During pregnancy, many women only focus on preparing for childbirth and life with a newborn, but rarely on what to expect in the first months or even a year postpartum. Unfortunately, that leaves many mothers under-informed about what’s going to happen inside their bodies.
Learning to love your postpartum body and honour the transformation it endured to create life, can be very hard, and the temptation to “jump back into exercise” when you’re cleared at 6 weeks "to get your pre-baby body back" is often strong. But a body that spent 9 months growing another human may not be ready for certain kinds of exercise and require more healing. Below, I will break down what to expect, tackle some myths, and our advice about where and how to start exercising in the fourth trimester.
What is the fourth trimester?
The fourth trimester refers to the 12 weeks directly after giving birth. This early postpartum period is viewed as another trimester of pregnancy because human babies are not considered fully developed when they are born.
For moms too, the fourth trimester feels like another term of pregnancy. Many of the physical symptoms of pregnancy are still present: a weak pelvic floor, loose joints, and compromised abdominal muscles.
Returning to exercise during the fourth trimester
All too often, mamas go zero to one hundred when it comes to returning to exercise. Instead of advice about what kind of exercise promotes recovery, many midwives and doctors just clear women for exercise at 6 weeks as long as the bleeding has stopped, tears have healed, or your c-section incision looks good.
Very rarely does a midwife or obgyn proactively check for Diastasis Recti, or provide newly postpartum mamas with a roadmap to recovering core and pelvic floor strength that is a critical precursor to all kinds of other more high-impact exercises. As a result, it’s common for women to create or exacerbate issues with incontinence and Diastasis by skipping recovery and going straight back to doing box jumps, crunches, planks, etc.
Myth: You need to wait 6 weeks before starting exercise.
For both vaginal birth and c-section mamas, we recommend beginning to reconnect with your core through breath-work as soon as possible. This can be started as early as day one - or whenever you feel ready. I'm talking about re-patterning your breath, learning how to correctly activate your deep core, and breathing diaphragmatically.
To begin with, these are exercises that can be done from your bed, while nursing your baby. They’re designed to be flexible to make it more achievable and to encourage bonding time with your baby.
After a couple of weeks of reconnecting with your core and pelvic floor and giving your body time to heal, you may feel comfortable progressing into some more light movement. These can be easy stretching and modified ab workouts specifically designed to help you strengthen your core without overloading it.
Remember, every mama’s postpartum experience is different, and will also vary widely from baby to baby for the same mama. First and foremost, I recommend giving yourself grace as you navigate the early days of recovery, prioritize rest, and listen to your body.
If you decide you're ready to start understanding what's happening to your body in the fourth trimester and would like to learn how to reconnect with your core and start re-building strength using a program designed and guided by a certified postpartum fitness specialist, who will walk you through the entire process of safely returning to exercise, let's get started mama!