Throwback to TFBA Charlotte, who trained while pregnant with Linus
CrossFitting While Pregnant: An Interview with Four Women and a Coach, Part 3
By Kate Reece
In case you missed it last week, we continued our three-part series about training CrossFit while pregnant. In Part 1, we introduced you to four CFSBK women who became pregnant in the midst of their training, and also spoke with Coach Fox. The women answered our questions about their reaction to finding out they were pregnant and the best kinds of advice they received. Last week in Part 2, we heard from them about whether they continued to CrossFit after becoming pregnant and how that decision affected their experience. We also asked them to share any advice they might have for other women. Coach Fox weighed in with his advice for women who become pregnant and want to continue training. (He also wrote a helpful document called Guidelines for Training While Pregnant at CFSBK, which we wrote about on Inside the Affiliate.)
This week, we’re concluding our series by addressing the postpartum experience of getting back into the gym.
CFSBK: Talk to us about getting back into the game after giving birth. How did it go for you? Did you have a plan going into it? Did your body interrupt those plans? What advice would you give to other postpartum women?
Bethany E.: After Alex was born, I waited for my requisite midwife clearance and came back to the gym around six weeks postpartum. I think I did some very gentle mobility-type work at home on my own around four weeks but mostly just kept it to walks while I recovered. At my six-week checkup, my midwife diagnosed me with diastasis recti, but said it’d probably close up on its own, so I just came back to group class. I did a small amount of research and knew not to do sit-ups but other than that, I just hoped it’d heal on its own.
I think it was about six months postpartum with Alex before I started feeling remotely like myself training-wise again, I remember doing a 215-pound deadlift and feeling like I was coming back. However my core weakness was really still an issue and I knew it and could feel it—I still couldn’t do a hollow-hold, for example, and my squat weights weren’t really going anywhere. I found a fellow mom who’d just completed Pilates training and was looking for students and started doing once-a-week sessions with her, which helped. We did super-modified Pilates and yoga in my home once a week and my diastasis closed around the time Alex turned one. I vowed for any subsequent pregnancies to address any diastasis and core weakness first before hitting the weights hard. Right about the time I was starting to feel strong again, I got pregnant with Oscar.
My postpartum experience with Oscar was very different. Because I’d worked out the entire 39 weeks of my pregnancy, and because it was my second baby, my recovery was much easier. I felt energetic and healthy and also very, very anxious to get back into the gym (hello, crazy post-partum hormones!). I don’t know why I let myself do this, but I came back to group class around three or four weeks postpartum which was too soon. I had diastasis recti again, my entire core was mush, and I had additionally been diagnosed by my midwife with pelvic floor prolapse, which I was slightly in denial about. I started physical therapy and was lucky to get a therapist who does CrossFit and who advised me that it probably wasn’t the best idea to be back. After my own additional research, I realized she was right and decided to back off of CrossFit for a bit and put all my efforts towards dealing with the diastasis and prolapse.
I’ve been doing the MuTu Focus program every day for the past 10 weeks and my diastasis is nearly closed up, which is fantastic. I’ve returned to group classes occasionally when I can modify the movements to be safe for me (no heavy lifting, no heavy kettlebell swings, etc.), and am in general just trying to feel out what works and what doesn’t. Anything that creates too much intra-abdominal pressure is out, which is a lot at CrossFit. I’ve also been going to KH’s Tuesday night Pilates class [link] when I can, and was just careful to modify any movements there that were too advanced for my recovering core or unsafe for diastasis. I’ve been seeing Debbie Parsons [link] once a month to help me with my alignment and breathing. So, on the positive side, even though I’ve been absent from any regular lifting and training at CFSBK, my body at five months post-partum feels healthy and my core feels stronger than it ever did after having Alex.
Advice I would give any postpartum women: first and foremost, the weeks after having a baby should be about healing and restoring your body while enjoying your baby, not about training or “getting back in shape” or losing weight. Be kind to yourself! Your body and internal organs have been rearranged dramatically, you have to give yourself and, specifically, your pelvic floor some time to heal. There is nothing heroic or bad-ass about coming back to group class too soon. Be on the look-out for crazy postpartum hormones that are telling you otherwise. Wait for your medical clearance, make sure you’ve been tested for diastasis and if you have it, work on closing it first before coming back to group class. If your doctor or midwife doesn’t test you, Google it—the test is very simple. If anything feels “off” down there (i.e. leaking, heaviness or bulging feelings), do not chalk it up to “Oh, I just had a baby.” You need to get it get it diagnosed and deal with it first before putting any stress or weight on it.
I highly recommend the MuTu System Focus program as your first postpartum exercise. You can start it as early as two weeks postpartum. I wish I’d had it after I had Alex! I’d even recommend it to anyone who hasn’t had a baby, but is dealing with leaking during double-unders. Katy Bowman’s “Katy Says” blog is also an amazing resource for alignment, pregnancy, postpartum, and pelvic floor health.
When you do return to the gym, focus on the basics. Start light and work up from there. Even if you did get to work out the entire pregnancy, you’re going to need to re-learn how to do those movements without a huge belly in front. Make sure your whole-body alignment is good before you start putting any weight on your back.
I will admit though that after both pregnancies, tears were shed after group classes because I was so humbled at how far my body needed to come fitness-wise to even be at the point it was WHILE I was pregnant! Nobody really tells you that the postpartum period is really hard even if you work out right until the end of your pregnancy. Just know you have the whole rest of your life to be the super-fit mom you want to be. Pat yourself on the back for even making it to the gym, and enjoy your “me time” without getting too hung up on numbers and times.
Noor A.: Because my daughter ended up being breach, I had to have a c-section, and so my required recovery time was about six weeks. But through whatever miracle of surgery my ob/gyn did, I felt ready to come back much, much sooner than that. I think I finally did go back to the gym about a week earlier. I could tell that I had lost some abdominal muscles, I could barely jump up on the small box, hollow rocks were looking more like just plain rocks, but after a few weeks things seem to be getting better. Plus, since I was on unpaid leave for about five months, and Samir was on sabbatical, the gym became our main social space. We hung out there for three hours almost each day, taking turns holding our sweet little sleeping princess in the carrier. Oh, the days when she would just sleep like that, it was amazing!
Courtney S.: This was the part that surprised me the most. Since I had such an easy pregnancy, and trained often during it, I really expected to go back into the gym after my six-week medical clearance and be in the same place that I was before I got pregnant. Not the case. I was completely shocked when the empty barbell (which hadn’t felt heavy at 40-weeks pregnant) felt like it weighed 100 pounds and I could barely lift my toes to the bar. I also really had not accounted for the physical and mental toll that sleep deprivation and breast-feeding a newborn would play in my recovery.
Having these unrealistic expectations was tough, because I pretty much knew after five minutes in the gym that I was going to have a long road back and I hadn’t expected that. After a few disappointing gym sessions, I decided to take some time off from CrossFit and spent the next few months outside of the gym, re-building some endurance by running and walking. After five months, the baby was sleeping better, I felt less mushy, generally had more energy and was finally eager to get back in the swing of CrossFit-type things. Even four months back into CrossFit, however, it is still not easy and I still oftentimes feel myself getting frustrated with the fact that I am not at the point I was pre-pregnancy.
In the end, I really wish that people would discuss postpartum recovery more. There is tons of information out there on CrossFit while pregnant, but very little about what to expect what the baby is born, how best to get back into the swing of things, how to deal with breast-feeding while exercising, etc. Which leads me to my biggest piece of advice for postpartum women (and something that I would like to remind myself next time around): be patient with yourself, mama.
CFSBK: What advice would you give mothers for their game plan after giving birth? Do you have any recommendations for easing back into their training?
Coach Fox: As some of the women note in this article, they’re often shocked by how hard it is to come back in and train postpartum. When they still have the baby in there, the abdominal wall is stretched out, pelvic floor muscles are stretched too, but you’re still able to brace. Once the baby’s not in there, and you’ve got 30 pounds missing plus some wrecked muscles, you have no idea how to use your abs. The main thing we’re concerned with postpartum is that you’re going to worsen any diastasis recti, or cause more trauma to your pelvic floor.
So take your time. Don’t come right back. Minimally, we like six weeks, maybe four if someone has had a check-up sooner. It takes time for the muscles in your abdomen and pelvic floor to come back into their normal shape. Furthermore, when you do come back in, look at it as if you’re starting over. It’s not going to take you three years to get you back to where you were—but it might take you a year. Bethany mentioned “crazy postpartum hormones,” and how they can affect your experience in the gym. It’s almost like manic-depression. If you feeling depressive and frustrated with your body, you don't want to get up and go to the gym. Manic is like, “I’m going to PR my squat today.” That could be dangerous. You could wind up prolapsing, you could wind up peeing your pants. Just really be patient coming back in, and as everyone has said, the most important thing is to really listen to your body.
Some parting tips from Bethany E.:
- Find a good medical team that is on-board with you continuing your pre-pregnancy exercise program.
- Resist the urge to be a badass at the gym. The fact that you are growing another human being already makes you one!
- Learn about pelvic floor health and how to reconnect with yours after the baby comes and don’t ignore little signs of pelvic floor dysfunction, like leaking during double-unders.
- Don’t attempt to train on zero sleep if your baby isn’t sleeping. Take a long walk with your baby instead.
- Reach out to your fellow CrossFitting moms, as they are an amazing resource. I’m always happy to share birth stories with any interested CFSBK parents-to-be. You can email Coach Fox at Chris [at] CrossFitSouthBrooklyn.com to get my email address.
A huge thank you to all our CFSBK moms who participated in this article series, and to Coach Fox!
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