So you’ve had your 6-week postpartum check-up with your doctor, OB or midwife. They say ‘All is good, you can resume exercise’. You think ‘Awesome! I’m going to go out for a run tomorrow!’. Then tomorrow comes, you start running, and you feel like a bowling ball is bouncing inside your vagina, you leak, or worse you lose control of your bladder or bowels.
No one wants this. Why didn’t they warn you?
You’re not alone. The fact is, it takes a lot longer than 6 weeks for your pelvic floor, abs and uterine ligaments to return to normal. I am 5 months postpartum and still only feel maybe 90% normal. I can’t tell you why doctors and midwives don’t talk about this, but I’m hoping by reading this you’ll have a little bit more insight into postpartum exercise.
I talked about relaxin and pregnancy before, but did you know relaxin influences you for up to 3 months postpartum? And other hormonal changes will influence the laxity and strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments as long as you are breastfeeding?
True Story, Bro.
Let’s look at this logically though. Even if we take the scientific mumbo jumbo out. Your uterus was just huge (relatively speaking), then within the span of 6 weeks (or less) it shrank back down to the size of a pear. All of those ligaments, tendons and muscles that were holding that giant uterus up for 9 or so months have been stretched and loosened to accommodate it. They are going to take time to get back to where they were before. Here’s some perspective, if you had your leg in a cast for 9 months, then got the cast cut off, do you think you could go out and run a marathon 6 weeks later? Doubtful. Why do we treat all those very stressed ligaments inside our abdomen and pelvis any different? They’ve gone through massive changes and we need to respect that. We need to slowly and gently start adding exercises back in to allow those structures time to re-adapt back to their former glory.
Think of your pelvic floor like a trampoline. Now imagine a 400lb sumo wrestler sitting on that trampoline. That’s what your pelvic floor is like at the end of your pregnancy. Trying desperately just to keep everything up. Now imagine that sumo wrestler sitting there for a few months. How stretched would that trampoline be?
Ya, let that visual sink in for a moment.
We want that PF to bounce like trampoline, and be taught enough to resist the pressure of the organs it’s holding up (uterus, bladder, bowels) but flex with breath and impact. If you were trying to fix that stretched out trampoline, and someone kept jumping on it while you were working, it wouldn’t be very effective, would it? This is how it works with your PF and impact postpartum.
So what do I mean by ‘impact’?
I mean jumping, skipping, running, jogging, box jumps, jumping jacks, basically anything where there’s a period of time where both of your feet are off the floor, no matter how short the period of time is. Yes, even if it is a split second. Yes, even if you land gently.
Now, this isn’t to say you can never do these things again. This is definitely something you can work your way back to eventually. But you have to take your time, be careful and do it right. If you want your body to be functional well into old age, it’s important to take care of it now. If you want to have more children and want your body to support those pregnancies well, it’s important to respect this postpartum period and recover appropriately.
So the next question is how?
Well first, go see a Pelvic Health Physio (do I sound like a broken record yet?). Then work with a personal trainer who specializes in postpartum (like me, soon!) or purchase a program that is designed for postpartum women, like Birth2FitMum.
The most important thing, though, is to be mindful of your body. If things don’t feel right, don’t do them! Let go of your ego, and just be proud of where you are at currently. Just because you aren’t in the same place you were months ago, doesn’t mean you are broken, it’s all part of the journey! You grew a human! Go You!