This is a guest post written by our coach, Gabi Bradley. You can check out part 1 to this series here.
“Oh 💩! I pushed that thing out of me! I’m a mom!”
These are probably still my most frequent thoughts even eight weeks after our sweet baby girl arrived. If you read part 1, then you know Addison came late, eight days late to be exact. Without going into all the details of her birth, I was in labor ALL day, even after being induced. Pushing was by far the easiest and shortest part for me. And then she was here. This magnificent and strange creature who had, up to this point, been so close and yet so far. We spent the rest of the week in the hospital (she was born on a Wednesday), and the next week we spent in a fog of awe and exhaustion.
I had just performed one of life’s greatest feats by pushing a 7-pound 8-ounce parasite (ahem, I mean miracle) out of my body. But after two weeks, I was ready to begin the rehab process. Keep in mind that having a baby, even a “normal” delivery, is more stressful on your body than orthopedic surgery. To return to any type of pre-baby normalcy, rehab is required.
This post is not a prescription for what all postpartum women can and/or should do. There are many considerations as a new mom begins to navigate the “fourth” trimester (first three months of baby's life outside the womb). This is just what I did and a few things for all women to consider.
“Are you having another baby?”
While I was acutely aware of the fact that I still looked pregnant a couple of weeks after delivery, the little girl next door made sure I knew it. But, comfortable with it or not, my physical appearance is not and should not be my primary concern. Primary concerns include general recovery, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and adjusting to a new lifestyle. Having a newborn is a full-time job. Add breastfeeding to that, and I’m working overtime. Mental health is also so important during this time of recovery. The hormonal changes along with the challenges of caring for a newborn can break down even the most resilient of women. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy when it came to breastfeeding. It stressed me out and left me in tears, especially if I was exhausted. Rushing into exercise would have added stress to an already stressed system and would have taken away precious time with my baby girl.
Right after I made my 6-week appointment with my OB, I made an appointment with pelvic floor physical therapist Lisa Smiley (@kineo.pt on Instagram). It is not uncommon for women to be told they are cleared by their physician, without really being told what they are cleared for. I had minimal tearing which had healed well, and I was in no pain with no concerns. By my old athletic standards, that means I’d be ready to get back at it after some rehabilitative exercises. But there’s no going back; I am forever changed in more ways than one. I have new standards now, so I have to move forward.
Initially, my rehab focused solely on my breath and reconnecting with my pelvic floor. If you don’t know, the pelvic floor is a group of muscles that supports pelvic floor organs like the bladder. It works in tandem with your core muscles on a daily basis and when you exercise. Pregnancy and labor do some damage to this system. My initial assessment showed that my pelvic floor muscles are weak, and I have a diastasis (separation of my abs along the linea alba; this happens in all pregnancies). So my therapy involves simple movements utilizing new strategies as I rebuild and reintegrate movements into my routines.
Common postpartum dysfunctions include diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse (pelvic organs press into or out of the vagina), and incontinence. A pelvic floor physical therapist can help with strategies to manage and rehab these issues. But these therapists aren’t just for postpartum women. Whether you’ve had a baby or not, if you leak during jump ropes, box jumps, or other high-intensity exercises, consider seeing a pelvic floor therapist. It may be common, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it.
When I was a college athlete, I hardly ever sat on the bench. I played through shin splints turned stress fractures, a broken nose, and two arthritic knees. So when I first read “slow is fast“ in Briana Battles’ Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism course, I was a little put-off. If I thought that changing my mindset was difficult during my pregnancy, it is an even greater challenge now postpartum. I do not feel injured, but I know that my body has gone through something amazing and traumatic. It’s hard to go slow when my brain is telling me that I’m good to go. But I have to keep reminding myself that there is no hurry.
I am currently working through Brianna Battles’ 8 Week Postpartum Athlete Training Program. And it is slow. Last week was week 3, and I squatted with a barbell for the first time. To a box. The bar was empty. As much as I hated it, I did the workout as written, trying to focus on being intentional with my movements and new strategies. In soccer, after we scored a goal, we would huddle together and say, "Next five!" That meant the next five minutes were critical. Yes, we scored, but we had to remain focused and stick to our game plan. I don’t know the number, but the next few months are crucial in my postpartum recovery and my life down the road. I have to be patient and stick to the game plan. Besides, I am loving mom life with my smiley, chatty little girl. So, why rush it?
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for Part 3 of this blog series.