This whole having a baby thing certainly does a number on a woman’s body. And no matter how well you kept up with physical conditioning pre-baby, some things will never be the same or will take a long time to get back to normal.
My baby is now technically a toddler at a year old, so I thought this would be a good time to reflect back on the last 12 months and how my yoga practice and body have both changed.
Let’s start with the obvious: Abdomen. This area saw the most change as the abdominal muscles separated to make room for the growing baby. Since crunches and core work were off-limits throughout pregnancy, those muscles were pretty weak postnatal. The first time you try boat pose, expect to laugh at yourself. Rolling up from a supine position may also be a joke. It’s like the separated muscles don’t know how to work together.
Don’t worry though. Over time, you can regain that core strength, but you may feel a gap between the muscles for a long while. I think mine are just now finally getting close to normal again.
Body fat. This will differ for every woman, depending on where your body added padding. And it’ll also shed differently after the baby. For me, somehow my hips and butt disappeared. I think it all got sucked out in the form of breastmilk, and that changes how I sit in half-lotus and even seated forward folds.
On the other hand, I still have some loose skin/belly pooch that I have to work around, especially in any twisting postures. I’m learning to lengthen more before twisting. That somehow keeps the pooch from getting in the way.
Flexibility. For the first 3 months after having a baby, I did a lot of sitting. I basically brought everything I needed either near the glider or the couch, where a lot of nursing and rocking-the-baby-to-sleep happened. Because of all that sitting, I lost flexibility in my hamstrings. My muscles and tendons all felt short and tight. In downward dog, I did a lot of “walking the dog” to stretch the backsides of my legs.
Also a symptom of don’t-move-or-you’ll-wake-up-the-baby is a stiff back. Pre-pregnancy, I was working on full wheel. I’m back to doing bridge pose until I can find that spine flexibility again. I give it another year.
And finally, strength. All those back muscles that help stabilize the body in plank, headstand, chaturanga, and a number of strong poses have weakened. The good news is you’ve built strength elsewhere while carrying the weight in your belly. I had great standing balance because of how much my legs and feet had to work while pregnant. My arm strength was also pretty good from continuing chaturanga in its full form.
For all of these areas, it WILL take time to find your old body again. The best thing about yoga is that it’s meant to be a long term, slow and steady progression, which is exactly what your body needs postnatal.
The vain part of me was so worried that I’d “suck” at yoga after having a baby, but the experience has really made me even more in tune with my body. A year postnatal and I feel like I’m mostly back to form. This is considering I’ve had a VERY inconsistent practice between sleepless nights and trying to find balance with life and work. I’m even pushing my practice and feeling more confident in arm balances and inversions. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least.