After giving birth, many moms struggle with their postpartum bodies and fixate on getting back to their pre-pregnancy bodies as soon as possible. Factor in the stress of social media and how so many celeb moms seemingly get back into shape almost instantly (albeit with the help of tons of money, time and trainers) and it’s easy to feel the pressure to drop the weight as soon as possible.
However, there are a number of mistakes that a lot of mothers make when they rush back into exercising after giving birth. SheKnows interviewed a number of postpartum fitness experts to reveal the most common fitness mistakes new moms make postpartum.
Not prioritizing your pelvic floor health
“We’ve done all of the preparation for childbirth, but very little preparation for after the birth,” Sara Reardon, a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist and founder of The Vagina Whisperer and NOLA Pelvic Health, tells SheKnows. “We’ve been educated on how to care for our babies, but not educated on how to care for our bodies. There are a lot of postpartum topics affecting women in the U.S. that desperately need attention and pelvic health is one of them.”
Pelvic floor dysfunction — including urinary incontinence and genital prolapse — is the most common consequence of childbirth. Other signs of pelvic floor dysfunction include: Leaking urine or feces, difficulty pooping, painful intercourse, pelvic and/or low back pain, heaviness, pressure or bulging in the low pelvis.
If any of the above are present, Reardon says a postpartum woman should seek the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist and should not perform exercises without the approval from a medical provider.
“The pelvic floor is the center of it all — you have to have a properly functioning pelvic floor in order for the rest of you to function properly,” Trish Mckean, a certified Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist and Group Fitness Instructor at Shred415, tells SheKnows. In addition to a pelvic floor physical therapist, Mckean suggests consulting a perinatal fitness trainer to provide exercises necessary to regain strength without danger of injury. “Proper care and attention are critical in getting back to a regular fitness regimen,” she says.
Doing too much, too soon
When it comes to getting back in shape after you’ve had your baby, think: slow and steady. “Getting back into shape after a baby takes time and finding a balance that works for you — it’s not an all or nothing decision,” says Mckean. “It requires you to build and activate your core without overextending or jumping back in too quickly.”
Regardless of prior physical condition or type of birth, says Reardon, the first step is to allow time for your tissues to heal with a period of relative rest. “Having the ‘all clear’ at your six-week checkup means that there is no sign of a condition or issue requiring medical intervention by the physician. It does not mean that your tissues are done healing or that they are ready for high impact,” she says. “The first three months postpartum are a time for rest, breathwork, walking, attention to body mechanics and posture, and low impact exercises rebuilding your connection to your core.”
Not focusing on breathing
Believe it or not, just breathing can make you more fit. “Breathwork is core work and core work is ab work,” says Mckean. “Once you can master a great breathing pattern postpartum, you are setting yourself up for success with your re-entry to fitness. If you have a strong and active core, then you can properly stabilize your spine which in turns allows for great exercise form.”
Thinking crunches will ‘cure your abs’
The urge to return to traditional ab exercises like crunches may be strong when you feel like you’re ready to workout again after having a baby, but as Kate Horney, a pre and postnatal fitness specialist and owner of BeyondFit Mom, points out, “New moms need to be very wary of any ab exercises that increase the intra-abdominal pressure, which is the real problem behind diastasis recti and the ‘mommy tummy.’”
Diastatis recti is the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, which meet at the midline of your stomach, which causes your belly to stick out because the space between your left and right belly muscles has widened.
“Pushing your body too far, or rushing into hardcore ab exercises could be doing more harm than it does good if you have diastasis recti,” says Horney, who recommends avoiding any form of crunch, frontal plank, push up, v sit-ups, or any position that twists the stomach or strains it.
Instead, Horney recommends focusing on core safe exercises, like toe drops and pillow squeezes, to help rebuild and retrain your abdominal muscles: “Start gently by exercising your pelvic floor and deepest tummy muscles as soon as you feel up to it.”
Your posture takes a beating throughout pregnancy as well as once the baby arrives, which might impede your progress at the gym. “Poor posture exacerbates back pain and can hinder physical recovery given its direct relationship to the pelvic floor,” says Mckean. “Correcting posture takes more than just exercise. It’s a lifestyle change. Be mindful of using proper form in all areas of your day — from picking up baby to nursing to pushing the stroller.”
By being mindful of your posture, you’ll only help your fitness development.
Thinking ‘more exercise will help me lose weight faster’
“Busy moms just don’t have time to spend hours in the gym. Moms need to work out smarter, not longer,” says Horney. “If you want to boost your metabolism (which thus allows you to eat more without gaining weight) you need to ditch longer duration workouts for shorter, high intensity training.”
While studies have shown that shorter duration workouts allow you to increase the intensity and take full advantage of EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption) and its hormonal after-burn — which means burning fat (and food) long after your workout is over — Reardon cautions about doing high intensity workouts so soon after birth.
“Activities like the elliptical, yoga/Pilates, and swimming should not be started until around eight weeks postpartum. High level activities like running, HIIT classes, rowing, Orange Theory, Powerlifting and Crossfit are still off limits and will remain off limits until at least 12 weeks postpartum,” she says. “These activities are typically not appropriate until three months postpartum (at the least), and in many cases up to six months postpartum.”
“This is because these higher level activities put a much greater demand on the muscles of our pelvic floor and abdomen, which require a high level of trunk and lower extremity coordination, and require the ability to have good load transfer from one limb to another.”
When in doubt, consult your medical doctor and a postnatal fitness expert to ensure you’re ready for a high intensity exercise regimen.
Comparing yourself to others
Easier said than done, but our experts all agree that it’s crucial to focus strictly on you and your postpartum fitness journey, and not to compare your progress to anyone else’s.
“Every single mom, pregnancy, labor, delivery and baby are different. So why would your postpartum recovery be anything but that?” says Mckean. “Celebrate the fact that your journey is uniquely yours, from start to finish. Recovery is physical and mental — because of that, treat this process with as much grace and patience as you possibly can and try to have fun doing it. As you start to feel stronger, and mentally capable of taking on more, celebrate those victories with friends by inviting them to a fitness class you’re attending, or take afternoon walks together a few times a week.”