The cliché goes that your life completely changes when you have a child. Your priorities change…and your heart grows. Many of us also think about what’s going to happen to our bodies once we have a child. This is especially true for the athlete. For years, Team USA athletes coming back to competition after having children have inspired us and they have succeeded in doing so with impressive hard work. At every Olympic Games the number of mothers seems to be on the rise. Many women now realize they don’t have to end their athletic careers when having children. The list is long of women who have accomplished their goal of returning to high-level competition after having children.
My patients ask me how they should modify their exercise routine before, during, and after pregnancy. I explain to them using a wave of my hand that “a whole lot of stuff happens down here”. Things open up, relax, and stretch out both during pregnancy and with the delivery. A common mistake that is made is not “respecting” the changes that take place. Getting back into exercise after having a baby is very individualized and I cannot stress this enough. Women have different degrees of pain, injury, sleep deprivation, depression, and motivation. I try to never judge my patients for their desire or lack thereof to get back to their regular exercise routine. I see it as my job to get them back to where they want to be in the safest manner possible. Here are some tips for getting back into exercise after having a baby:
1. Let your body heal. Respect the fact that being pregnant and delivering a baby requires a period of recovery. That doesn’t mean getting back to exercise within the first few weeks is dangerous but you need to listen to your body and avoid doing something it’s not ready to do
2. Start light and ease into it. Test the waters with new activities before jumping in with both feet.
3. If it hurts don’t do it (I don’t mean general muscle soreness-if one body part is hurting and doesn’t go away with rest, try something else instead). This is true postpartum just as much as it is at other times.
4. Stay motivated. Make exercise a priority. It may be something you have to schedule now, where you didn’t before. Work things out with your partner and/or support system so you can make that commitment to yourself.
5. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to hydrate and ensure you’re eating enough, especially healthy fats, protein and calcium.
6. Incorporate good core strengthening. If you have diastasis recti (separation of abdominal muscles), avoid classic sit up type maneuvers and instead try something like planks.
7. Don’t forget about that pelvic floor. Make sure good old fashioned Kegels are part of your routine.
8. Avoid the pitfall of exercise solely for purposes of weight loss. Your body will get back to some degree on its own clock. Different people lose weight and regain strength at different time frames. Remember your body needs adequate fuel and the demands go up with nursing.
9. Try it with friends. There are a lot of great groups about there to help new moms get back into exercise. Sometimes this makes it more fun and engaging. This can be a fun way to take the baby along with you too.
10. If desired, use a professional. There are people who specialize in postpartum exercise. For some, this may be the preferred option.
Exercising after having a baby can do wonders for the body and soul. It can help battle depression, assist with weight loss and give you a healthy outlet too. So get out there new moms and get moving!
Dr. Marci Goolsby is a sports medicine physician in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She trained at the University of California Los Angeles, where she served as team physician for the UCLA women’s basketball, volleyball, and softball teams. Her main areas of clinical and research interest are stress fractures and the Female Athlete Triad. As a prior collegiate basketball player, Dr. Goolsby also has a special interest in the care of basketball players. She is a consulting team physician for the New York Liberty and team physician for the U.S. Biathlon team.