What You'll Learn
- The Relationship Between Mental Health and Postpartum Fitness
- What “Fitness” Means for the Postpartum Body
- Why Breathing Is the Cornerstone for Postpartum Fitness
- Common Physical Concerns That Might Warrant Physical Therapy
- Creating a Healthy Mindset Around Postpartum Fitness
Becoming a mom takes a lot of adjustment, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our bodies go through a massive change—one that is not always easy to accept.
Many of us want to exercise after having a baby. We want to keep our bodies strong, we want to heal, and we might want to feel the way we felt before we had a baby. But our relationship with our postpartum body can be complicated.
When we engage in postpartum fitness with strict goals, a focus on looks or size, or unreasonable standards and expectations, we might be using exercise as a form of punishment towards our recovering body rather than approaching it with acceptance and self compassion.
That doesn’t mean we can’t engage in any movement or exercise postpartum—it just means that we need to adjust our goals, respect our postpartum limitations, and focus on strength and healing, both inside and out.
I don’t often bring on guests to talk about fitness—I never want moms to feel added pressure or compound body image concerns. But I also know that as new moms we often have concerns about fitness. What can we do safely? How can we adjust our goals? Can we both appreciate what our bodies have done and want to regain strength? And what do we do when we encounter issues like prolapse?
When I came across a platform designed to help moms understand safe pregnancy and postpartum fitness in a positive and empowering way, I knew that my community could benefit.
Today, I’m joined by Amy Kiefer and Krystle Howard, co-founders of Expecting and Empowered, to talk about healing and fitness postpartum, realistic goals, and the role that mental health plays in the process.
The Relationship Between Mental Health and Postpartum Fitness
Our postpartum physical health often goes hand-in-hand with our mental health. For example, if we experience painful sex, it might start to impact our relationship. If we experience incontinence, we might feel embarrassed and want to withdraw. And of course, our body image and self-esteem play a big role in our overall mental outlook.
But it can be hard to find answers to these struggles. In many ways, it feels taboo to talk about the physical changes we experience after having a baby. And finding answers about postpartum fitness isn’t always easy. That’s why Amy and Krystle started their platform.
Krystle pointed out that physical and mental health for moms can’t be unwoven. We hold emotional tension that impacts our body, and we experience physical problems that impact our emotions. It’s vital to address both if we want to be well and feel well.
As moms, we often put our physical and emotional needs on the back burner for far too long.
But as moms, we often put our physical and emotional needs on the back burner for far too long. Amy and Krystle often see moms who have struggled for decades, still coping with the physical difficulties that arose as early as pregnancy.
Krystle said that in an ideal world, we would actually use physical therapy during pregnancy as a preventative model to help avoid postpartum issues. But more often than not, we’re needing to heal retroactively.
She said that common things that bring women into physical therapy are prolapse, common aches and pains like sciatica and pubic symphysis pain, injuries, or even stiff backs and necks that arise from an inability to feel calm in our own body.
Krystle said that many moms are ashamed to say they wish that they felt or looked better, but that it’s okay to feel like we want our bodies restored.
What “Fitness” Means for the Postpartum Body
Our postpartum bodies often require special care. Krystle said that everyone comes to pregnancy at a different baseline—different levels of activity, flexibility, previous injuries and health, and fitness levels.
During pregnancy, we begin to experience changes—our center of gravity shifts, our belly expands, our diaphragm gets squished and flattened, our pelvic floor becomes stretched out or tight. Our joints or our back might struggle from extra pressure and weight. It’s a lot on our bodies.
Krystle said what moms often need postpartum is a “Ctrl +alt+delete” button to reset the system. This often starts with movement and mobility, or even just a focus on breathing.
The postpartum period is often very vulnerable. Moms might experience pressure to “bounce back” or “lose baby weight.” We encounter a lot of toxic messaging, and it takes a toll on our mental health.
We might want to move and take care of ourselves, but we need to be conscious about our outlook. If we’re falling into outside messaging or being too critical or hard on ourselves, fitness becomes more about punishing ourselves than caring for ourselves and listening to our body.
Krystle said that our postpartum fitness focus should really be on healing, strengthening, and taking care of our bodies.
Postpartum fitness focus should really be on healing, strengthening, and taking care of our bodies.
Amy said that postpartum fitness should not be about shoving yourself back into a size, hitting a specific weight, or rushing back to anything. It should be about allowing your body to go through the enormous transition of becoming a mother. That can’t happen on a specific timeline.
Healing needs to happen, and we need to feel well along the way. This often centers around taking time for ourselves and moving our bodies.
The Importance of Adjusting Our Fitness Goals Postpartum
It can feel overwhelming to experience body changes, to not be able to do the things we used to do, especially if we’re also coping with body image issues, toxic messaging from diet culture, and mental health struggles.
For example, if we’re navigating postpartum anxiety or feeling out of control in other areas of our life, we might try to become rigid or strict about exercise or eating. It almost feels comforting to try to anchor ourselves in something consistent when we feel like we’re free-falling. But we can easily slip into an unhealthy mindset when this happens.
It’s important to stay flexible, listen to our bodies, and adjust our goals when necessary. We have new limitations and challenges after we enter motherhood—physical, mental, and even time limitations. Letting go of perfectionism or all-or-nothing thinking can be helpful.
Krystle pointed out that even if you start a workout during naptime and your baby wakes up a few minutes into it, you still got your body moving.
We don’t have to feel like we aren’t doing enough—we can embrace what we can accomplish. Adjusting our standards and changing our mindset about exercise can be a good thing.
Adjusting our standards and changing our mindset about exercise can be a good thing.
Amy pointed out that the smallest stretches and movements can decrease pain brought on from daily motherhood tasks, like carrying a car seat, or hunching over while feeding. Beginning with breathing can be very powerful.
Krystle and Amy encourage breathwork and small steps to focus on core reconnection in the early postpartum period. It doesn’t always have to be a full intense workout to make a difference—instead, we can focus on small movements and steady progress.
Why Breathing Is the Cornerstone for Postpartum Fitness
Krystle said that strengthening the core is important after postpartum. The core includes the diaphragm, pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, and back muscles. They all work together, and they all need attention.
Moms often experience pressure-related issues, such as diastasis recti, hernias, prolapse, and urinary stress. But our first go-to to solve the problem often centers on just doing Kegels.
Krystle pointed out that the whole core, and even the whole body functions together. If we have weak ankles or if we’re not practicing proper breathing, our core often has to compensate.
She said that the pelvic floor becomes a scapegoat, but that we need to take a more holistic approach to healing the body. That’s another reason why Krystle and Amy focus on breathing first.
Krystle said that breath can be sneaky, always going to the easiest space to fill, such as our expanded belly postpartum. But if we aren’t conscious, this leads to dysfunctional breathing. When we breathe, it should connect with our pelvic floor.
To practice breathing, Krystle said moms can bend over at a countertop, and think about inhaling in through the nose, and down the back. We can also focus on working on breathing throughout our ribs.
It might be tempting to skip over breathwork and jump to other exercises, but breathing is the foundation for healing and body function. Focusing on proper breathing can help with GI issues, a sense of calm, and even holding urine or bowel movements. It can be a powerful place to focus our energy as we begin embarking on a postpartum fitness journey.
Common Physical Concerns That Might Warrant Physical Therapy
Moms often aren’t sure what to look for or worry about in the postpartum period. We get a couple of check-ups and then we’re often left to figure everything else out on our own. It can be hard to know when we need to change what we’re doing or seek the help of a physical therapist.
Krystle said that there are signs we can look for that we might be experiencing common core or pelvic floor concerns.
The first is incontinence—leaking any urine or stool. This is often either not talked about or just accepted as something we have to live with. But it can be addressed. (Krystle also pointed out that studies show if you experience incontinence during pregnancy, you’re more likely to leak as you age.)
We can also be on the lookout for prolapse symptoms, which might include a feeling of heaviness in the pelvic floor, pain or discomfort during intercourse, or a bulge into the vagina.
Prolapse can also cause an inability to start urinating or to fully empty the bladder, or an inability to have normal bowel movements.
Another common concern for postpartum moms is diastasis recti—a separation in the abdominal wall that often leads to coning or a pooch forming at the bottom of the belly. It’s important to be on the lookout for this because improper exercise can contribute to the separation.
Just because our body changes after having a baby doesn’t mean we have to cope with unhealed issues.
In addition to these concerns, knowing our bodies is important. If we feel aches and pains that don’t feel right, or if we feel as if our bodies have aged or are struggling, there are exercises that can be done. Just because our body changes after having a baby doesn’t mean we have to cope with unhealed issues.
Creating a Healthy Mindset Around Postpartum Fitness
Ultimately, our mindset around postpartum fitness matters. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel better—and there often is a path toward that.
We all want to be able to maintain mobility, to stay flexible, and keep our bodies going so that we can enjoy our lives, spend time with our children, and stay healthy.
But if we want to heal our bodies and take care of ourselves, it’s also important to remember that our needs matter. It’s okay to prioritize our physical and mental health. It’s okay to give ourselves permission to take the time to move our bodies and nourish ourselves. It’s also okay to be flexible and chose rest if that that’s what you feel you need.
Our needs matter just as much as everyone else’s.
Our needs matter just as much as everyone else’s. And when we pour into ourselves, we have more to give back to our families as well.
If you’re struggling with prioritizing your needs, body image issues, or giving yourself permission to take care of yourself, working with a mom therapist can help. Book a FREE 15 minute consult today!