Having completed a number of crazy endurance events in the past including ironman triathlon in 2014, my ridiculous thoughts when I fell pregnant were to train for the New York marathon which would have been exactly 6 months post Flin’s birth – what a rookie thought that was! 9 months on, my cardio fitness regime consists of a trot to the loo and a few slow 3-5km runs. A conscience attempt to avoid any permanent pelvic floor damage. What I’ve come to realise through entering motherhood, is that now is a time to respect one’s body for the life it has produced. The time may come for pushing my body to achieve crazy fitness goals, but right now, it seems like that effort would be for all the wrong reasons.
So, I have broken down my postpartum core-comeback journey into weeks based on how I was traveling at the time. Obviously, every woman carries differently, labours and births differently and therefore recovers differently, so keep in mind that none of the below mentioned advice, should be taken as gospel. What I do think is pretty sound advice when it comes to post-partum bodies, is to be patient with your recovery.
Weeks 1-4: DENIAL WITH A SIDE OF FREAK OUT
What a whirlwind this period was. Despite the massive distraction of this new life that has been brought into the world, that is half me and half my husband (amazing) this is the period I was probably most uncomfortable with. I was trying to adjust to the massive change in my life, which meant having absolutely no schedule or control over how my day went. Add in some work between breastfeeds, daily walks, between toilet trips, and a dog who wasn’t quite sure what to make of his new tenant and you get a juggling act that belongs at the local circus. In terms of my body, I was so impressed with what it had achieved and how quickly those kilos dropped off. However, I was petrified that it wasn’t only my new lifestyle and schedule I didn’t have control of, if you know what I am saying. No one can prepare you for what it feels like to not have bladder control! At the time, this rattled me to the core, majorly concerned that it might be a permanent flaw. I was assured by the professionals that the gentle pelvic floor exercises would do the trick but even as a Pilates instructor, I was seriously dubious as to whether my bladder control would return.
Weeks 4-6 : ACCEPTANCE
This is when I started to see the light, I had a bit more of a handle on this new life, and how to keep Flin alive. I had dropped back work commitments and fully engaged in motherhood and was starting to think about expanding on the exercise repertoire whilst keeping up my kegels. During this time, I made sure I kept daily walks to 30mins and started to incorporate some balance and fitball exercises. As an exercise physiologist, I am pretty in tune with my body, I listened to it and respected its limitations at this stage of recovery. I call this stage acceptance.
Weeks 6-8 GETTING TOO BIG FOR MY BOOTS
It was towards the end of this stage that I really started to feel like I was getting some pelvic control back. It was a gradual return, however towards the 8 weeks mark, I remember thinking, ‘yeah this is really improving’, and I let out a giant sigh of relief. This is where I got too big for my boots and started to lose patience. With the pelvic control returning, I got more adventurous with more complex exercises, often pushing too far when I wasn’t ready.
Weeks 8-12 MEDITATION STATION
During this time, I was in a good place, feeling like my body was mine again and morphing back into the realms of normality. Prior to this I was riddled with ongoing bouts mastitis, so entering a mastitis free zone, even if it was due to antibiotics, gave me the relief I needed to really embrace motherhood and enjoy my baby. I embraced my body and reached out to other mothers for social catch ups and walking dates. I learnt in this time that this is not the time for pushing through exercise barriers, this is a precious time that you can never get back and you must be sensible and respect your body. After all the cuddles, smiles and giggles mean so much more than fitting back into your jeans. It was at this point I also met with a women’s health physio to assess where I was at before returning to higher impact exercise/running. I can’t stress how important this is as everyone is completely different and pelvic floor recovery varies dramatically. For example, I had some bi-lateral pelvic floor weakness due to tightness of the muscle. I am generally a pretty tense person, especially so as I transitioned into motherhood. I had already started doing some meditation but she encouraged it with some stellar cues to relax my pelvic floor.
12- 20 weeks BREASTFEEDING WOES
So as I continued on this foreign path into motherhood…. figuring best routines for baby, best food for baby, best sleep environment etc etc, I was persisting with breastfeeding. In reflection this was slightly insane and stupid. I was constantly on antibiotics due to ongoing mastitis and feeling poorly. At 12 weeks, I started to get back into work, more officially with my mum taking Flin for 1 day a week. This was majorly anxiety provoking and I found myself not sleeping the night before, with my wild imagination conjuring up all the things that could go wrong. On top of this I was feeling pretty down emotionally. I struggled to make the choice to stop breastfeeding, a battle I know many women go through when they ween baby. At this time, gentle exercise was the key for me. I was loving pilates and seeing my strength return. Pilates is pretty transparent with your muscle and core weakness very evident; there is no cheating when it comes to pilates which enables you to focus on the areas that need strengthening. By 4 months, I felt comfortable in my pre-pregnancy clothes and was back into good shape. Aside from my big bosoms which never really felt like mine.
This was my favourite stage. Flin was becoming super interactive. I finally accepted that I couldn’t breastfeed anymore and painfully weened him onto formula. Two words – CABBAGE LEAVES. It actually works. Once I accepted that my breastfeeding journey was over, and the relief of weening was complete, I felt myself exhale. I started jogging at this time and over a 6-week period, I went from doing a 10 sec run 50 sec walk (for 5 mins on 5 mins off) to running 40mins continually. I had no goals to run a certain distance in a set time, I just wanted to fulfill that urge to be able to run if I wanted to.
As I enter the 9 months post-partum mark, I pretty much feel like myself again and thoroughly enjoying being a mum. On reflection, I am proud of getting through this journey that has really only just begun. It is actually amazing to write about it and be able to look back on my struggles and wins, to see how much I have overcome. It is such a massive transition both physically and emotionally and no one can prepare you for it. It changes you for the better and helps you see your true potential. There is something fulfilling and truly satisfying about living for someone other than yourself.
Go easy, do not rush back into it.
Accept that it will take time
Accept that you will not be your fittest, leanest self at this stage of life
Listen to your body – DO NOT push past what your body is telling you is enough
Trust in the recovery process – it will come back
Get help, speak to the professionals; women’s health physio for an assessment, exercise physiologist or post natal specific specialist
Do not compare yourself to others. This is a very individual journey, comparing yourself is not helpful ever.