Thoughts on returning to training post-birth.
I’ll admit I may have underestimated exactly what is involved in the post-birth recovery. I'd planned to be training again just a few weeks post-birth however, following the abandonment of our (carefully thought out) birth plans resulting in an unplanned cesarean, the advice was to wait at least six weeks. Training is a huge part of my lifestyle so I originally thought I'd struggle with this. Fortunately, I needn't have worried as six weeks’ flies by when a productive day involves a shower, a walk, and a lot of milk. Simple.
The post-cesarean recovery is pretty full-on. The first couple of weeks, despite an assortment of painkillers, I could barely walk at a normal pace so the gym wasn't high on the priority list. Nearly six weeks on I’m recovering well although the stomach definitely feels a little tender and I won’t be rushing back to heavy weight training or running any time soon.
My six-week check is due next week and NHS guidance is to wait until this before embarking on any training more intense than walking, stretching, or pelvic floor exercises. Anecdotally, I’ve heard the level of detail this check goes into varies with some doctors not actually performing a physical examination. This is an important milestone in your post-natal recovery so if in any doubt request an examination or see a women's health physio to be on the safe side.
How long your body takes to recover is completely dependent on the birth you’ve had and your unique body. You could be ready to hit it hard at six weeks or feel nowhere near ready, in which case allow your body more (100% guilt-free) time to recover. You are the expert in how you feel so if it doesn’t feel right, don’t feel pressure to start just because you can. As always when it comes to pre and post-natal training, you have to listen to your body.
When you do get the green light to return to training it's important to take the first few sessions super easy and avoid anything high impact to see how your body responds. You'll do more harm than good if you don’t take your time, so build up gradually (particularly if you didn’t work out much during pregnancy). The longer you've been out of action, the weaker you'll have become, so take it slow.
Although I trained throughout pregnancy, the intensity wasn’t the same (particularly towards the end when joint pain and general fatigue hit). I have some work to do to build my strength back up so I’ll be starting with bodyweight/low weight exercises before I dive into anything that requires a more serious level of effort or recovery.
It may not be super exciting, but lay the right foundations and you’ll get stronger faster.
Other aspects you may want to consider....
Your baby also places increased demands on your core as your abdominals expand and your bump grows. In some cases, this can cause diastasis recti which is a gap in the abdominal muscles, so ensure you get this checked by a health professional before you start training. If you're affected you need to be super careful of the type of core exercises you are performing so as not to make this worse (essentially any movement patterns similar to a crunch should be avoided and start by just gently engaging your core muscles).
The ongoing presence of the hormone Relaxin in your system will result in your muscles and joints still feeling very relaxed so don’t overstretch and take your time moving positions to avoid injury (see earlier post on this for further info).
Your recovery from training may be impaired due to the additional demands of having an actual baby in your life (the main factor being fatigue) so make sure you are getting enough rest between sessions. Eight hours of unbroken sleep may be a distant memory but take time to recover by resting longer between sessions, sleeping when you can, and adequately fuelling your recovery.
Your body has been through a hell of a lot so take your time.
Walking is a great starting point to build up your fitness and instead of training, I've been nailing my step count (particularly once I stopped walking like my gran). It’s low impact so won’t cause injury or delay recovery, plus has huge mental as well as physical benefits (necessary on minimal sleep). Walking also comes with the added bonus of a sleeping baby provided you've ensured that all their needs have been met in the period immediately prior to each walk. Nailed it.