Once postnatal, always postnatal?
This is a question I ponder regularly. I think it's safe to say that you cannot change what your body has been through. However, I strongly believe that you can come back stronger than before - different for sure - but maybe even better than before! I also think it's possible to become more mindful and aware of our bodies' unique capabilities once we've given birth to a tiny human.
The way I like to approach the postnatal period is this: 'I am getting stronger and healthier for the future' rather than 'I am working to get my body back'.
The bell curve is useful as a guide to how your body changes throughout the nine or so months of pregnancy leading up to birth and how it recovers for the first nine months postpartum. But every mum is unique and her recovery is highly individual. Some mums seemingly 'bounce back' whilst others seem to get all the postnatal issues under the sun and then some. Postnatal recovery is not linear - a few initial steps forward may be followed by a real setback. There are many reasons why mums' recoveries vary so much:
How well is she fuelling her body?
How much sleep is she getting?
What is her mental state including stress levels?
How much support and help does she have from people around her including her partner?
How well is she breathing?
How well is she carrying and moving her body throughout the day while carrying out daily tasks such as feeding, lifting and holding her baby?
I'm big believer in taking things slowly and allowing your body to recover, and to never push through pain. There's a time for that (eg when training for a marathon) but the initial postnatal period is not that time for most women.
If you're recovering well, and have been moving your body and doing postnatal exercise (Buggyfit or other), you may be able to take your exercise routine to the next level. I would recommend you progress it in the following order and answer the questions as truthfully as you can:
1) Am I performing all the postnatal/Buggyfit exercises correctly with the right amount of core - including pelvic floor - engagement?
2) Can I increase the number of repetitions while maintaining good breathing, form and correct technique?
3) If I increase the load (ie add weights), does any of the above change? Do I get doming around the abdomen? Do I involuntarily leak during or after exercise? Does something hurt?
4) If you have managed to get to stage 4 without any issues, you can most likely safely add what we call plyometric exercises ie more dynamic, quick and reactive exercises. Think box jumps, jumping lunges and other high-impact moves. If you're not yet there, just regress to the previous level/exercise.
One of the biggest benefits to strengthening your postnatal body now is to futureproof it for the challenges that await during the other M word - Menopause. But more about that in another post!