The baby has arrived, you’re feeling good, and you are ready to get back into somewhat of a normal routine.
Maybe you worked out through your entire pregnancy and can’t wait to start again, or maybe your body feels different: softer, maybe a new shape, and you want to workout to change that.
You’ve got the fitness plan, the jogging stroller, the gym membership, the babysitter: but are you really ready to start exercising again?
Maybe….but maybe not.
Immediately following birth
Were you able to see your placenta, or have you ever seen a photo of one (google it if you’re not squeamish)? If so, what you may not understand is that the side of that very large organ was attached to the lining of your uterus, leaving a gaping open wound inside your body. Maybe that’s a gory thought, but sometimes I get the feeling that most women who give birth don’t really ever stop and think about what has actually gone on inside their bodies.
So if you’re still bleeding, that wound is still open. And even if you’re not, it takes a decent amount of time for the wound to heal, and even more time for the abdominal wall to come back together. Starting too soon or pushing too hard could make you lightheaded, cause you to rupture your healing wound, or could cause an umbilical hernia.
The sleep factor
Here’s the deal with working out that you may not have considered:
There are two phases to exercise: the exercise itself, and the recovery. Both are equally important to the overall process of building muscle, strength, stamina, and achieving fat loss.
That’s because we get stronger by stressing the body out, and then resting so that our bodies can adapt to what we just put it through. Resting is how we rebuild our muscles, performance, and stamina to be stronger, faster, and more efficient. Without rest and recovery, the process is not cycled completely through.
So if you aren’t getting much sleep at night because of baby wake-ups, but you’re pushing through tough workouts, you’re doing the stress/tearing down phase without the recovery/rebuilding phase.
Think about that.
You are tearing your body down without allowing it to rebuild, consistently stressing it without resting it. This will amount to injury, fatigue, inflammation, soreness, low energy levels, and even illness.
Not what anyone needs when they have a brand new baby.
Not only that, but if your goal is postpartum weight loss, you might be sabotaging that as well. Without sleep, stress hormones are not able to be removed from the body. Cortisol (stress hormone) increases appetite and decreases insulin sensitivity, which adds up to you feeling hungry all the time and dealing with uncontrollable cravings.
How do I know if I should exercise after pregnancy?
Number one: listen to your body! It will always send you the signals and all you have to do is interpret them.
This can be easier said than done!
I have to teach most of my one-on-one coaching clients how to get back in touch with their body intuition after years of dieting, calorie counting, and scale obsession has overtaken their decision-making process. We are so used to following along to what a program or diet plan tells us to do, we can become divorced from our body intuition.
If you are currently exercising but suspicious that your body might not be getting enough sleep to properly recover, ask yourself: “Is this exercise making me feel better or worse?”
It won’t be a black and white answer. Low impact, low-exertion exercise (walking, for example) might make you feel better when you’re not sleeping well, while intense exercise might make you feel worse. 3 days a week may feel fine, but 4 or 5 may be too much. This all may change from week to week, depending on how much sleep you’re getting.
Exercising for weight loss can negatively affect our decisions
The problem with exercising strictly for weight loss is that it sometimes can cause you to make bad decisions for yourself rather than smart ones. You may have it in your head that you have to workout to lose the weight of pregnancy, but as I prove time and time again with my own clients, this isn’t necessarily true.
Weight loss happens when there is less energy (calories) coming in than going out (activity). This is an overly-simplified way to put it, because the types of food you eat matters too: protein and high fiber foods actually make your body work a little harder to digest them than simple carbohydrates or processed foods (TEE, thermal effect of eating). Your activity levels, your muscle mass and resting metabolic rate all factor in too.
In short, don’t feel like you must be doing multiple days of intense exercise to lose the weight of pregnancy. It’s better to think of exercise as something you do for your self-care and your health, and that way you will always be able to make a good decision about how it is affecting you overall. If it’s harming you, you’re more likely to take it easy.
Exercise IS good for you…until it isn’t. Easy enough, right?
You can have it all, just not all at once. -Oprah Winfrey
This is a season of your life, and although it feels slow and frustrating right now, you will blink and it will be four years down the road and exercise will be a huge part of your self-care routine again (speaking from personal experience here). My baby was probably the world’s worst sleeper, going a full year and a half before he slept through the night. But he DID eventually sleep, and I have been killing my workouts again for 3 years.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, friend.
So until your baby is sleeping through the night and you are, too, prioritize sleep and good nutrition over workouts. Get it in when it feels good, rest when it doesn’t.
Want help managing your postpartum exercise goals, nutrition and fitness?
At the end of this month, I will be opening enrollment for my super-popular and always full Fit After Pregnancy 1-on-1 coaching program. Because everyone’s postpartum journey looks completely different, I’ve created this personalized program to help you find the right formula for your own life; from what to eat, how to move, and how to fit those things into your new life with baby.
Because of the personalized nature of the program, I only have room for a few women (last enrollment period, all openings were gone within a day).