When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I became instantly obsessed with everything postpartum. I wanted to get my hands and eyes on as much information as I possibly could so I could adequately prepare for and champion that chapter (spoiler: this is impossible).
Back then, I followed a ton of pregnant and postpartum fitness accounts. I signed up for BirthFit coaching seminars. I joined the ranks of certified Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism coaches. I polled every postpartum woman I knew about their personal experience, and made it a point to get on the books of my pelvic floor physical therapist early in my second trimester; both to get an idea of how my pelvic floor was currently functioning, and what to expect physically when the impending basketball in my belly finally aired up.
At the end of my first appointment, I asked my pelvic floor physical therapist (PFPT) what she would tell a perfect client, who promised to do and listen to everything she said about the immediate postpartum.
She just about burst at the thought but replied with something I found to be much more valuable and helpful to my recovery than anything I had read, watched or heard.
“I’d tell them to spend the first two weeks lying in bed, horizontally, as much as possible. Then, I’d tell them to spend the next two weeks sitting in bed; staying off their feet as much as possible. Then after those two weeks, I’d want them to spend two more weeks very near their beds; avoiding being upright for longer than 5-10 minutes at a time, and gently beginning some pelvic floor recovery work. I’d want them to know that gravity is a powerful healing tool — so work with it, not against it.”
I immediately thought it sounded a bit dramatic. After all, I had every intention of using my leave post-baby as a time to be extremely productive. Sure, I’d be tied to a feeding schedule and I’d be kind of tired, but surely the baby sleeps all the time! I thought I could use those windows and do so much work! And studying! And make home-cooked meals! And start exercising really soon!
And all the new moms laughed.
At first take, her advice does sound very dramatic. How could one possibly stay horizontal or sitting for six whole weeks? If you push past the cultural and societal expectation that women can and should be able to “bounce back” from birth quickly and seamlessly, then you can see her advice is all about one key thing: expectation management.
Ladies, establishing new rhythms — but anticipating the need for adaptability — postpartum is crucial to your mental, physical and emotional recovery and overall health. If we go into that tender time expecting the same amount of energy, productivity and capability we had pre-baby, we will be nothing but sorely disappointed in ourselves. With the high likelihood of postpartum depression looming over us — we don’t need added pressures to perform.
In order to thwart those feelings, we must manage our expectations. Hope for the best, sure, but prepare for the worst. This is important and helpful for any new mom, but for those of us who possess an “athlete brain,” this rings especially true.
If you’re newly pregnant for the very first time (or maybe you’re on to number two and you’d like to do things differently) and you’re looking for guidance on how to navigate the immediate postpartum period from a mental, emotional and physical/fitness perspective, my advice to you would be to establish a rhythm-based on my brilliant pelvic floor physical therapist’s feedback. I want to be very clear here: a rhythm is not a routine. Adaptable, remember? Here’s what I wound up making work for me, I hope you find it as helpful as I did:
- Weeks zero to two: stay as horizontal as possible, and prioritize:
- Taking care of your newborn baby
- Communicating to your partner
- Dropping your pride and calling on your loved ones for help
- Taking a shower
- Drinking lots of water
- Putting on fresh, comfortable clothes
- Practicing deep, slow belly breathing
- Journaling your emotions
- Nourishing your body
- Weeks two to four: stay sitting in bed as much as possible, and prioritize:
- The exact same things
- Weeks four to six: stay near a comfortable lounging spot in your home, and prioritize:
- The exact same things, plus incorporating gentle kegel work as prescribed by your pelvic floor physical therapist
- Adding one small “productive” thing to do each day — be it making the bed, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, washing your hair, baking a quick batch of cookies, reading a book, or ordering groceries
Manage your expectations of postpartum and relish in your new, slow rhythms for a while. The gym, work and play will always be there, patiently awaiting your triumphant return.
Sadie Flynn is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and former collegiate athlete with a penchant for power lifts. As a new mom, Sadie is deeply passionate about pregnant and postpartum fitness and wellness, and works hard to help women take care of their bodies before, during and after birth. When she’s not coaching at CrossFit Renew, or forcing her 90s alternative music beliefs upon you, you can find her somewhere outside with her husband, two dogs, and their new baby.