Everything you Need to Know about Postpartum Exercise
Getting back into the routine of exercising postpartum can be a challenge for anyone, but doing it right is important. Knowing your limits and the warning signs of trouble isn’t always as easy as you might expect, and being prepared for all eventualities is important because you only get one body. Learning about what is happening with your body postpartum can help you avoid pitfalls and problems, leading to fewer setbacks and an easier time achieving your postpartum exercise goals. Many women find that starting out with a plan and simple to reach goals are all they need, but for most of us, a little bit more thoughtfulness into the what and why of postpartum exercise plans is helpful.
Your doctor is your best bet when asking specific questions about your recovery and your exercise needs and whether your goals are reasonable as every situation is different, but for most situations, the following things are best kept in mind.
Pitfall: Staring before you’re ready
Depending on what kind of labor and delivery experience you had you may need to take more time off than others. If you had surgery or are dealing with stitches you may take a bit longer to get back into the hang of things. Remember that your body is healing and that it may take time to recover. Spend this time taking care of yourself, making sure you are getting good nutrition and getting as much rest as possible. Don’t try to rush back into the struggles of regular life when your body is not ready yet. Consult your doctor about returning to gentle exercise like chair yoga or short walks before your 6-week appointment if you’re in a rush, but remember that most women will require the full 6 weeks of recovery before they begin to get back to regular routines, especially if they are nursing or had a complicated delivery.
Pitfall: Going too fast
If you were on reduced activity or bed rest near the end of your pregnancy, it won’t be a smooth path to regular exercise, as you’ll have to build up a tolerance for activity again and this can often feel like one step forward two steps back as you find your ability levels rising and falling with your fatigue and pain. Pushing through may have worked for you before, but it is not a good idea now, especially if you’re still recovering from birth. You may find that a short walk is okay one day, but too much on a different day. That is completely normal. Don’t try to go fast or push yourself too hard.
Action advantage: Keeping a journal
Many moms find it useful to keep a journal when they are recovering from birth that documents their feelings and experiences, but also their diet and exercise. Even if you aren’t ready yet to make changes or start a new exercise routine, just keeping track of what you are doing is a great way to make plans for the future and to see areas where you want to continue your actions or even tweak or improve them. Having a food journal and exercise log can really help you see the situation from a bird’s eye view and can help you account for successes and what works best for you. If nothing else it can be useful to look back on for subsequent pregnancies to get a good handle on what worked before and how your feelings changed over the first few weeks postpartum.
Pitfall: Having unreasonable expectations
The internet is rife with memes and blogs about women who were back to their pre-pregnancy weight before their 6-week follow-up appointment, but if you dig even a little you’ll find out that many of these women had the help of personal trainers, personal chefs, and service staff like nannies and maids. It’s not wise to compare apples and oranges, especially when you are vulnerable to feeling strong emotions due to the hormonal fluxes of postpartum recovery. You didn’t get where you are in 6 weeks and you can’t get back from it in that short time either.
Action advantage: Getting support
Doing this alone may feel lonely and can set up negative situations where you feel guilty for slipping up or push yourself too hard. Finding a friend or even a group of people with the same goals can help you suss out where your comfort level is and to set and reach small goals. While comparing yourself to others isn’t always the best it can be important to gain perspective. If you are in a postpartum yoga group you may feel more at home than going right back into a high impact aerobics class that may be beyond your ability at this point in your recovery.
Pitfall: Not taking time for yourself
Among the many changes to your body are also changes to your mental health and emotional well being. Focusing too much on your clothing size or weight can often come with severe consequences to your emotional health and mental balance. Make sure you take time for yourself.
Action advantage: Making peace
Accepting the reality of what is and what can be can help you move forward in a positive direction. Focus more on what you can do than what you can’t, and what is good about your routine than what is less than desirable. Give yourself space to make mistakes and to change up your plans as you need to. Remember that you are doing this to improve your experience in life, and not to meet anyone else’s expectations. Making peace with your mind, spirit, and body is going to be key to making positive progress.
Finding a postpartum exercise routine that is helpful and not harmful, that is adequate and appropriate, can be a challenge, but keeping in mind these considerations should put you on a path that works for you. Remember that if you feel out of control or have negative feelings more often than not your doctor can be your best resource for help. Make sure to take time to recover and introduce exercise slowly, your body is worth the wait.