If you asked me during my pregnancy, when I would be back to the gym after having a baby, I would have said “6 weeks, maybe 2 months”.
Oh how naive I was…
Aside from the fact that (unknowingly going in) I was a full-on attachment parent, or that our baby girl nursed every 20-90 minutes (but I never knew when it would be 20 vs. 90), the pounding your body takes in the early weeks of having a baby is like nothing I have ever experienced. Here’s how it went down for me:
- 14 hour labour – which isn’t too long in the grand scheme of things. But it was like a constant workout, and I stopped eating about 30 minutes after labour actually started. So I did a 13.5 hour workout without eating more than a few grapes and a glass of juice.
- 2.5+ hours pushing – yeah so that was intense. Especially since it was unmedicated. It was like doing a max-effort workout for an entire minute. Every 3-4 minutes, for over 2.5 hours. Again, on no food. And one hell of a workout for my pelvic floor muscles.
- 24 hours awake – from when my water broke to when baby girl arrived, on very little food, with adrenaline going like crazy. Oh and labour.
- 4 hours sleep – she arrived at 3am, we fell asleep by 6am, and woke up around 9:30am for our first day with our baby girl.
- Up 2-3 times/night for 45-90 minutes for 6 weeks – so after that marathon and a half, what would have been amazing, was a goodnight sleep to recover. But nope!
- Creating milk to sustain another human – on little sleep, struggling to eat enough and full of stress hormones (amongst other hormones).
Soooo, now that I’ve painted a beautiful picture of having a baby – haha! I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, I promise. In fact, writing that makes me proud about what a freakin’ badass I am. Women are strong. Shockingly strong. But I digress…
By the time I hit 6 weeks postpartum, I was pretty darn depleted. As someone who historically didn’t let themselves workout on less than 7 hours of sleep, due to a history of adrenal fatigue, I was feeling super torn. I wanted to go back to the gym SO badly, but I couldn’t knowingly put my body through that, on top of what I was already demanding of it. Also, I was pretty sure that the almost 3 hours of pushing likely resulted in some muscular damage/imbalances. So here’s what I did:
1. Embraced this season of life.
This took a lot of introspection and mental work on my part. Never in my life have I taken a significant time off from being active. The most was 5 or 6 weeks with minor injuries, but I often figured out how to work around it, like participating in basketball practice while my hand was in a cast (smart Amanda, real smart). Being active, and more recently, being a Crossfitter, is actually a major part of how I self-identify. So on top of the massive identity shift that happens when you just, become a mom, I was also no longer working on our business (which is also one of my life’s passions) and I was very quickly losing strength, mobility and the mental clarity that comes with exercise.
A few quotations that helped me embrace this season of life were:
“Don’t treat a gift as a burden.”
“The days are long, but the years are short.”
“This is the longest, shortest time.”
I didn’t want to look back on this incredibly short time (although it seems sooooo long when you’re in it) and wish I had snuggled my baby more. So I put going back to the gym out of my mind entirely. I was unknowingly putting pressure on myself to get back, so I just stopped. I took it off the table, knowing that the time would come when it would seem very manageable to get back.
2. Saw a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
There is more and more discussion on how this should be part of standard postpartum care, and in some areas of the world it is. And I can’t recommend it enough. I am strong, I had no obvious damage (no tearing, no stitches), I wasn’t experiencing any incontinence and I wasn’t in much pain. But when I was assessed by my pelvic floor physio at 7 weeks postpartum, she gave me a 1/5. I have never received 20% on anything in my life – LOL – so this was a major blow. Haha! But I did a few weeks of prescribed exercises and jumped to a 3/5. At which point I was discharged, especially because I was asymptomatic, and was sent away with a handful of exercises to continue doing. I credit this step with now being able to do everything I was able to do before, like box jumps and skipping/double unders, without peeing! Unfortunately it is now considered normal to pee when jumping or running, after having a baby…to that I say, just because it is common, does not make it normal. See a pelvic floor physio if you’re experiencing unwanted voiding!
At 4 months PP the kiddo started having slightly more predictable naps. I was also sleeping quite a bit more at night, so I didn’t need to nap when she napped anymore. My husband and I started trying to strategize about getting me back to the gym for the morning class, but I decided it wasn’t the right time yet. She routinely slept in til 8-8:30ish, which I embraced and slept in with her. I knew that would come to an end soon, so I took those sleep-ins as a gift and an opportunity to continue to recover. Especially since I was experiencing some pretty gnarly arthritis as the hormone relaxin left my body. So instead, I found a wonderful series of yoga videos on youtube, that were 25-30 minutes in length – perfect for nap time, which at this point was rarely longer than 40 minutes. About 5 or so years ago I went through a period of major yoga love. It was right after training for a half marathon (which killed my love of running for a significant while). Yoga felt like I was taking care of my body, after the beating I had just put it through, and was a wonderfully healing experience then, so I hoped to have the same response now. Boy did it do the trick! It felt so wonderful to move my body, work on mobility, engage my muscles and start building up some strength again – in a gentle way, without causing too much depletion. I even (for a split second) considered going back to yoga as my primary exercise instead of Crossfit (it was a short second, I swear, lol!). But if I’m honest, after about 6 weeks of yoga, I started making reasons to skip it. I was getting a bit bored – not because of the yoga, which was still a wonderful program – but because I was used to working out hard, in a group environment, where we all cheered each other on! I really missed Crossfit.
4. Back to Crossfit!
The combination of taking time off, rehabbing my body properly and introducing movement back to my life with yoga in a way that built up my strength, rather than depleting it, set me up perfectly for getting back to the gym by 6 months postpartum. It was a little humbling realizing how much strength I lost, but I reframed it by thinking of how I, you know, grew another human being! After being back for a few weeks, I’m actually more proud of myself than I was before. I can’t believe what I can do, after having a baby and taking 6+ months off! It’s exciting to see my skills come back, muscles starting to show a bit and slowly but surely, feeling my strength come back!
As is always important with Crossfit, I had to check my ego at the door. When you start Crossfit, you are simultaneously learning new skills and developing strength. I was in an interesting position of having the skills, but not having the strength, or the lungs. So I had to be extra careful not to overdo it an injure myself. I scaled every WOD, and then scaled a bit more. I took epsom salt baths, supplemented, ate really well, foam-rolled and did mobility work at night, and even managed to go for a massage!
To Sum Up…
While it took a while for me to get there mentally, I couldn’t be happier with how I approached my return to exercising during the postpartum period. While many figure out how to get back 6 weeks PP, I truly feel that going back to the gym earlier was not the right decision for me, or my family for that matter. Instead, by being gentle with my body, rehabbing properly and slowly reintroducing fitness, I set my body up for success with Crossfit going forward. And more importantly, I’ve set my body up the best I can, to be able to handle another pregnancy (should we decide to go that route), hopefully as well as it handled this one!