Tips for Mountain Mamas

The Truth Behind Postpartum Recovery

A few hours before I was induced with my first son, I was hiking on Berry Creek in Edwards on a warm fall day. I stayed active over the nine months, but at a slower pace while carrying the extra weight of pregnancy. On my first mountain bike ride the following spring, I was surprised by what I could not do. Climbs felt like I was riding through the deep desert sand, and descents were significantly slower, lacking the control and confidence on the trail I was used to.

mom with child in carrier on back

Within six months of giving birth, I thought I would feel like myself again. But, I was far from healed. Many women, especially those who were active before and during pregnancy, expect to bounce back quickly. I was surprised at how long my body didn’t feel like my own. Recovery from pregnancy takes longer than most would expect, even for the fittest of athletes. Stephanie Drew, a certified women’s health specialist at Howard Head Sports Medicine, says it’s normal for it to take up to two years to feel fully recovered.

In the first three months postpartum, women should be conservative when reintegrating activity. Resuming a high impact sport, such as running, before then can cause long-term damage to the musculoskeletal systems. Additionally, it’s harder for new mothers to rebuild strength and endurance quickly due to hormonal changes, lack of sleep and, most importantly, a weakened pelvic floor.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body releases the hormone relaxin to loosen joints, muscles and connective tissue in the abdomen to support a growing fetus in the womb and to relax the pelvic floor to prepare for delivery. The loosening effect can make the body more susceptible to injury. After giving birth, it takes a minimum of three months for the ligaments to regain their integrity and stability. Relaxin hormones can circulate in the body even longer if a woman is breastfeeding.

The pelvic floor, a group of muscles and connective tissues that stabilize the core and support major organs, is significantly affected throughout pregnancy. “Pelvic floor muscles must work harder to support the additional weight of a baby and are stretched up to 250% of their normal size during a vaginal delivery,” says Drew. Alternatively, a cesarean section is a surgical procedure that cuts through the abdominal muscles to deliver a baby. Either way a baby is brought into the world, your core and pelvic floor muscles need time to heal before resuming vigorous activity. A strong core provides stability and power in dynamic movements needed in most sports.

Postpartum bodies often lack healthy sleep and nutrition, two important factors for healing. “Sleep is essential for recovery, because it allows the body to fully rest and recover. But, most new mamas aren’t sleeping so well,” explains Drew. Constant nighttime feedings can interrupt deep sleep cycles, a time when growth hormones are released to repair and rebuild muscles. Breastfeeding mothers aren’t receiving all the nutrients they intake as they continue to share resources with their baby.

So, how does a new mother regain her strength and her shape? “Progression is key to return to activity, just as it would be for an athlete returning from injury,” says Laura Seelig, owner and coach at GOAT Training in Edwards. “A progressively planned program can help improve the function of the core and pelvic floor while rebuilding strength and energy.” Additionally, gradually ramping up activity can minimize injuries and aid in a healthy and strong return to sport.

There is no set roadmap to recovery. The six-week postpartum check-in is the starting line for rehabilitation, not the end goal. To help with your healing, it may be beneficial to work with a team of professionals to manage expectations and create a customized program, Seelig explains. From traditional to holistic medicine, there are many resources to assist with postpartum care, but a pelvic floor specialist is a great first step. They can recommend safe progressions and address any lingering issues or pain.

Mental health is also a crucial component of any type of recovery. As an active person, not being able to perform at the level you are used to can impact your self-esteem, motivation and/or drive. The early days can be isolating, often stuck at home while healing and nursing a newborn. This is especially hard when you are missing out on meeting up with others for physical activity as your social
outlet. If you are experiencing postpartum anxiety or depression, seek support through friends and family, or talk to your healthcare provider.

Every woman has a different pregnancy and postpartum experience. Be patient with your recovery, and give yourself grace in the journey. Remember that your body just created a tiny human, which is no small feat.

You got this mama; you are so much stronger and more resilient than you may believe.