Congratulations on making it through the most challenging marathon of your life-childbirth! After that feat of strength and endurance-one that many women describe as more grueling than any athletic pursuit -- the 26.2 mile race or cycling event you've always wanted to complete might seem like a piece of cake!
Most women who trained for competitive or recreational endurance events before pregnancy have a strong desire to return to their sports as soon as they're given the green light. They want the euphoria of reaching a challenging goal and the high that competitive exercise brings. But now you have that beautiful bundle of joy, you might wonder if you'll be able to train the way you did before baby. How will you know when your body is ready and what can you expect?
First and foremost, the return to your pre-pregnancy level of fitness can take time. If you continued to exercise at a moderate level throughout your pregnancy, your endurance will return much faster than if you didn't exercise or were on bed rest, for example. Some postpartum fitness research even shows that women who exercise up to delivery can become more efficient athletes and see a lot of improvement. Take Sonia O'Sullivan for example, one of Ireland's best runners. She ran throughout both her pregnancies and returned only three months after the birth of her daughter to help win a World Cross Country Championship bronze medal. Ingrid Kristiansen, a former world record holder, returned a year after the birth of her first child to set a marathon course record. Now it is not proven that you will return after a baby and set records wherever you go, but these stories are inspiring to all women who want to return to an endurance sport.
Your return to training will be limited by your delivery type and its possible complications. If you had an episiotomy, for example, then returning to cycling would be out of the question early on. However, if your delivery was uncomplicated and you maintained a moderate level of exercise through pregnancy (and trained for endurance events prior to pregnancy), then your health care provider will likely find no reason that you cannot resume a gradual return to training postpartum.
Typically, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and most health care providers will advise you to wait six weeks (after a vaginal delivery) to eight weeks (after a Cesarean or complicated delivery) before returning to a moderate level of exercise. However, this does not mean you cannot begin low level exercise before those weeks are up. In fact, gentle exercise is usually encouraged! As long as your doctor allows, it's important for you to start exercises like Kegels and pelvic tilts right away, and light activity like walking as soon as you feel ready. Light lower body and upper body exercises can be started soon after delivery too. Dr. James Clapp, one of the foremost experts on pregnancy and postpartum exercise and author of "Exercising Through Your Pregnancy," suggests these fitness tips for the first six weeks after delivery: