By: Sarah Day
The journey back to fitness after giving birth is difficult to say the very least. Navigating the new boundaries of our bodies while trying to manage a whole new level of exhaustion makes getting back into the gym a daunting task. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, physical exercise helps boost our mood and mental clarity postpartum, and for all of us who have given birth, with complications or not, we recognize the need for an emotional and mental boost. However, we also recognize that between the 2:00am feedings, the physical recovery, and the bombardment of friends and family, getting back into the gym is much easier said than done. I remember after having my daughter, which involved relatively few complications, all I could do was walk around the block before feeling severe pain. For those of you who experienced other, more serious birthing complications, I can only imagine how recovery looked for you. You see, it’s one thing to understand the benefits of physical activity after birth, but it’s an entirely different thing to find the time and energy. I wanted to share a few things that helped me along my journey:
Appreciate What Your Body Just Went Through:
You literally just created, grew, and birthed another human being. Let that sink in. In addition to that remarkable feat, you are also currently sustaining that life with your energy, your love, and your body. Do not downplay this! Simply because birth is a socially common experience does not mean it’s easy or singularly unique for all of us. Those of us who have experienced birth will agree there is truly nothing like it. We have these incredible bodies that can make humans – respect that! And know that everything else now comes second to that incredible feat and the small human that resulted from it. According to the Journal of Prenatal Medicine, your body goes through three major phases of recovery and many of the changes your body has endured will never fully revert back to their original state (if you didn’t pee during double-unders before giving birth, you probably will now!). Some of those changes include “stress urinary incontinence, incontinence of flatus or feces, uterine prolapse, cystocele, and rectocele,” according to the Journal of Prenatal Medicine. Pleasant, right? But the point is not to freak you out, but to help you understand just how impressive the feat of birth really is. Few, if any, naturally occurring processes compare to it and the trauma and change that your body has endured demands your respect above all else. So as you do begin your journey back into the gym, I urge to be kind to your body. It has just done something completely miraculous and needs some extra love and respect.
Celebrate the Small Things:
Before I had my daughter, my fitness and athleticism was something I took distinct pride and joy in. I had endurance and strength that took years to develop and I was a competitive athlete in several capacities. I say that not to brag about my physical fitness, but rather to emphasize the fact that my body has drastically changed since that pre-baby version of myself. I don’t lift the same weight. I can’t run the same distances. I am not able to perform at the level that I could before my beautiful baby girl was born. And you know what? That’s ok! Largely because I simply don’t have hours to spend in the gym because now my pride and joy is a happy little girl who needs her mother more than I need to be able to deadlift 315lbs again. I learned, very quickly, that I needed to celebrate the little things that I could do rather than focus on all the things I could not. At first it was literally getting in a basic 10 minute workout. If I was able to move and sweat for any period of time, I would celebrate it. Taking baby steps (no pun intended) helped me feel like I was making progress while I learned to navigate this new world of motherhood. And remember, this, like anything in life, it is a temporary circumstance. As my mother once told me, “One day you will have all the time in the world to spend on yourself because your babies will be off on their own adventures.” Enjoy this moment! It goes by so fast.
Take Control of Your Own Recovery:
For so many women, the pressure to “lose the baby weight” is overwhelming. We focus on the physical appearance of our bodies rather than the appropriate and healthy steps to aid our bodies in recovery. I remember watching Kate Middleton leave the hospital after having her third baby literally hours after giving birth looking like a runway model in heels and blowout. That was the image I had in my head when I left the hospital two weeks later with my daughter. I looked six months pregnant still, could barely walk (literally), and had bags under my eyes from the physical and emotional experience that had just wrecked me. Not even close to Kate. What I realized in the next few days was that this recovery, like my journey through birth, was mine alone. Yes, others had given birth too but no one had my same experience so essentially no one could tell me how my recovery would go. I learned to appreciate and listen to the advice and opinions of others, but I took heart knowing that only I knew what my body could do and how far I could push it. I took control of my own recovery and my own journey back into the gym.
In the end, life is about change and being able to adapt and evolve along with it. Recovery from birth is most certainly a marathon, not a sprint. For all of us who have experienced birth, I’m sure we would agree that motherhood is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also incredibly difficult. No matter what your birthing journey looked like, we are all trying to figure out what our new normal will be, for ourselves and for our families. Remember, too, that the little life that you’ve created will watch you and learn from you about what health and fitness should look like. Help them learn to love and respect their bodies for all the incredible things they can do!