Social feeds and entertainment media outlets are full of airbrushed versions of the Insta-famous’ dream lives. Postpartum posts are no exception. Glowing moms present their newborns to followers days after giving birth, while flaunting flat, stretchmark-free midsections. It can be hard not to compare oneself to these ladies, particularly for new moms struggling with their body image. What’s normal, after all?
Spurred on by these media representations, many women return the gym as soon as their babies are born, eager to “bounce back” as quickly as possible. The reality of postpartum, however, isn’t so simple.
Dr. Kate Mihevc-Edwards is a Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist who specializes in treating runners and triathlons participants. A former runner herself, she’s also the author of several books including Go Ahead, Stop and Pee: Running During Pregnancy & Postpartum. Mihevc-Edwards is wary of women returning to their exercise routines too quickly after having a baby. She warns, “Take it slow and be kind to yourself.”
Mihevc-Edwards recommends resuming workouts progressively, keeping an eye out for signs of doing too much, too early. “Bleeding is a good indication you need to slow down,” she tells Parentology. Some common indicators: abdominal splits (or diastasis recti) and leaking.
Though common, these issues aren’t normal and shouldn’t be ignored. If they don’t heal by themselves within four to eight weeks after giving birth, Mihevc-Edwards recommends seeking help from a pelvic health therapist. Ignoring such issues could lead to injuries down the road, especially when coupled with exercise.
Breastfeeding should also be considered when establishing a postpartum workout routine. “Women don’t always realize the impact breastfeeding has on the body,” Mihevcs-Edwards says. She explains breastfeeding women need to consume an extra 500 calories a day to keep their milk supply up.
Your body also uses the calcium present in bones to make milk, which can lead to stress fractures if overtraining or not getting enough calories and nutrients. It’s not a short-term concern either. “Your hormones don’t go back to their pre-pregnancy levels until up to a year after you stop breastfeeding,” Mihevcs-Edwards says.
Exercise is proven to help against postpartum depression, and it’s ok to remain active after your baby’s birth. However, overtraining is a real risk for postpartum women. “Your body doesn’t know the difference between emotional, mental, and physical stress,” Mihevcs-Edwards explains. “Unfortunately, many any of the symptoms of overtraining are very similar to the issues most women experience after giving birth.”
Some of the signs to look out for include decreased training pleasure, sleep deprivation, fatigue, memory disturbances, muscle fatigue, irritability, and vulnerability to respiratory infection. If you experience any of these ailments, it may be time to reduce your exercise regimen and get some rest.
When approaching a post-pregnancy workout, remember: postpartum is forever, and each body and pregnancy is unique. Your ability to recover is based on genetic factors or the circumstances of the birth – things over which one has no control. As for that miraculous intensive workout routine for getting back to your old self? It can do more harm than good. Perhaps the best advice: listen to your body.