Guest Post: Five Misconceptions About Returning to Exercise Post Baby
Thank you Wendy Macleod of Wendy Macleod Fitness for writing this beautiful and thorough post! Enjoy Wendy’s professional insights!
Myth #1 – “I am ok to return to regular exercise once I’ve had my 6-week post- natal check- up”
Not quite….We often assume that the 6-week post-partum check-up is some miraculous green light to get right back into exercise. Firstly, what I feel we must ask ourselves is, “what actually happens at the check-up?” Usually, the 6-week post-partum check-up, certainly here in the UK involves a quick chat asking you about how you are feeling and perhaps a quick check of any stitches. An assessment for Diastasis Recti (tummy muscle separation) or pelvic floor function is not generally standard. So really, when we leave the medical center, we are not very much more enlightened as to our progress than we were before we went in! Where exactly you are with your individual healing and what underlying issues there may be is a mystery. Everyone heals at a different rate, has had a different delivery experience and so will need a different approach as to how they return to their regular exercise or activity patterns – there is no ‘one size fits all solution. I strongly recommend all new Mums have some degree of physical assessment from a woman’s health PT post-birth. Particularly if there is any leaking (bladder or bowel), pain in the pelvic floor, or you feel completely ‘disconnected’ from your abdominal muscles.
Your amazing body has been through some degree of trauma regardless of the delivery type and you need a very individual and progressive return to exercise at this time.
Once you know exactly what you need, the possibilities are endless!
Myth #2 – “I had a C-section so my pelvic floor should be fine”
This is one of the biggest misconceptions I hear when working with my Moms. Whilst you may not experience the same level of trauma to the tissues of the pelvic floor caused by, for example, an assisted birth or long labor of pushing, weakening can still occur. If you imagine a sling of muscles largely responsible for holding in and protecting your inner pelvic organs, having the excessive downward pressure of a baby growing then you will begin to see why weakness can occur. Add into the mix a stretching and lengthening of the pelvic floor as your pelvis (often) moves into an anterior position, therefore putting the pelvic floor into a much more vulnerable position than normal, whilst also being under constant load (your baby).
One of the main things I look at when rehabilitating new Moms is, what their posture looks like, and how is their pelvis sitting? Once I can give them strategies to realign their pelvis, then any pelvic floor work they do will be a great deal more effective and begin to rebuild the tissues and base strength. If we can work on realignment through strength and mobility work the results can be like magic
Myth #3 – “I was super fit and active before, so I can go straight back to my old sports and activities right away”
I completely get the strong urge that previously, very active Mums have to return to their previous sports and activities – I have been there and remember being insanely jealous seeing other women out running when I was waddling along pregnant!
Regardless of how active we were previously, our physiology has changed and we have created and delivered a baby – the ultimate ultra-marathon! Rarely do we just ‘bounce back’ as soon as we leave the delivery room and it is so important that we listen to our body for anything that doesn’t feel quite right, weakness, ongoing pain, poor control in abdomen or pelvic floor to name a few. First port of call is – what is going on? What does my body need right now to become strong for my previous activities again?
One of the extremely the simplest yet the prettier dynamic strategies that we can do in the early post-natal period is ‘Diaphragmatic breathing’ This is a simple, yet powerful tool in retraining our deep core and pelvic floor. Try sitting up on your sit bones, clasp your hands around your rib cage and take in a lovely big deep breath into your hands. When you exhale, imagine pulling just above your pubic bone and just at the base of your tail bone in towards your spine and at the same time lift your pelvic floor towards your ribcage. Relax and repeat 10 times whenever you remember to.
We often see celebrities and athletes apparently ‘bounce back’ miraculously and take inspiration from this. But what we don’t see is the journey and the process they have (hopefully) followed to get to that final place.
Serena Williams is a fantastic example of how to approach an athletic return sensibly and safely and certainly an athlete who did not have a straightforward experience in doing so. But I loved that she shared the ups and downs and ended up coming out of a high. Anything is possible with the right approach!
Myth #4 –
“Surely some pelvic floor weakness is normal?”
I have a huge passion for helping new Mums heal this hugely important part of their whole core system and simply making a ‘conversation happen’ around this.
There is so much misunderstanding and acceptance over pelvic floor weakness and much of the pelvic floor weakness we experience and prolapse can be reversed with physical therapy.
Pelvic floor weakness and leaking are common in some cases post-birth, but absolutely not something we should expect to live with just because we have birthed babies. You should not have to wear a pad to exercise; you should not accept leaking, as a by-product of giving birth, ever. As embarrassing as it may seem – this doesn’t have to be forever if you take action!
Pelvic floor weakness can be caused and aggravated by many factors in a woman’s life, high-level sports and athletics, constipation, asthma, and allergies that can cause frequent coughing and of course menopause later in life. We can enhance our pelvic floor strength, not only through Kegels and functional movement but through lifestyle factors too. Ensuring we are well hydrated and are consuming enough fiber is great for good bowel movements, exhaling when we lift heavy loads (babies/car seats/strollers!), and activating the pelvic floor before you cough to protect it a little.
If you are leaking urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze, lift or jump, then you need to have this investigated by a woman’s Health PT. If you act now, you can have an appropriate plan put in place and start your journey back to no leaks! And remember, movement is good, so try to see pelvic floor rehab as the first step back to all the activities and sports you love….
Myth #5 –
“As long as I just take things easy, I’ll be ok”
So yes, to a point, if we listen to our body and taper back previous activities a little we are probably not going to cause ourselves too much trauma. But…. here’s the thing…What if you have diastasis? What if you have weakness in pelvic floor? What if you have pelvic and back pain that won’t go away? Is ‘taking things easy’ going to address those specific needs?
We talk about functional training in the fitness industry; it’s almost a buzzword, well words. Training in a functional way really means, training our body for what it needs in our life at this very moment in time. If you are experiencing any of the above issues, then those are what will need attention in order for you to function every day as a Mom right? What is appropriate for our recovery and what will heal and nurture your body? Because I wholeheartedly believe in the 4thtrimester and that all Moms need some degree of nurture in that post-partum period.
It might seem frustrating, or boring, but even if you find a good trainer it doesn’t have to be and it is worth every bit of your time, effort, and money to invest in getting this right for you. Get assessed, do the rehab, and steadily you will take all the baby steps back to where you once were. Nothing is forever Mama, you have got this!
Learn more about Wendy on her blog at: http://www.wendymacleodfitness.com follow her on Twitter at wendy_macleod_fitness
I started my journey within the Fitness Industry over 18 years ago, working as a Manager for a leading well-being company and running a business that offered health advice within the workplace. This provided me with a great insight into the needs of working with clients in a holistic way, one that emphasized the importance of both emotional and physical well-being.
I began running post-natal classes 9 years ago when my son was 6 months and my daughter was on the way (it was a challenge, but I did it!) and since then I’ve never looked back!
Working with Mums is my absolute passion and over the past few years, I have focused on further research and training in my field. This career path has allowed me opportunities I never thought imaginable, such as Writing, Television, and Radio work.
Most importantly, it has allowed me to serve amazing women from all walks of life who give me the motivation daily to keep researching and serving women in the best possible way.