After you give birth, it takes some time to get back to "normal," both mentally and physically. Too often, we're so focused on our new "baby bliss" that we put ourselves on the back burner. While everyone has different challenges, finding my workout groove again and being able to complete a successful workout was one of mine — especially since my first postpartum workout was a rough one.
Fitness has always been my thing. Growing up, I danced (ballet, tap, jazz, pointe), and I also ran to stay in shape. In college, you couldn’t pull me away from the yoga or spinning studios. As an adult, I always made time for fitness, and I continued running and doing yoga at home, although it was tough to make it work with my freelancer schedule.
When we decided that we wanted to have another child seven years after we had our first, I knew that losing the baby weight and remaining active through the pregnancy was going to be tough, because I was older this time around. I'd read research saying it was safe for most healthy women to exercise during pregnancy, so I kept working out until about 30 weeks into my pregnancy, and then I let the universe do its thing.
Fast forward to six weeks postpartum, and my midwife cleared me for working out again. I did wait the full six weeks to do anything more than stretching, because I knew my body needed time to heal. I was dying to lace up my tennis shoes and let my feet hit the pavement.
I went home that day feeling excited. I was invigorated with the challenge of getting back in shape, but more importantly, I wanted to regain my strength and self-confidence. Then I started to get worried: what if I just wasn’t able to do the running and yoga I did before with the same intensity? What if I had to build my strength and pace completely from scratch? So many worries raced through my mind. I realized I had set some unattainable expectations for myself, so I tried to remind myself to just be kind to my body as I got back into the swing of things.
Suddenly, I realized that I couldn’t pull my body back up. It just wasn’t happening. "Holy crap, I can’t get up!," I shouted.
Because I was so active pre-pregnancy and while I was pregnant, I'd thought it would be a breeze to just jump right into my old ways. So I decided that my first postpartum workout would just be a simple weight lifting routine I'd done a million times before, since I knew I needed to strengthen my muscles again. So I began.
Stretching. Arms. Squats. All of that went just fine. Then I got to my lunges, and that’s when things got….tricky.
I went down into a full lunge, my 10-pound weights in both hands. I felt confident going down, but suddenly, I realized that I couldn’t pull my body back up. It just wasn’t happening. In all my years of working out, I never realized just how much I was using my core when doing lunges, and just how weak it got during my pregnancy. Later, I had a trainer check me out, and I learned didn't have Diastasis Recti, the gap that can occur between your right and left abdominal walls. My muscles were just extremely weak.
"Holy crap, I can’t get up!," I shouted.
I was so nervous that I'd ruptured something or messed up my healing completely.
No one was around to help me get back up, so I slowly rolled myself out of the position. As painful as it was, I couldn't help but laugh at myself. My daughter was sound asleep in her baby swing, and I was lying on the floor because I could barely complete any lunges. To make matters worse, after I finished the workout (yes, I kept going, though I absolutely would not recommend that). I realized that I was starting to bleed a little bit again, which is a sign that you're exercising too strenuously.
As soon as I felt the little gush, I stopped what I was doing and ran to the bathroom. I immediately texted my midwife and went to sit on the couch, foregoing the rest of the workout to drink some water and wait for her response. I was so nervous that I'd ruptured something or messed up my healing completely. I actually started packing the diaper bag in case she wanted me to see her for an emergency visit.
After about 20 minutes, I finally heard my phone buzz. "Don't stress out about it," she told me, "just relax and give yourself a break. Ease into your workouts. You're not going to be able to do exactly what you did before you were pregnant, and that's OK. Also, 10-pound weights are a bad idea. Start with no weight and work back up."
I let myself rest the following day because I was so sore from the tiny 30- minute workout that I did. From then on, I slowly increased my reps for 4 to 5 to finally 15 again on each side, which was a huge win for me.
"Don't stress out about it," she told me. "Just relax and give yourself a break. Ease into your workouts. You're not going to be able to do exactly what you did before you were pregnant and that's OK."
I was so focused on the possibility of letting myself down that I didn’t think about the big picture: the fact that I was doing what I loved, something that is really good for my body. Yes, it was a crappy first workout, but that was only because I wasn't giving myself the time to be generous with my body.
In the grand scheme of things, this one awful workout was an important reminder to myself that I needed to take things slow and ease into my normal routine again. My body wasn’t the same as it was before having a baby, and that’s OK. Looking back, I really wish that I hadn't put my safety at risk and had been more gentle with myself. We have so many pressures in the media to "bounce back" after having a baby, and I needed to tune out that noise and focus on what was best for my body, because that's all that matters.