Road of recovery to fitness — weeks 3 and 4 after delivery of a baby

by Marika Tietavainen

The first two weeks after delivery of my baby were somewhat tough but manageable, and certainly easier than the doomsday scenarios I had painted in my imagination during the lead up to the date of delivery. Therefore I was in an optimistic mood turning corner to week 3 post-partum and continued with brisk walks with the baby in tow in his cosy and snug pram. Surprising how sweat inducing exercise it is to push a tiny baby up a hill in pram, but I peg that down partly to reduced level of intensity of any activity during the last few weeks of the pregnancy. And the extra 9kg I still need to lug around on my person, which quite predictably but still disappointingly and sneakily hung on to my belly, thighs, backside…you name it! Where did that additional weight come from, and why did it stick around even after the baby had made his grand entrance to the world? And never mind the pouring sweat, but why was I out of breathe too, walking at a moderate pace?

Many people, I know, are able to philosophically shrug their shoulders and accept all ongoing changes as a part and parcel of the whole experience without as much as glance on scales and displaying even less of interest in tedious details such as heart rate and length and duration of exercise. I, however, am engineer and fitness enthusiast, and by default my background means I thrive on numbers, statistics and analytics. I like to monitor my performance in heart beats, kilometres, minutes, distance, duration, intensity and calories burnt and compare figures to past records. Who wouldn’t love a good graph anyway! For those of you out there who also can’t resist some good old milestone indicators of progress, let’s talk about numbers and statistics that surround the events leading up to the delivery and subsequently post-partum.

On the weight front I started off at somewhere around the 69kg mark, and tipped the scales at 85.5kg+ towards the end of the pregnancy. The total increase of 16.5kg in my weight settled just at the upper limit of the recommended weight gain range. Of this, I gained lion’s share already during the early months, while final two months saw a moderate and steady increase. Having read many blogs on the subject based on real life experiences of women who rate their fitness levels as either very active or athlete, I suspect the same happened to me as to many others: while the amount and intensity of training somewhat crashed compared to previous efforts, the food, and hence calorie, intake didn’t reduce as rapidly. It’s hard to upheave lifetime of dietary plans overnight, and combined with nursing morning sickness with fruit juices (water occasionally just tasted revolting!) the surplus energy simply piled up. Additionally, nature has an upper hand in the control of this situation, and will force your body to store fat reserves in preparation for the events to come. If you don’t already have adequate back-up energy pack stored in the body, be prepared to provide storage facilities! And be as prepared to hold on to the “fat pack” for a while. I was truly shocked to find out in hospital that I had lost a mere 3.5kg during delivery. Doing quick maths this felt like a gross error. In total baby’s weight, placenta and, loss of water in uterus should have already equalled more than that. I could only think that water retention and added water through IV drip in the hospital had caused this imbalance. I certainly felt and looked like a water balloon in the days immediately after the delivery.

Then came the night sweats. I had only had a cursory look into an article describing this, and I remember it being suggested to bring a towel to bed for this. I soon found out why, as I woke up for baby’s night feeds like I emerged from underwater dive. These hot flashes started typically before midnight, and as uncomfortable as they were, the net effect was positive. I rapidly lost a further 4kg and my belly subsided from looking like I was still 6 months pregnant to 2 months pregnant look, or alternatively like I had been on a long summer holiday with too many trips to the local all you can eat buffet. 7.5kg gone in three weeks is not too bad, and I am looking forward to reporting further progress which should take place due to breast feeding, and of course with gradual return to former fitness routines. But don’t sweat too much (look what I did there!) as any stress at this point is counterproductive and it can take months, or a year, to return things to status quo.

Although the walks while pushing pram feel effective at the moment, and my trusty fitness watch informs me that we have increased the walking pace from under 5km/hour to a slightly brisker 5.5km/hour leading up to week three post-partum, this is still within a range of easy walking speed. I’m happy with the upward trajectory for now though, and concentrate on good body posture each step of the way. Easier said than done though, holding a correct body alignment, an issue that is my bugbear in any sports classes I teach. If you can find time for almost nothing else in the post-baby world, at least try to work on this, your body and general health will thank you for this in the long term.

The first time I tentatively attempted to complete a proper yoga class sequence was just under three weeks since the baby was born. One hour later, and no venture into anaerobic zone in terms of heart beat (I love the data my fitness watch provides, I really do) and my watch cheerfully notified me that no recovery time from the exercise was required because the overall level of the session was too low. Average heart beat of 93 bpm, with peak of 134 bpm is indeed quite sedentary. And 168 calories consumed compares pitifully with a usual yoga training session of double that or more. Admittedly, the session was slow, I held back on poses not to stretch the C-section stitches and the range of some poses was clearly still out of bounds to me owing to reduced flexibility of muscle strength.

The most joyful news of the past week number three after delivery is that I felt sufficiently recovered to be able to resume teaching yoga. I started week four with a bang and taught a class on two consecutive days. It was a fresh breath of air, literally, with the classes held outdoors. I always say I love teaching, but being reminded of the actual feeling of teaching was sweet, and I can’t wait to get the full schedule running again! It will encourage me to work that much harder to get back in shape to be able to demonstrate all the poses correctly, so that I am also able to practise what I preach.

On the same principle, I trialled the classes I prepared for my students at home. With a bit more gritting of teeth, and careful pushing to hold poses longer, deeper and increasing repetitions, I managed to reach higher heart beat rates of maximum 150–153 bpm and average of 116–117 bpm than in my first tentative session just a few days earlier. However, whether due to the paunch at my waistline or the noticeable lack of abs that seemed to be missing in action, some poses were just not possible yet. But at the rate of recovery I appear to experience, hopefully I will be able to bend and twist soon to all the familiar positions.

A note on the case of those reportedly missing abs…they seem to have packed their bags and gone on a long leave of absence. I had expected this to an extent, but having been able to perform easy abdominal exercises at sets of 10 repeats almost until the finishing line the reality of the abs gone walkabout was baffling. It’s as if a great big hole has opened up inside my belly, and I can jiggle the cavity, practically hearing echoes in the empty space. I can tense the abs after a fashion, but they feel decidedly unsteady. Something akin to Santa’s “belly like a bowl full of jelly”. I obviously have been scared to distraction with the possibility of diastasis recti (to the latin buffs) , or separation of the abdominal muscles (to those of us that stick to the languages from this side of the millennia), which held me back from trying to push for more response. Even if you have managed to escape the dreaded muscle tear until now, damage can still be inflicted even after baby belly has deflated — how unfair that sounds.

As a consequence I continue with breathing exercises, heel slides, static planks and other gentle options to goad my abs back from their self-appointed holidays. Since the medical advice is to wait 12 weeks after delivery by C-section, I need to learn patience. Even with vaginal delivery, you need to wait at least 6 weeks to allow the uterus to contract back to its normal size, before doing sit-ups and crunches. Otherwise you try to work on stretched muscle, pushed by the extended uterus, which therefore is weaker by nature. It looks like building up the core strength will need to be gradual process. It remains to be seen how quickly I can transition from a handful of repetitions back to decent intense sets, and maybe to my martial arts heydays of hundreds of abdominal moves in one go!

I hope and wish that what I see as a positive tale of recovery so far gives you some comfort in your post-partum journey too. It may be slow, it may be frustrating at times — but look for the moments of sunshine, keep calm and carry on enjoying every second. And if you are an analytics enthusiast, take pleasure in watching that upwards curve of all your fitness stats!

Yoga is my passion lets make it yours