It's official: the 2020 Summer Olympic Games have begun. After postponement due to the pandemic, athletes from all over the world have gathered in Tokyo to compete. The event will remain unopened to in-person spectators, but that isn't stopping fans from tuning in virtually.
I don't know about you, but when watching the Olympics, it is almost inevitable to fall into a sense of awe of what the human body is capable of. From seamless vault routines to incredible leaps in Beach Volleyball, humans become stunning spectacles of power and strength. You may begin to wonder if you, too, can test out your Olympic fantasy, or put that dusty gym card to use again. You certainly wouldn't be alone; gyms and fitness centers all over the globe see surges of people around the time of the games. However, postpartum exercise may not be as simple as watching the Olympics and feeling inspired to show up at the gym to crush a crazy workout. Your body has undergone an incredible feat of delivering a child, and working out may be a little different now; so, we are here to help.
First and foremost, this article will not be one of those "lose your baby pooch fast" sorts of deals. Instead, we will set up a framework for approaching exercise safely and effectively, rather than dictating what your body should or should not look like. Unfortunately, advice floating around the internet on this topic can quickly become subsumed into the latter. The BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth Journal also notes the issue that while mothers want to exercise, they feel they receive inadequate information about postpartum exercise from their health care providers. The study then shares that some information that reaches moms is misinformation, especially surrounding breastfeeding. It has been suggested, wrongly at that, that women should avoid exercise because it may decrease a mothers' milk flow. La Leche League disagrees, noting that moderate exercise has not been shown to influence milk production level or composition. Intense exercise may increase the presence of lactic acid in breastmilk, which may make your little one a little more fussy, but usually nothing more than that. So, now that we've dispelled the rumors, we should all be on the same page: exercise, when cleared, should be sought.
Exercise in the postpartum period provides incredible benefits to mothers. For one, it helps restore your muscles, particularly your abdominal muscles that underwent a fair amount of stress from carrying your little one. For new moms who are in constant need of energy boosts, exercise can also help promote higher energy levels and well-being. Studies even support that exercise in a mother's postpartum period can help decrease her chances of developing postpartum depression or anxiety, given the positive benefits exercise poses for mental health. With benefits like these, it's no wonder why mothers may look towards exercise in the postpartum period.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology notes that mothers can start exercising relatively soon after giving birth. Overall, if you had a healthy pregnancy and normal delivery, then you can begin exercising as soon as a few days later. However, it is always important to consult doctors to ensure that this is specifically your case. Consulting doctors is especially necessary for mothers who had a caesarian section or any complications in their pregnancy or delivery. After these considerations, the right level of exercise ultimately comes down to what feels right to you and your body.
Your body in the postpartum period will inevitably be different from your body both before and during pregnancy. So, it is essential to know what these differences are and how they might impact returning to exercise. As a rule of thumb, it's best not to go wild and jump right back into vigorous exercise. Your birth may have caused some physical issues, like back pain, which can be exacerbated by such activity. Additionally, pregnancy hormones may have impacted your joints and ligaments, causing weakness, which can increase your chances of experiencing an injury. You should especially be considerate of your downstairs area, (read: bladder, uterus, bowels), which are all things that have been impacted. Trust us when we say that you do not want to be in the position where you overexert yourself through Olympic-inspired exercise and experience a prolapse. In case you don't know what prolapse means, it involves organs (ahem, often uteruses in this case) dropping down where they should simply just not be. Need I say more? Luckily, there are great ways to exercise without experiencing that sort of horror.
It is recommended that mothers get 150 minutes of exercise every week, with the suggested time of 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. However, we're not going to pretend that you’ll be enjoying much free time. Being a mom is a marathon in itself, so reaching these 150 minutes is easier said than done. Our suggestion is to do however much exercise you can of the 150 minutes whenever you can and want. Breaking this time down into 10-minute increments here and there is a stellar way to sneak that exercise in. Importantly, show yourself kindness and know that for some weeks, it's just not possible to get in as much exercise as you'd hope to, and that's entirely valid!
As for the exercise itself, there are many fun forms of exercise to do in the postpartum period, like walking, yoga, pilates, or even specific postpartum fitness classes offered in certain community centers. Generally, it would be best to base your postpartum exercise plan on your fitness level before pregnancy. As uncool as it is, pregnancy likely did not grant you the magic ability to run a marathon if you haven't run since the timed mile in middle school. But, in its defense, it did give you a beautiful new baby; so we'll overlook the lack of superpowers. That's all to say, using your previous fitness level as a barometer for what level of exercise you can perform is best for your health. Another piece of advice? Leave the milk at home. Make sure that you breastfeed or pump before exercising- Zumba with full breasts is not the route.
So, as the games continue to unfold and we watch in awe of these fantastic athletes, know that you can act on that desire to go out and live those Olympic exercise inclinations. Just remember to proceed with caution, considering the shifts your body has undergone. Sorry to throw a wrench in your Paris 2024 training schedules, but hey, in-person spectating in Paris doesn’t sound too bad. A plane ticket, s'il vous plait!