by Lisa Schoenholt
After my son’s birth, I waited until I had a two-hour window to take a workout class and finally have some time to myself. I waited…and waited…and waited. As the weeks turned into months, it was abundantly clear that my “magic window” wasn’t going to just happen, and I needed a new option. Eight years later, I still work out in 20 minute increments, track my steps, and fit in some push-ups while my kids brush their teeth. Today I’m sharing three tips to help you consider the importance of easing into a postpartum workout routine.
Honor your healing
So many of us are in a rush to get in shape immediately following the birth of our children. I can relate! The first step is realizing you just grew and birthed a human being, and your body needs to heal. I recommend waiting until you are finished bleeding prior to any form of exercise.
Remember that recovery lasts way beyond the “6-week check up.” Generally, full recovery from a vaginal birth is 12 months and 12-18 months for a C-section. You can begin workouts once you are cleared by your doctor, but keep in mind that it’s a long game. Your body has shifted in significant ways over a period of time.
The medical culture in the US is finally shifting to validate this truth. The American Committee of Gynecologists (ACOG) recently changed their standards and recommend that postpartum care should be an ongoing process, rather than a one-time checkup. ACOG now recommends that all women are in contact with their provider within 3 weeks of the birth, get ongoing, holistic medical care as needed during the postpartum period, and have a complete checkup no later than 12 weeks after having the baby.
Something else to consider for breastfeeding moms: as long as you are nursing or pumping, your body is producing relaxin, which acts like a muscle relaxer. Since your body is producing milk, it is not able to increase its muscle mass. In this stage, your workouts should help you feel positive, strong, and flexible. A gentler workout will generally be more efficient and will promote healing.
Ease into a routine
A key in taking the next step is making sure your abdominal muscles can fire and activate before ramping up intensity. Otherwise, you may be engaging in movements before your body is ready. Exercises like crunches and planks can aggravate certain issues, like diastasis recti, so you want to address that before diving into these types of movements. If you had a C-section, you’ll want to make sure you’re free of numbness or the “pins and needles” feeling in your lower abdominals or near the scar. No need to worry if you’re still feeling this; doing some scar massage (see below for instructions) and guided breathing exercises will help you get feeling back. Once your muscles have feeling, they are ready to activate.
When you’re back into a workout routine, you might be surprised at how draining a minimal amount of exercise can be! You’ll feel like you just ran a marathon, only to realize you’ve taken a whopping 1,853 steps. What?! Getting a wearable device to count your steps (I wear one that was $17), can really help with motivation and incentive to improve your every day routine. You’ll find motivation for finding a parking spot in the back of the lot or taking the long way home from a stroller nap, or even getting to that extra load of laundry if it means two more flights of stairs each way.
Look for baby-friendly workout options in your area. If you don’t have resources or support for childcare while you work out, search for a “baby and me” workout class. If the times don’t work for you because of your work schedule, request one from your local gym on the weekends. Teachers are usually open to creating one, especially if you recruit your friends. Some gyms have great childcare programs, like the YMCA. Online classes are becoming more popular, so you don’t need to get a babysitter or even leave the house! What’s better than working out in your jammies?
Move mindfully, even at home
Here are a few suggestions for a starting place, if you’re feeling overwhelmed but want to get into a postpartum movement routine.
- Focus on your posture. Find ways to feed your baby without slouching, and think about your position while sitting at your desk. This will help you avoid some shoulder and low back pain.
- Find your zip: Pretend you are putting on tight jeans and imagine zipping up the zipper from pubic bone to belly button. This is not a sucking in, tightening, or contracting, but rather a tiny engagement in the lower abdominals.
- Create a home program for yourself that is achievable (i.e. no more than 20 minutes, three times per week). Find some great postnatal exercises (or learn some on my IG live next week)! Exercises like cat/cow, wall push-ups, tricep dips, and stretching help you feel refreshed and will add up in the long run to help you feel your best.
And, when things get crazy and you forget about your posture or 20 minute workout? Be kind to yourself, it happens. Life with a newborn can be incredibly unpredictable, and you’re doing your best in a difficult circumstance. Give yourself grace to let it go and try again the following day.
Bonus: C-section scar massage
- Press directly across the entire length of the scar. Notice what it feels like. Does one side feel tighter or different than the other? What does it feel like? (i.e. a thick rope? a thick spaghetti noodle? an angel hair pasta noodle?) Eventually, it should feel similar to the rest of your skin without a huge difference.
- Pulling up the skin. Start at one end, and pinch the actual scar upward away from your body. Can you lift the scar up or does it feel stuck? Lift up working your way across the entire scar. Is one end able to lift up but the other end stuck?
- Deep tissue massage on the scar. You can do little circles, or long drags across the scar, most importantly, that you are putting pressure into it. Massage for about 1-2 minutes, while you’re in the shower, or while you’re applying body oil or lotion.
Lisa Schoenholt is a pilates instructor, movement analyst, and birth doula. She specializes in pre/postnatal pilates and diastasis recti repair. She has taught pilates throughout the United States as well as Europe and has designed dance, pilates, yoga and meditation programs for multiple NYC public high schools. Her pilates studio, Brooklyn Embodied is located in Croton on Hudson, NY. In 2018, she founded Control D: The Art of Diastasis Repair and currently holds teacher trainings for diastasis repair in Brooklyn, NY. For more pilates moves, follow her on IG @brooklynembodied.