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I remember it clearly. I loaded up the BOB jogging stroller and the baby and drove to the park. Calvin was little, but not a newborn. I'd say he was 5 months old at the time. We got to the park and I set him up comfortably in the stroller, all wedged in nicely and ready to roll. I carefully and responsibly went through a complete dynamic warm-up routine to get my body prepped, and then took off. It was the first time postpartum that I was going to do sprints. It was going to be great!
And it was great, actually. It felt amazing to stretch my legs, to move fast and feel the power again. But something else happened. During my first sprint bout, I realized I was peeing. Ok, what the heck?!? I paused thinking my bladder was probably full, and I just hadn’t noticed it. Nope, I felt nothing.
I did my next sprint and it happened again. After several sprint bouts, I was very thankful I was wearing black capris because I felt completely soaked. I drove home sitting in my pee, totally confused as to what happened...and a little humiliated. What's wrong with my body?
I sprinted a couple of times after that, but eventually gave up for other reasons…it was simply too much to juggle a baby and a stroller. But I never addressed this leaking situation. I had no idea.
This was just one of the major mistakes I made postpartum. I’ve had two babies and with each one I was oblivious to postpartum recovery. Me, the fitness expert, the one that could train high level athletes and overweight individuals alike, was completely unaware of good postpartum care.
My youngest is now four years old, and there are already different baby products on the market than when he was a baby. So, I’m hoping this means there has also been a shift in the information available to moms. But I’m not holding my breath. I’m pretty sure the recommendations are still simply this: “Don’t exercise until you get the green light from your doctor at your 6-week check-up, and practice your kegels.” Super helpful, right? If it was, we wouldn’t all be running and jumping around peeing our pants.
I made several mistakes postpartum, and I’d like to share them with you so we can compare notes. These are things that you don’t hear discussed very often, but the moment you start the conversation, everybody chimes in. I'm going to be completely transparent about all of this, in hopes that you can relate and find relief.
Mistake #1: I was completely unaware of my pelvic floor. I had a general idea that “kegels” were good to do, so I did them sometimes. But that was the extent of my knowledge.
- I didn’t realize the pressure that your pelvic floor endures during pregnancy and labor, and that it doesn't just "bounce back". That should be obvious, right?
- I didn’t know that these muscles need to know how to contract on demand, but also lengthen and relax.
- I didn’t know that the pressure inside my entire abdomen completely affects the pressure placed on the pelvic floor muscles.
- And I certainly didn’t know that these muscles need to sufficiently heal before they try things like running, jumping and heavy lifting…all things that apply a lot force to the area.
Fast forward to now. I understand that even before you become pregnant, it’s a good idea to begin training your pelvic floor muscles and then to continue doing so throughout your pregnancy and beyond.
I have learned that a proper kegel is not just squeezing your vagina again and again and again. The best way to think of it is to picture “grabbing beans” with both your vagina and your anus to strengthen the full extent of the pelvic floor. Hold those imaginary beans for a long, slow exhale, then release completely as you inhale.
I have learned that connecting your breath changes the pressure inside your abdomen to more efficiently train these muscles (and your core in general!) Even 4 years postpartum, I now do these pelvic floor + breathing exercises daily and I have seen some improvements!
Mistake #2: I had strong abs so having diastasis recti did not even cross my mind. What I didn’t realize was that just about every single pregnancy involves separated abdominal muscles, whether or not you have a six-pack going into your pregnancy. Your belly must expand, and that’s the way God designed it to happen.
Because I never felt a particular “problem”, I just went about my training as usual. I should have been more careful with my ab muscles, realizing that the longterm health of my core was determined by how I treated them during the early months postpartum. I should have paid more attention to this and performed some self-checks to measure my progress.
Click here for a fantastic video on how to do a diastasis recti self-check.
Mistake #3: I did the wrong core exercises. I’ve never been a fan of crunches or sit-ups, so fortunately I wasn’t doing those (which would have been a major mistake!). But I was still planking. I’m pretty sure my very first workouts postpartum included some form of planks. This was far too much direct abdominal work at the time.
I should have eased into it, beginning with mostly glute work instead. After regaining a lot of glute strength, I should have gently introduced indirect abdominal exercises, or exercises that work around the abs, but not right on them. This would include squats, split squats, bridges, bird dogs, offloaded exercises, and farmer’s carries (walking with a heavy weight on one side of your body).
After a couple months of performing indirect abdominal work, I should have reassessed my abdominal muscles and the tension of the connective tissues to see if they were progressing and ready to do more.
Mistake #4: Running, sprinting, and jumping way too soon. This was clearly evident based on my opening story. If you’re experiencing leaking like I was, that’s a big sign that your pelvic floor is not at all strong enough to handle these types of loads. Sure, I gave myself a couple of months off running, but I’m pretty sure I was back out there jogging at 3 or 4 months postpartum. This was way too soon for my body.
Some women feel great, have zero leakage or hip and back pain (an indication of a week postpartum core), so a little bit of running is probably fine. However, I was better off sticking with a complete strength training routine that built up my muscle mass and overall function, and eased me into those intensities.
If I had waited until I was 9, 10, or 11 months postpartum, and had taken care to do everything I mentioned above, my experience would have been so different.
Mistake #5: Making “getting my body back” such a huge priority. This was my biggest mistake, by far. I idolized other women that hit it hard in the gym not long after having their baby. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be able to say that I was back at my pre-baby fitness level in record time. The moment I gave birth, the clock started ticking in my mind. I cared way too much about losing my baby pooch, trimming this and that, and hiding all the evidence that I was ever pregnant.
My heart was all wrong, which is probably why I didn’t really care about pelvic floors and separated abs. Talk to me about “losing baby weight” and then you had my attention.
I even remember writing a blog post after my second baby that included a picture of my abs at 3 months postpartum, like it was a badge of honor. Could I sprint without peeing my pants? Nope! But I could certainly flex my abs like crazy just for a stupid picture, probably giving myself a hernia in the process. “Check your priorities, Megan!”
It's not too late, though. I certainly made plenty of mistakes with my exercise choices during those first years postpartum. I’ll be the first to admit it. I was uneducated at the time, and nobody told me otherwise. But the good news is that I know better now. And it’s not too late to fix these problems, even for you.
Are you still leaking 4 years later or are your abs still separated? That’s not a death sentence, by any means. Whether you follow good healing protocols immediately postpartum or years down the road, it will still work. You might need to slow yourself back down, learn how to breathe properly, learn about your pelvic floor and how to engage it well, understand your abs and the right exercises to do, and “get your body back” in a much more lasting way.
And if you're newly postpartum, I suggest you check your priorities. What is the focus of your workouts? Healing or fat loss? Being careful and wise with your body or adamant about erasing all the evidence of pregnancy? Remember, there is no badge of honor here, momma. Do what is best for you body, always.
The FREE Strong Mommas Postpartum Fitness Guide
If this blog post got you thinking, or even saying "yes, yes, yes!" the whole way through, I have a special gift for you. The Strong Mommas Postpartum Fitness Guide. I spent some time putting together a concise guide to help you navigate the first year postpartum. In it I share,
- What you can and should be doing from day one
- When you can begin doing full workouts and what those workouts should include
- What core training is the best to do at every stage during the first year
- When you can begin running, sprinting and jumping
- Totally relevant even if you're past that first year!