3 Things You MUST Know Before Returning to the Gym After Having A Baby

Here are the 3 Golden Rules that you need to know before returning to the gym, Yoga, CrossFit, Stroller Strides, Pilates, OrangeTheory, Zumba, home DVD workouts, running, weightlifting, bootcamp, spin class, or any other fitness routine after having a baby.

This is the information that I wish I had after having my first son. I felt “fine” and came back slowly, but I didn’t understand the complexities of the postpartum body like I do now. I thought since I waited a full 8 weeks and eased back into my workouts that I was being smart. However, because I was never assessed by a pelvic floor physical therapist, I had no idea that my stomach muscles and fascia were extremely dysfunctional (Diastasis Recti), so I continued to make myself worse and had to learn these 3 rules the hard way.

1.Give your body time to heal and adjust, no matter your previous level of fitness.

After birth, our bodies are bleeding, our organs are moving and resetting, our stomach muscles are weak and compromised, and our stitches or incision sites are recovering from trauma. You do not  automatically become invincible once you hit the 6 - 8 weeks postpartum mark, even if you are “cleared.” If we don’t allow our bodies to get the rest they need during this vulnerable chapter, it will only take longer to heal.

Sleep is crucial for recovery.  However, sleep is unpredictable and infrequent when caring for a baby. When you lack solid sleep, pushing yourself in a fitness routine has the potential to do more harm than good - no matter how good it might feel in the moment. Your body is already fighting to heal muscles and tissues, so putting extra strain on them in a fitness routine is working against you.  Sometimes we want to be strong and fight through the exhaustion; however, in the end, doing so will only make our bodies weaker. By no means am I saying to avoid the fitness that you love, but just make sure you keep a healthy balance with rest during this time.

If you are nursing, this adds another dimension to your recovery. Whether you nurse for 3 months or 3 years, this can slow down your healing process until you completely wean because of the additional hormone production. Take the time to rest, eat, provide for your baby, and let your breasts adjust to this dramatic change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t workout until you wean, but it is important to be aware of the impact these hormones have on the healing process of your muscles and tissues.

It is crucial that we reconnect with our bodies postpartum, but it isn’t possible to do it alone; and this brings me to the next step.

2.Get an assessment from a pelvic floor physical therapist before returning to activity.

A pelvic floor physical therapist specializes in the muscles that run around the opening of the urethra, vagina, and rectum. These muscles also connect to your abdominal muscles, hips, and back. If you are experiencing pelvic pain or pressure, leaking, a protruding stomach, vaginal pain or pressure, weak core, back pain, hip pain, or any other pains in other areas of the body; it is imperative that you seek a professional before returning to your fitness endeavors. Many pains in different parts of the body are connected to a dysfunctional or weak pelvic floor that can lead to a hernia, diastasis recti, prolapse, incontinence, or other aches and pains.

However, it is just as important to see a professional even if you “feel fine” so they can assess the strength of your pelvic floor. This applies to both cesarean and vaginal births because the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor work together as a system. If you return to doing fitness activities that put added pressure in areas that are still healing, you could create a problem that wasn’t there before! Even if you are not itching to get back to a fitness routine, your daily life as a mom is very physical. You are continually picking up your baby, toddler, car seat, etc. So, please get professional help so you have strategies in place for your daily activity.

If you need a script for insurance to cover your visit, your OB should write one. If he/she will not, ask your primary care doctor. Be relentless until you find a doctor that supports you; this is the first key step to your recovery. It may take some searching to find a professional that understands and supports your fitness goals. It would be beneficial to interview your physical therapist before making the appointment and see if they are familiar with Julie Wiebe, Antony Lo, or Gary Gray because they focus on a return to sport.  This will be a good indication that your provider is up to date with the latest information.

3. Find a local instructor/trainer that specializes in pregnancy and postpartum athleticism.

You need a set of eyes on you!  Here are some questions to ask him or her before settling in with a trainer or group fitness routine.
  • Have they taken Brianna Battles Course for Coaches or any other pre/post natal speciality course?
  • What strategies do they have in place for women returning to fitness? What will they be looking for as they watch you move?  This should be more than “listen to your body.”
  • Are they comfortable working alongside your pelvic floor physical therapist and spending some extra time connecting with them?

If you don’t know where to start in finding a pelvic floor physical therapist or a pregnancy and postpartum athleticism instructor, I am more than happy to help as I am part of a national network of professionals.  

Since my days of anguish, I have learned so much about managing Diastasis Recti by working with professionals around the world.  I am on a mission to spread the knowledge I wish I had had years ago to help moms avoid my own confusion, panic, and fear. So many women are suffering with leaking, diastasis recti, prolapse, hernias, back pain, and so much more.  Please follow these steps and let me know how I can help you in your postpartum journey!

Lisa Ryan
Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Specialist
CrossFit Level 2 Trainer