used to exercising in this “new” body again after exercising with a bump for so long.
A few things I made sure to focus on with my first few workouts building up to where I’m now:
- Not to overdo it. I had to really hold myself back at times, because even though you feel you can push a bit harder, lift a little heavier or add a jump here and there-you have to remember your body still needs to recover. Even if you did not have a c-section you still need to be very careful postpartum with any abdominal work and any form of jumping. You might feel 100% fine doing plyometric (jumping) exercises in the moment, but your pelvic floor needs to recover after pregnancy. If not, you might suffer from pelvic floor damage later on in life and it’s really just not worth it. This is also one of the main reasons I stopped running in second trimester. You really need to look after your pelvic floor!
- I really had to focus on breathing again. With each repetition I focused on breathing diaphragmatically (also very important during pregnancy) and doing a Kegel “squeeze” with the exhale. If you are interested in more on this you can follow the link:
- It felt like I had ZERO balance for the first two or three workouts postpartum! I really had to focus on keeping my balance, keeping my core (even though it feels like you don’t have a core) as tight as possible. I even went so far as doing Stepups next to the wall so I could hold on for the first time!
- My first workout postpartum I checked how bad the Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) was. I had a two finger gap, which is not the worst, but it still needs all your attention when training. If you don’t focus on repairing your Diastasis Recti as soon as possible, it will unfortunately just get worse with your next pregnancy and you will be left with the infamous “mommy tummy”. Postpartum abdominal exercises exclude any form of sit-ups and normal crunches, especially if you have Diastasis Recti, and you need to focus a lot on activating your transverse abdominal muscles (deeper core muscles) instead of your rectus abdominal muscles (the “six pack”muscles). I made sure to not lift my shoulder blades from the floor and kept checking my tummy for “coning”. If you want to read up a bit more about Diastasis Recti you can follow the below link:
Here are a few general postpartum guidelines, but please remember and always keep in mind that every woman, and even every pregnancy is so different. If you feel unsure about anything related to postpartum recovery and postpartum exercise, I would recommend rather consulting with a physiotherapist specialising in womens health for guidance and clarity.
– Get medical clearance first. Always check with your obstetrician/midwife/womens health physiotherapist before starting any physical activity postpartum besides slow/light walking.
– If you are breastfeeding, it helps to pump out before a workout. Also a very good sportsbra (or even two) is non-negotiable.
– Take it VERY easy on the Abs. Even if you gave natural birth, you might not have had your obstetrician slice through your abdominal muscles, but pregnancy takes a toll on your abs. Your abdominal muscles grow weaker during pregnancy because of the excessive stretching and loosening that they have to undergo to accommodate your growing uterus and baby. Make sure to check for Diastasis Recti and act accordingly. A general guideline would be to avoid traditional sit-ups and crunches. Opt for restorative, diastasis recti friendly ab exercises and start very slow with any form of planking. Side planks and planking on the knees are a good base to start off with again, even if you were planking for 5 minutes non-stop before pregnancy. This also counts for traditional push-ups as they put a lot of strain on your core, ladies push-ups won’t put as much pressure on your intra-abdominal muscles.
– Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more! This one is especially important if you are breastfeeding. We often work with new mommies who are just so keen on getting fit again and getting their pre-baby bodies back in no time, so much so that they lose their milk supply. A healthy diet with enough calories to sustain milk supply and most importantly a LOT of water will ensure that your milk supply won’t decrease. If you really struggle with getting enough water daily, aim for at least 1,5 litres and a few cups of Rooibos tea then to make up for the fact that you are not drinking enough water. You can also add jungle juice to your daily intake, but bear in mind that it contains a lot of sugar, so I would suggest replacing the Apple juice in the recipe with equal amounts of Rooibos tea.
– Work up to weighted exercises. Yes, even if you were still pumping heavy weights a week before baby arrived. I also started lighter than normal again just because I wanted to avoid any unnecessary intra-abdominal pressure-you just brought a new life in the world so you’re bound to need some time to recover! It is a good idea to start with bodyweight exercises like squats, tricep dips and stepping, only adding a few exercises with extra weights like dumbbells every time you train. Build it up slow and gradually.
– Most importantly, listen to your body. If at any stage you feel light headed or you have excessive sore muscles rather consult a professional to help you with your programme.
I would just like to end off with a very serious note that I really hope all new mommies will remember. Yes, your body looks and feels completely different after having your little miracle. Yes, I know from experience you feel extremely uncomfortable in your body at the moment. BUT, you are amazing Mommy! You are strong, resilient and an absolute rockstar – you have just created life! There is no way that you can create life and expect to bounce back to your former self-the bounce back will take a lot of time, patience, hard work and grace on yourself. BUT, you will be so much stronger and better than before! I want all the mommies to understand what a tremendous big deal it is to give birth, your body went through so much to create this precious little miracle. So embrace the tiger stripes and loose skin, it is a reminder of what you went through to bring life into the world. And let’s have some grace on ourselves on this journey to being fitter and stronger than ever before!
I know for certain I am more proud of my body now than ever before, and I am also working on embracing and loving the extra curves; it is something that you have to work on daily. 5 Months postpartum I am still 3-4 kg heavier than what I would like to be (Uhm yes, I started writing this blog 3 months postpartum and only finishing it at 5 months postpartum, posting at 7 months postpartum because #momlife).
Remember that your body hears everything your minds thinks and that soon enough your baby will also lead from your example. Speak positively about your beautiful and amazing body and aim to move every day. Your life will never be the same again and you won’t have as much time and freedom to train as you would like, but there are fun ways to incorporate exercise in your daily routine. Most days I try and get a walk in for our little boy’s afternoon nap. Even if it’s a slow 3km walk, you are moving your body. Some weeks go by where I just don’t get to train at all (life and baby happens); I try and do some push-ups while playing with our little one, do some bum lifts while making funny faces at him etc. It is all about making it work for you and your new life, and then most importantly telling your body how much you love and appreciate it EVERY SINGLE DAY.
by Yolande Pretorius