This is Part 2 of our series focused on getting Athlete-Moms like yourself back to training after having a kiddo. Part 1 focused on making the mental and emotional shift back into training, as well as how to manage the type and volume of training post-baby. If you missed it, you can read it here.
For most women, the green light to return to training comes around six to eight weeks after delivery. But a number of changes during pregnancy can persist for months, or even years, post-partum. Some merely take time to resolve, while others take work or perhaps professional support (for example, physical therapy, massage, etc.) to rebalance. Here, we’re going to examine a few of the top physical concerns for new Athlete-Moms.
Lax Ligaments: One of the hormones that affect your body during and after pregnancy is relaxing, which helps increase the elasticity of your joints in preparation for late pregnancy and delivery. Relaxin may persist in the body for five to six months after you have your baby. This is important for Athlete-Moms to remember because your joints will be less stable during this time. That means your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, and spine all need to be in top-notch shape before you go back to weight-bearing exercise.
You should start with low-impact, non-weight-bearing exercises when you get your doctor’s OK. Give your body a chance to adjust back to the demands of training — including allowing for the time needed to rebalance hormones.
Weight Changes: No matter what the scale says after pregnancy, the mirror and your clothes likely are showing that your body has changed. That is a good thing — it’s meant to happen that way! When you are ready to get active again, though, that extra weight can be a challenge emotionally and physically.
Returning to fitness is a process, so try not to play the comparison game as you start training again. Instead, be safe, allow yourself some time, and believe in your body’s amazing abilities. You may never regain your pre-pregnancy body, but the body you have can take you down the path of your dreams!
A couple of notes about your weight early in the postpartum period:
- For nursing moms, you will want to keep on about 8-10 pounds of “padding” in order to produce high-fat milk. (See my section below on calories and healthy fat intake.)
- Carrying extra weight can have quite an impact on your joints — especially if you jump right back into weight-bearing exercise or long-distance training. So take it easy, mix your routines up every day and give your body a chance to recover and rebuild.
Pelvic-Floor and Core Instability: Your pelvic floor includes a group of muscles and ligaments along the base of your pelvis that helps to support internal organs such as your bladder, intestines, and uterus. During pregnancy, these muscles are put to the test with increasing internal pressure from a growing baby. Add to this the natural stretching that happens during a vaginal delivery, and this muscle group can be in need of some post-natal rehab. Signs that you may have pelvic-floor instability or damage to the muscles in the pelvic floor include:
- Difficulty holding urine, or urinary urgency
- Loss of bowel control
- Pain with bowel movements
- Perineal or pelvic pain
- Pain during intercourse
General core instability also is common after pregnancy and can add to the above issues. Low back pain, poor posture and inability to hold push-up or plank positions can be indicators of a weak core. And some women end up with “diastasis recti,” a separation in their abdominal muscles following pregnancy that makes certain core-strengthening exercises dangerous until healing or rehab has occurred.
If you notice any of these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan in place before you go back to your training regimen. For more information, see how to get my free Action Plan at the end of this post.
Nourish Your Body
Post-partum, your body still can have increased demands for nutrients and hydration. Athlete-Moms need to pay special attention to this as you regain training momentum. Below are a few important keys to remember.
Hydration: If you are breastfeeding when you start training again, track your water intake closely, because dehydration can quickly affect your milk supply. Pay attention to sweat loss as well — in hot or dry weather, increase your water intake. And if you are trying to lose baby weight, drinking more water will speed fat loss and ensure you are flushing toxins efficiently.
Here’s a simple way to know if you are hydrated: Your urine should be light yellow in color and you should be urinating around every 2-3 hours. If your urine is clear, try adding electrolytes to your water.
Calories: If you are nursing, monitor your caloric intake when you start training again. Generally, you need about 500 calories above your pre-pregnancy intake to have healthy milk production. Training burns quite a few calories — even at just 30 minutes per day — so track your volume and do the math!
Healthy Fats: When you are in the post-partum period and starting to train again, including healthy fat sources in your diet is essential. Adequate and quality fats help support your metabolism (think weight loss) and hormone production. And for nursing moms, fat intake directly benefits your baby via breast milk. Finally, there is good evidence that healthy fats can help fight mood disorders such as depression — another important benefit if you are suffering from the “baby blues.”
Focus your diet on saturated fats (such as coconut oil and animal fats), monounsaturated fats (for example, olive oil, tree nuts, avocado), and omega-3 fats (found in flaxseed and fattier types of fish, such as salmon). Eliminate trans- and partially hydrogenated fats, as well as most shelf-stable cooking oils (e.g., safflower, soybean, corn oil, etc.). Don’t worry too much about percentages and grams of fat — start by simply making sure you are getting healthy fats at each meal. See my suggestions for supplementation in my Action Plan, linked below.
Get in Action
I can attest to the difficulty of getting myself back in action after I gave birth to each of my two kiddos — at first, it was akin to walking up the down escalator! But little by little, training has become easier and my body’s memory of fitness has resurfaced.
It’s important to have a plan to get there, though. That’s why I’ve created An Athlete-Mom’s 10-Step Return-to-Fitness Action Plan — a free guide that will provide you with some of my favorite resources, tips, tricks, supplements and ideas to get you safely and quickly back to whatever athletic pursuit you choose. You can grab it here!