By Isabelle Reynolds
You had a baby.
Now what? You have to do everything, but at the same time, can’t do much of anything. There is so much information about what to expect with the baby, but what about you? Postpartum is a season of uncertainty. You have a new baby and a new body and neither have an instruction manual.
When I had my first baby, I was so shocked at how different my body felt after birth. Radically different. Things ached, things became more challenging, things were in different places. I get it. This body, the same one you’ve known your whole life, may seem foreign. And the urge to get it back to something familiar is valid.
Let me try and help. Below are my recommendations for a few moves to consider as you ease back into or start training. **Remember, I’m not a doctor, if there was any birth trauma or surgery, please reach out to your trusted healthcare provider for recommendations. If you don’t have one, reach out to me and I can send you some information!
Every stage after birth is slightly different, and may vary in time. These are guidelines that I recommend for new mothers at our gym.
Birth: 0-2 weeks after birth. Consider this the immediate recovery and co-regulation period. My favorite recommendation for new mothers is re-learning how to breathe in your new, different body, fueling yourself with nutrient dense nourishing foods and resting as much as possible. I know this may seem easy to read and harder to implement especially if you have other children at home, but communicate with your partner or family and see how they can facilitate this for you.
Recovery: 2-6 weeks after birth. During this time you may stop bleeding, start understanding the patterns and cry of your baby, you may even be anxious to hit the gym. Most providers will clear new mothers for exercise around the 6 week mark, but I still encourage women to ease back into movement. BirthFit has fantastic functional foundational movements that they use to recover the post partum body. They’re linked below.
BirthFit Functional Progression 1
BirthFit Functional Progression 2
BirthFit Functional Progression 3
BirthFit Functional Progression 4
Another fantastic ‘movement’ that you may start because you want to or you need to is baby wearing. Taking walks, tending to things at home or shopping can be made so much easier and comfortable for a baby in a carrier. There are so many options, but my favorites were woven wraps and ring slings. Carriers free up your hands and it gives you extra snuggle time with that sweet little one.
Now is also a good time to check in with your gym or coaches. What are their recommendations? What resources do they have for you? It’s also nice to talk to friends who you probably haven’t seen in a while.
Rehab: 6-12 weeks after birth. The functional movements from BirthFit aren’t just for your initial recovery phase postpartum. They’re great for every phase. I recommend them for a general warm up a couple times a week. Once you’ve been cleared to exercise, you’ve stopped bleeding and don’t have any pain with the functional movements, feel free to explore simple weighted movements that are actually similar to what you may have to do at home.
I’m talking about carries and squats. We’re looking for movements that gently challenge the core, but not isolate it. If you’ve ever had to bring a gallon of milk from the car in your right hand, you’ve felt it on your left side. Think about bracing your core and trunk each time you lift, hold or carry a heavy object. This can be equipment at the gym, or things at home like the milk jug I just mentioned.
Carries can be done with both hands for a farmer’s carry, one hand for a suitcase carry, overhead, front rack, and bearhug.
Next is squats, they are one of the most functional movements out there, and postpartum rehab is a great opportunity to perfect squat form. I recommend squatting to a box slowly without relaxing in the bottom position, with core braced until that feels entirely too easy. Then you can make it more challenging by lowering your target, slowing down the tempo and adding weight or reps. Remember, all of this should be done without pain during or the next day.
Foundational: 3-5 months after birth. At this point you may be back at the gym into your old routine or the classes you took when you were pregnant. Nice work! Consider adding a couple of these movements into your workouts. I have seen many women and myself develop a weak posterior chain because of the posture many women adopt during pregnancy, postpartum, feeding and carrying babies. This can lead to injury and pain in joints like the shoulder and knees.
To combat this I like to train hinging movements. Things like the Romanian deadlift, traditional deadlift and single leg deadlift are great for activation in a warm up and for strength sets. I also love a good single unilateral dumbbell movement. They can offer isolated strength building, compound movement, and a challenge to the small stabilizing muscles. Great for a workout or accessory work.
Movements to consider: power cleans, front squats, snatches, turkish get-ups, presses, rows, devil’s presses (if you’re feeling wild)
Rebuilding: 5-12 months and beyond. This final stage isn’t really final and it isn’t really a stage. This is the rest of your life. Rebuilding strength, focusing on continuing to build a stronger foundation and focusing on movement that makes you feel good. Now would be a good time to consider adding in impact training like plyometrics and running if you’d like to and can move pain free. High intensity interval training, like CrossFit or circuit training is a great way to get a balanced array of movements. And as always, strict strength is the way to go for everything. It will make your explosive compound movements better, smoother and make you less likely to hurt yourself.
Recovering from childbirth is no easy task and you will never be exactly what you were before pregnancy, you’re a different woman, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Postpartum is a beautiful opportunity to forge a better version of yourself from the inside out. Be grateful for this chance to come out of childbirth a stronger woman than you were before.
If you have any questions about anything pregnancy/postpartum, please reach out! If you’re in the Ocala, Florida area, even better. Let’s grab coffee and get you moving well.
Isabelle Reynolds is a woman, mother and coach. She is a BIRTHFIT Leader and Coach, CF-L1, and USAW-1. Her passion is empowering women through fitness and community.