Postpartum Recovery and the Aerialist

Hey, you had a baby! Congratulations!

I know, you’re DYING to get back to your training but you’re probably not sure where to start. 

How soon is too soon? 

What sort of exercises should you do? 

How do you know when you’re ready to get back in the air?

In this post, I aim to give some general guidelines for postpartum recovery for the aerialist, but first the disclaimer:

I am not a medical professional or doctor. I am sharing general guidelines based on my education as a pilates instructor and aerial coach, but these guidelines are not rules. Every body is different, and will experience different challenges during your postpartum recovery. You should absolutely discuss with your healthcare provider whether it is safe for you to return to exercise.

That being said, postpartum care (particularly in the US) can often leave you feel wanting. Most of us go in for a 6 week check up, are told “You’re fine, do some kegels”, and are left to figure it out for ourselves.

This can lead to an expectation that you should feel ready to resume your regular activities at 6 weeks, and many feel let down when they don’t feel physically ready to get back to life as normal OR push themselves too hard and end up with some serious consequences.

Let’s talk timeline

Having a realistic timeline for your postpartum recovery is key for your safe return to your physical activities, whether in the air or otherwise. You were pregnant for 9 months, and during those 9 months your body went through some pretty dramatic changes. Then, you went through a physically traumatizing event: childbirth! Even if you had an “easy” birth, it’s still hugely impactful on your body. And if you had a challenging birth or c-section, your body has even more to recover from.

6 weeks is the amount of time that it takes your body to recover from that trauma. Add extra weeks for a c-section or other birth injuries- I have a friend who broke her pelvis delivering! So when you are cleared at your 6 week check up, they are looking for acute symptoms of birth trauma. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe for you to get on the fabric or go running.

Realistically, it takes up to a year to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth. And there may be things about your body that never feel the same! However, most people should be able to return to a body that is fully capable of everything that it could do pre-pregnancy. And that includes not peeing when you sneeze! 

The key to making this recovery without setbacks is allowing it to be gradual, and not pushing yourself too hard. While it’s tempting to try to fast track this process, in this situation the risks really do outweigh the rewards. Slow and steady will definitely win this race for you!

What’s going on

Everyone knows that your pelvic floor muscles and abdominals really go through a lot during pregnancy and childbirth, but there is so much more than that going on with your postpartum body. 

One major thing that most people aren’t usually aware of is that how you breathe changes during pregnancy, and that change usually sticks around pp.

While you were pregnant, your growing baby started shoving everything out of the way. That caused the base of your rib cage to get wider, which changes how well your diaphragm can work. You might even notice that you can see your ribs popping out or “flaring” in a way they didn’t pre-pregnancy. It’s also super normal for this flair to be more noticeable on the left side!

When your diaphragm doesn’t work well, the other muscles that help with breathing start to work overtime. Because some of those muscles are in your neck, this can lead to lots of neck and shoulder tightness.

More importantly, how your diaphragm works will make a huge difference in helping your abdominals and pelvic floor get back to normal. 

Your diaphragm, pelvic floor, and your transversus abdominus (your deepest layer of abdominal muscles) create a sort of canister. The diaphragm is the top, pelvic floor is the bottom, and the transversus is the walls. When all of these parts are working together, they regulate something called Intra Abdominal Pressure (IAP). This is the pressure that’s created when you inhale and exhale, and there is a natural rhythm that exists between your pelvic floor and diaphragm when everything is functioning well. However, if one part of the system is out of whack, the rest of it won’t function optimally!

Your pelvic floor

While it’s important to understand that there’s more going on in your postpartum body than your sad and abused pelvic floor, I don’t want to downplay the importance of pelvic floor recovery.

Remember earlier when I talked about the serious consequences from trying to do too much, too soon? One of those serious consequences is Pelvic Organ Prolapse.

If your pelvic floor is the bottom of your canister, prolapse is what happens when that floor isn’t strong enough to support what’s on top of it. Basically, your organs start falling out of the bottom of your pelvis. YIKES! It can feel like a heaviness or a fullness in your vagina or the base of your pelvis. 

TRUST that this is something you want to avoid at all costs.

While prolapse just happens for some people through no fault of their own, it is entirely possible to cause prolapse by working too hard and pushing your body to do things it’s not ready for. This is why you need to avoid high impact and high intensity exercise postpartum. You need to have some control of your IAP before it is safe for you to start stressing your pelvic floor with intense exercise. Studies show that it takes a minimum of 12 weeks of recovery before your pelvic floor is ready to handle the stress of activities like running, and that’s with optimal recovery! If we relate that to aerial training, imagine how much strain and pressure is involved in leg lifting and inverting! 

It’s a lot, I promise.

Diastisis and your Abs

Another issue that you want to watch out for postpartum is Diastisis Recti, or abdominal separation.

Your abdominals separate during pregnancy. This is super normal and it is uncommon for them NOT to separate. And for most people, they naturally come back together over time. But for some, they stay separated and this can cause problems. 

Persistent separation will keep you from fully regaining core strength, and can contribute to back pain and poor posture.

A persistent diastisis is a symptom of poor pressure regulation (that IAP again) and pushing yourself too hard when you have diastisis can make it worse, or lead to the dreaded prolapse or a hernia.

You can also create a diastisis by pushing your body to do things it’s not ready for!

One more reason to make your postpartum recovery slow and steady!

I know, this post makes postpartum recovery sound really scary!

But don’t worry, with some thoughtful work and the right resources, there is no reason why most people can’t experience a complete recovery from childbirth!

In fact, in my next post, I’ll share some basics around recovery and what to look for in an online program or coach!

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