We’re so in awe of Massy Arias. The personal trainer is one of our fave fitness pros on Instagram, known for her amazing tats, enviable gym wardrobe, and, of course, super fun workout demo vids. As an Insta star, Arias has also been open about living with a mood disorder, shedding a lot of light on how exercise can help your mental health. So when the new mom hit the gym just four weeks after giving birth to crush her postpartum depression, we were totally cheering — but as she recently revealed in an interview with Parents, some of her followers were concerned that Arias might be doing too much, too soon. Exercising post-pregnancy can be complicated, so we asked the experts how every new parent can figure out what’s right for their body.
1. Understand the relaxin effect. “In order to grow a human being and allow that human being to travel through your birth canal, you need some extra flexibility in the pelvic region,” says Dr. Nita Landry, OB/GYN and co-host of The Doctors. That’s where relaxin comes in. Levels of this hormone fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle, but during pregnancy, relaxin really hits its peak.
As Dr. Landry explains, relaxin has a lot of jobs in the body during pregnancy. The one you’ll probably appreciate most is making the pelvic ligaments more stretchy, but hormone’s effects aren’t localized to the pelvis.”It relaxes ligaments in the entire body. As a result, mommies-to-be (and new mommies) have joints that are more mobile and less supported. This makes their joints more susceptible to injuries,” Dr. Landry tells us.
2. Establish a prenatal routine. Because of the joint instability caused by relaxin, a lot of pregnant women ask Dr. Landry if they should stop exercising during pregnancy. Her response? “No. As long as your doctor gives you the green light, not only is exercising in pregnancy safe, but it is encouraged.” But, she says, your pregnancy workouts might need a few adjustments as the months go on, especially if your usual routine is on the intense side. (She also points out that certain circumstances can make exercise less safe for you or your baby, so be sure to keep checking in with your doctor.)
Changes might include modifications to your usual pilates or yoga moves to ensure you’re not overstretching. “If you notice that you are stretching far beyond what you did pre-pregnancy, or if you are forcing your body into a particular stretch, that’s a sign that you are overstretching,” says Dr. Landry. “In addition to risking an immediate injury, overstretching can be associated with pain, discomfort, and instability for years postpartum.” Dr. Landry also recommends avoiding single-legged exercises: “Your pelvic ligaments are more mobile and your center of gravity isn’t quite what it was prior to pregnancy,” she says. Her recommendation? Keep it balanced with a set of squats.
3. Take all the time you need. When it comes to post-baby workouts, “The biggest misconception that I notice is that women think they should be able to jump-start exactly where they left off,” says Margaret Buxton, a certified nurse midwife and regional director of clinical operations for baby & co. “They don’t appreciate the time their body needs to heal.”
Crystal Widmann, a personal trainer specializing in women’s fitness and the founder of Y2B Fit, has had similar experiences with new parents. “Many people want to just jump right back into a hardcore workout,” she says. But Widmann also points out that postpartum body changes can take a serious toll. “While pregnancy isn’t an injury in the standard sense, it does cause common postural and breathing pattern compensations that don’t always improve on their own,” she says. “Not to mention issues like diastasis recti and incontinence, which can be exacerbated by some types of exercise.”
So, while some new parents are set to hit the gym in no time flat — Dr. Landry says that, after an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it might be safe to resume exercise within a few days — others might need a little longer. “The most important piece of advice that I give my postnatal clients is to take it slow and listen to their bodies,” says Widmann.
4. Identify the challenges. “The hormones that relax the soft tissue of the body to get ready for birth don’t disappear instantly postpartum,” Buxton says. (Yep, that’s good ol’ relaxin again, and while doctors aren’t totally sure how long it stays in your system, it can take around five months for your body to go back to baseline.) Buxton explains, “The pelvis is unstable from this relaxation, especially in the front of the pelvis around the pubic symphysis. Abdominal muscles that spread open to make room for the growing uterus don’t snap back in place.” Together, she says, these factors have a huge impact on core strength, and can increase your risk of injury.
Widmann adds, “I’ve had a lot of women come to me after jumping right into bootcamp-style workouts or running because they’ve noticed issues with their core or pelvic floor.” She points out that a focused postpartum exercise program can help with regaining control of these muscles and preventing injury long-term.
5. Do it for yourself. “Exercise is so important postpartum, especially for mental wellness,” says Buxton. She explains that her approach is all about balance, and that she recommends that clients ease back into their old routines. Dr. Landry also advocates for balance. “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like exercising shortly after your delivery!” she says. “Cut yourself some slack, but (once your doctor clears you) don’t neglect your exercise routine for too long.”
For fitness junkies, re-establishing your routine might be frustrating — but just getting started can go a long way toward feeling like yourself again. Besides, Widmann points out that low-impact doesn’t have to mean easy: “I work primarily with postnatal women,” she says. “My clients get their heart rate up, sweat, and have sore muscles.” Here’s to all the badass moms in the gym.
When did you go back to the gym after pregnancy? Tell us how it went @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)