Like many new moms, I was anxious to get back to the gym after having my second child. I missed being active, and I missed all of my gym buddies even more. Returning to my fitness routine wasn't just about "getting my body back"; it was about feeling strong and keeping my body healthy to care for my little guys.
Fast forward about six months. I now have a 10-month-old boy and am recovering from such debilitating pain in my neck, shoulders, and lower back that I can barely pick him up some days, much less pick up heavy weights. What hurts even more is that all of this probably could have been avoided if I had done one simple thing before stepping back into the gym. It took me months of pain to finally address this crucial step I had skipped over: visiting a physical therapist for an evaluation.
When I did finally make the decision to put a hold on my workouts and get to the root cause of my problem, my PT listened as I described my symptoms and then had me perform a series of tests (mostly bending and stretching a bunch of different ways). Then he gave me the bad news. I had pretty much no core stability (most likely due to my pregnancy and C-section) or scapular (shoulder) stability. Instead of using my core muscles when doing exercises that would normally engage the core, I was using my back. This was causing me all kinds of pain and stiffness because I was not using proper form when doing squats, ab moves, and other exercises.
My shoulder and neck pain was likely due to picking up and carrying my baby all day, sitting in a hunched-over position to nurse, and progressing too quickly with my workouts in an attempt to get back to lifting the same weights I had been lifting prepregnancy. It wasn't necessarily that my workouts were causing my pain, but they certainly weren't helping it.
Now, instead of pull-ups and push-ups, I'm spending time each day doing physical therapy exercises and cycling or running. I am slowly recovering, but also accepting that my fitness journey may just look different now than it did before I had my son. I don't have to be the fastest or strongest person in the gym. None of that matters if I'm not even healthy enough to care for my children without pain.
I'm not sharing this story to simply boohoo about my troubles. It's more of a public-service announcement to get your butt in to see a good physical therapist before going all #gymlife after giving birth. If I had done this, I could have saved myself a lot of pain and rehabilitation. I could have addressed my instabilities and weaknesses long before they sidelined me.
If you don't have a physical therapist in your area (or you just don't have the time to get there), there are some awesome online postpartum programs like Birthfit that can help you to assess your weaknesses, rebuild your connection with your core, and ease back into exercise.
It is quite common for women to experience aches and pains after giving birth, but that doesn't mean it has to be your new normal. Even scarier, a lot of musculoskeletal issues can progress into serious injuries if not properly addressed. Maybe you'll be lucky and get the OK to return to your normal exercise routine, but it is worth your time (and the copay) to get checked out by a professional before getting back into the gym. Your body will thank you for it.