Oh, baby, baby... How was I supposed to know, that something wasn't right here? Ok, this really has nothing to do with Brit Brit. I would like to think she would agree with me that postpartum care in the U.S has got to improve.
A close up, why not.. 3 weeks old I think.
Having a 9lb 5oz baby is no small feat (and yes, she was my first, so stay tuned for the GIANT babies that may come after her, lord help me and my vagina), but even with this darling baby in my arms I couldn't help but think "... so so lucky, but why does she cry? If there's nothing missing in her life." Yes, I typically think in Britney Spears lyrics (haha don't judge). All jokes aside, after giving birth I wasn't ready for all the changes this baby had done to me physically, mentally and spiritually.
Now, I couldn't imagine my life without her and lover her to pieces, but I couldn't help but want some normalcy back in my life and feel like myself again. For me, that meant getting to a place where I didn't have chronic back pain (yup... old gymnastics injuries + back labor & sunny side up baby = ouch) and could move around with more ease again.
As most woman, those first six weeks consisted of sleep, eat, feed... repeat! As my 6 week appointment approached, I was itching to hear what my provider would tell me. After all, they are the "doctors," and get paid the big bucks to properly guide us. Needless to say, I was utterly shocked in the lack of support and left understanding why so many women (many of my clients) leave confused, disappointed, and totally under informed.
My appointment was just like any other annual exam, I got my pelvic, physical and then told "everything looks great, you are cleared now to exercise and resume daily activities." In my inquisitive fashion, I asked "what kind of exercises am I cleared for?" and they responded "oh still worried that you haven't lost all the baby weight?" In trying to keep my cool and not say "Are you shitting me right now!" I sarcastically smile and say "no actually, I was wondering what you recommend for my, back pain, weak pelvic floor and diastasis recti?" Smiling they responded "well you don't have prolapse and your pooch will just hopefully get better." Obviously, they weren't using their platform to adequately provide resources to patients (ie trainer, DPT specialist or list of recommendations), nor interested in helping me feel good about myself. We are already in a fragile/ vulnerable state after giving birth and I would prefer to have empathy, support, and tools to help me progressively heal from giving birth rather than made to feel dumb and body conscious! Thats right mama's, giving birth (no matter the delivery method) is a major physical event to the body and needs to be treated differently than an annual pelvic.
When you break a bone there are multiple healing phases (rest, stabilize, strengthen, intensify) and no one is saying "ohhhh, you are still in that boot after 6 weeks?" Therefore, why is there a double standard when it comes to healing after birth? Since the medical professional may drop the ball in guiding us, most of us take it into our own hands and Google away. The problem is when we do this, we find advice that includes "loose that baby weight fast," and "get back into those pre pregnancy jeans!" Focusing on the entirely wrong thing and may be doing more harm than good (both physically and emotionally). My goal here is to equip mama's to be, mama's and anyone supporting/ advocating for better postpartum care with the knowledge, tools and empathy to HEAL not "bounce back" from giving birth.
4 Stages of Healing After Giving Birth
1. Rest/ recover: This is the phase where we need to focus on our recovery, as many new mama's will say, "sleep when baby sleeps!" This isn't just painfully, annoyingly, good advice but it is scientifically important. Too often we want to jump back in too quickly. In doing this, we are negatively affecting the natural healing process, inflammation. Inflammation is a finicky kind of fella because if you make him mad and demand too much of him when he is trying to do his job, he then becomes angry and stays around longer (like an unwelcome house guest) which results in the dreaded chronic inflammation. To keep Mr. inflammation happy and allow him to do his job and leave as anticipated, we need to not over due it. This doesn't mean do nothing!
What to do: Seriously, during this phase the best thing to do is sleep, go for long leisure walks and supporting your core with postpartum band (let me be clear, this is not me advocating for the "waist trainer" trend, this is to be used as support while healing). This is not the time to pick up weights, do planks, or fire 'dem hott buns.
2. Stabilization: Once we have rested and Mr. Inflammation has done his job in laying new tissue and repairing damaged, we are ready to stabilize. Most of us during pregnancy our bellies become expanded, thus stretching out our front abdominal muscles which magically don't rip apart due to the linea alba. In addition, whether we delivered vaginally or by C-section our hips expand/ shift during pregnancy and need to be re-stabilized. The rest phase has allowed us to recover, but now we can begin to stabilize and prepare for the strengthening phase that follows. I see it as the foundation on a house, you wouldn't try to pour it after the fact, but without it your house isn't steady.
What to do: The focus here is tightening abdominal tissue, and re-aligning the hips/ low back. To do this, we preform abdominal/ transverse contractions (don't mistake these with crunches, they are very different), kneeling lunge, hip bridges/ tilts, kegels and lateral walks with a band. Do these as many times as you can, 3-4 times a day and trust me, if done correctly, you will feel it!
3. Strengthen: Our foundationon is set and now it is time to become stronger. Just like a fracture we don't jump right into HITT training. We need to build back up safely that way we don't injure ourselves and have to start over.
What to do: Bodyweight exercises are a great place to start. Begin with daily movements like a chair squat (try adding in a kegel and focus on tightening that core) and a roll up from the floor. You'll notice your roll up may only lift like an inch but as you get stronger, you'll be able to roll all the way up and back down with control! Another one of my favorites during this phase is suspension training like a TRX.
4. Intensify: Once you have dominated your bodyweight exercises and you activate your core without thinking, it's time to "HITT me baby, one more time!" Now we are HEALED and ready to get back to the fun of pushing ourselves, reaching new limits, and crushing fitness goals! Now and only now would I say we are "cleared to exercise again!"
What to do: Increase your intensity with jumping, twisting and adding more weight!
Keep in mind that after any injury we aren't the same, so let's not put that pressure on ourselves to believe that we will be the exact same after giving birth. Having children changes us in so many ways, including our physical bodies. Now I am not saying that we can't have an even more physically capable, stronger, and confident body after birth, because we CAN! If we give ourselves adequate time to HEAL and follow the healing process, you'll be amazed with this new postpartum, amazing body and feel more confident than ever!
In addition, I always recommend to reach out for expert, qualified help from a physical therapist, exercise physiologist or personal trainer. Which ever route you go, make sure they are qualified and know how to guide you properly! It's always great to have someone support you along the way and keep you safe (I'm happy to be that person for you so contact me).
For those wondering about the time line, remember that every pregnancy is different, therefore every recovery will be different too! Personally, I spent first 9 weeks in rest, started stabilizing slowly and got really into it by 12 weeks, spent weeks 12- 28 in stabilization, increased strength slowly and was ready to intensify by 45 weeks from giving birth.