I remember my growing belly in my first pregnancy, where every week was exciting and I stood in wonder of the miracle that my body could endure. I respected what my body could do and I felt comfortable in my pregnant body. I gained the recommended 25-30 pounds during pregnancy and didn’t get too phased by the numbers on the scale.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the foreign, depleted body that I was left with after my son was born.
Every muscle in my body was sore from delivery. I felt if I moved too quickly something in me would tear or strain due to my lack of core muscles. And this was just for a standard, uncomplicated vaginal delivery. I no longer appreciated my body, not like I had when I was pregnant. The body I was left with didn’t feel like mine.
It had taken 9 months to grow into my full term pregnant body. The growth was slow and gradual. But your postpartum body arrives quickly. Abruptly. And without warning. I had to learn how to move and dress a completely new form while also toting around a new human. For months I struggled with feeling comfortable and confident in this new normal. A new mom, with a new body. I didn’t recognize myself.
My baby weight came off eventually in that first year, after I stopped breastfeeding and when I finally returned to sleeping through the night. But even at my son’s first birthday, my body didn’t feel right. It still felt weakened and as though every nutrient in my body had been depleted, used to grow and feed a new baby and not myself. It was hard to find clothes that made me feel confident in this body.
Looking back now I was probably looking to find clothes that also made me feel confident in being a new parent. I was expecting my clothes to do a lot more than just make my butt look good. And I now realize that I hadn’t let myself fully heal for optimal recovery, which led to a hard 18 months of trying to feel like myself again.
Fast forward to now 5 years later, I’ve had my second son and my postpartum recovery was a completely different experience. I have never felt more confident and strong in this body. And I want the mother reading this to feel the same confidence and tell her there is another side to this new mom body. And it will be just as great, if not stronger. It may just take a better recovery plan.
Women are always looking for fast ways to get their ‘Body Back’ or lose the baby weight.
I am confident most new moms have googled ‘how to lose the baby weight’. Yet we forget how much has been taken from our bodies to give life to our new baby. As a fitness advocate and personal trainer for pre- and post-natal moms, many of them will ask me how they can lose the baby weight or wonder, “why can’t I get my body back?”. My first few questions to them are:
- How is your recovery going?
- Have you allowed time to heal?
- Are you feeding/nourishing yourself?
- How much sleep do you get?
These are all so important to regaining your fitness level.
If we can focus on how we feel, and how we move, we can eventually find our new normal and train our new body. These are all important aspects of fitness. Letting our bodies recover from anything that is taxing (especially pregnancy and delivery) requires more self-care, patience and careful planning than we are allowing.
I liken this to recovery plans as an athlete. When an athlete trains hard and then plateaus, these are usually signs of burnout or overtraining. And when this happens good coaches take a step back in the training and let their athletes take time off to recover. Yet when mothers plateau in weight loss they think they should be stepping up their games, by doing more, but they haven’t properly recovered.
Recovery is so important. And fully recovering and rehabbing weakened muscles is crucial not only for your fitness but for life’s demands. Women anxiously await their 6-week postpartum checkup from their care provider to be cleared for exercise but they leave with zero tools to help them retrain and restore their core muscles; to fully optimize their return to fitness. Some providers never even discuss what diastasis recti is (abdominal separation), what it looks and feels like, or how to check for it. Women can also lack direction and information on pelvic floor dysfunction, understanding signs and symptoms and not knowing what is normal and not normal, which can lead to long-term problems.
These are important questions to discuss with your provider and then again with any fitness professional as you begin a fitness routine postpartum.
As we work to gain strength in our postpartum body we will grow in confidence and even grow beyond the fitness level we had before motherhood. Recovery takes time but mostly appreciation. And I am on the other side to tell you it’s worth it. No, I will never tell you you’re going to have the same hip size, bust, or even shoe size again. But if we facilitate our recovery and continually develop knowledge of our postpartum body we CAN get the strength and endurance in our body back.
BIO HIGHLIGHT: Melanie Clark is a Postpartum & Infant Care Doula with Columbus Birth & Parenting. She is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and teaches prenatal and postnatal fitness classes for moms in the Columbus area. She is looking forward to bringing a personalized recovery plan for women after childbirth to help them regain the strength and confidence they need to incorporate fitness back into their lives after having a child. She hopes to bridge the gap between postpartum recovery and returning to fitness. If you are interested in an individualized fitness plan you can contact Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Columbus Birth & Parenting office at 614-356-8500.