How Do I Return to Sport Postpartum?
There can be a lot of questions or worries surrounding returning to sport after having a baby. “I don’t want to go back too soon and get hurt or pee on myself.” “Will I lose all my strength if I wait too long to get back to CrossFit, running, or Burn Bootcamp?” “How do I know how much to push myself?” These are concerns we hear all the time. This blog includes some general guidelines that can help you with the process of returning to sport postpartum.
Disclaimer: Every mom’s postpartum journey is unique. Some women may benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy after having a baby, while others may do well progressing themselves back into exercise. As you work your way through returning to exercise postpartum, keep in mind that it is NOT normal to experience leaking, heaviness, or pain during coughing, sneezing, daily activities, or exercise.
Early Postpartum Exercise
Early recovery after having a baby should include rest for about the first 2 weeks (this is an approximation – every woman is a little different), followed by pelvic floor muscle retraining and body weight exercises to strengthen your back, hips, and abdominals. During this earlier postpartum period is when you should begin addressing any issues that arise, such as diastasis recti or any amount of leaking. Check out this blog post to learn more about how to end leaking and this blog post to learn how to fix a diastasis recti.
But when and how do you transition from these simple exercises and get back into running, CrossFit, weightlifting, or Burn Bootcamp?
Postpartum Progressive Loading
The transition from simple exercises to getting back into your sport should be done slowly and progressively over time during the postpartum period. Your body went through significant changes over the span of 9 months and then went through a major abdominal surgery (C-section) or the marathon workout of a vaginal delivery. It’s going to take AT LEAST that amount of time to feel like you’re back to your normal self. For the majority of women, it takes 12-15 months or longer to get to that point.
Begin with low impact exercises (walking, biking, rowing, no feet variation lifts) and progress to higher impact (jumping, running). Start with low weight, low reps and sets, or a short running distance. Build volume at that level for about a week – do that same weight, running distance, reps/sets on 3 days that week. Then increase one intensity factor (distance, weight, reps, etc) at a time each week. This should be done slowly, such as increasing running distance by 10% or increasing weight by 5-10#. Then repeat. Build volume for a week, then increase one intensity factor.
Listen to Your Body
“Listen to your body” is something many women are told when returning to exercise postpartum. But what does this mean? Here are 4 things to watch for as you get back into running, CrossFit, weightlifting, or Burn Bootcamp:
- Increased bleeding
These signs are your body’s way of letting you know what you are doing is a little too much right now. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, walk yourself through these steps:
1. Check Your Technique
Do you have good posture and form? Difficulty maintaining a neutral spine (flaring your ribs out or tucking your butt under) can contribute to extra downward pressure, leading to these symptoms.
2. Modify Your Breathing
Our diaphragm moves in tandem with the pelvic floor. Thus, breathing plays a big role in pelvic floor function and intra-abdominal pressure management. Make sure you are breathing into your belly as you run or exercise versus shallow breathing in your chest. If you are weightlifting or doing CrossFit, try exhaling during the difficult part of the lift. Add breath holding during heavy lifts back in once your symptoms are gone at that load.
3. Scale Back
If your technique is good, you are breathing into your belly, and you are still experiencing symptoms, try scaling back. Decrease weight, impact, running distance, or reps to find a threshold in which you don’t have symptoms. Start your postpartum exercise progression from this threshold.
4. See a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
If the first 3 steps do not resolve your symptoms, it is important to see a physical therapist who can evaluate why you are experiencing these symptoms. Leaking, heaviness, and pain can all be resolved, and there are many factors that can be contributing to them.
Diet and Hydration
Two other considerations when returning to exercise postpartum are eating enough calories and drinking enough water. This is especially important if you are breastfeeding. Both breastfeeding and exercise require extra calorie intake and water intake. You want to make sure you have adequate energy and hydration for both of these activities (plus enough energy to just function throughout the day). The recommended amount of water intake daily is at least half of your weight in fluid ounces (160 lbs = 80 oz of water daily) plus an extra 20-24 oz for every hour you exercise. Check out this basal metabolic rate calculator to see an estimation of how many calories you should be consuming daily.
Postpartum Exercise Should Be Exciting
Returning to exercise postpartum should be an exciting time. You have enough to worry about with caring for a newborn! Exercise may be your form of stress relief. Your sport may be part of your identity. If you are having concerns or questions regarding returning to your sport postpartum, shoot us a message or give us a call. We’d love to help you make this an exciting, stress-free experience!