Postpartum Training…What’s Too Much?

If you are anything like most women, once you had your baby, you took one look down and freaked out! Thoughts of “What happened to my body? Why do I still look 4 months pregnant? I mean I trained most days of the week until the day before my scheduled c-section, and I found myself left with saggy skin, about 20 lbs and a stomach…..WOW, what a stomach!”

That feeling of desperation can create a tailspin of urgency. As a personal trainer I too experienced that feeling thinking, “I can’t walk around looking pregnant! I must get rid of this stomach and fast!”

So what do most moms do out of desperation postpartum? Well these days they Google the latest in weight loss, mommy classes and more often the rising in popularity, bootcamp! This is not uncommon, I too felt victim to the work HARD, push yourself harder and get faster results mentality.   Not only did I lose weight, but I also created muscle imbalances and injuries that left me even more frustrated because I had to stop the intensity of the way I trained. This lesson catapulted my passion to helping moms get to where they want to be physically pre and postpartum, but in a safe way. I hate to say it, but no new mother has any business being in a boot camp class or running a 5k.

Boot camps are a great way burn a high number of calories in a short period of time. Using your body as a tool to create resistance is fantastic as most boot camps and/or high repetition classes  focus on interval training so you get the strength and the cardio in one lovely package.  Running is a fantastic cardiovascular way of training your heart and lungs and no one will argue with how efficiently it helps you to burn calories too!

However, when you get a woman who has just had a baby, she is almost certain to be:
1) sleep deprived
2) unstable
3) probably has diastasis recti
4) has a pelvic floor that can’t hold her bladder very well.

So if this is the case, ask yourself; “does this sound like the right candidate for a high impact exercise class?”. Probably not.

It’s like we suffer from temporary dementia. We tend to forget that our once pretty-good-looking abs went from flat “ish” to a size we never could have imagined. The muscles in our pelvic floor were stretched to more than 10 times its size (if it was a vaginal birth) and went from supporting approximately 4 lbs to 20lbs by the end of the pregnancy. Our skeletal frame actually shifted to compensate for the weight gain and growth of a baby and our muscles pulled, stretched and tightened to adapt to the weight gain and imbalances. So I ask you, did everything magically “snap back” after pregnancy? I think not.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is very common postpartum so you need to take care. Statistics show that 1 in 3.5 women who deliver vaginally, suffer from incontinence. Once you hit 30 years of age, it goes up to 1 in 3. Scary. Your pelvic floor needs to heal and repair and can’t handle rigorous pounding at such an early stage. Although wearing a pad during your workouts is common, it’s not normal and it most certainly isn’t sexy so don’t be a statistic.

Diastase Recti (separation of the rectus abdominis) affects 100% of pregnancies by the end of their third trimester. Going into a fitness class doing hundreds of crunches and planks is your ticket to having a mummy tummy you can’t get rid of. In more serious cases, diastasis recti can lead to chronic back pain and even hernias which will only force you to stop exercising all together.

And what about relaxin? Remember that lovely hormone that makes you hyper-mobile during pregnancy and “relaxes” all your joints? Well don’t think it miraculously disappears once you deliver. Relaxin can stay in your system up to one year postpartum (if breastfeeding) leaving you with an increased chance of injury – especially during the first few months.

So taking this all into consideration, please stay far away from jumping, running and pounding for at least the first 3 months postpartum, see a pelvic floor physiotherapist and focus more on low impact and stability. Doing vigorous, high impact, high repetition exercise only increases your chances of a knee, hip, shoulder or wrist injury. Relaxin also affects connective tissue so this has an extended effect on your pelvic floor and diastasis as well. Remember, everything is connected so use caution.

My goal is not to discourage you from exercising but more to inform you of all the things your doctor doesn’t tell you. Labour and delivery is probably single handedly the most strenuous experience a woman can endure so to expect too much too fast postpartum just isn’t realistic and can cause serious dysfunctions long term.

Take your time and remember that those early months are integral in strengthening from within so you have a strong foundation. Focusing on low impact strength training and re-connecting the entire core will enable you to jump, run and bounce long term.

Just be patient. Trust me.

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Samantha Montpetit-Huynh
Samantha Montpetit-Huynh is the mother of two beautiful girls and the co-founder of Bellies Inc., a company that has created an entire system to not only get rid of the dreaded “Mummy Tummy” and pelvic floor dysfunction, but create core confidence during motherhood. Samantha is known extensively in her field and has appeared on Breakfast Television, CTV News, CHCH and Rogers Daytime. She is also the resident fitness expert on the Marilyn Denis Show and helped to create the Today’s Parent Healthy Pregnancy Guide.
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