Looking for a way to safely regain strength postpartum but not sure where to go? To answer this question and more, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Dr. Hannah Anderson, DC, CACCP of BIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids. As the BIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids Regional Director, Hannah shares about the movement that is BIRTHFIT and how it can benefit you to strengthen your body before and after birth.
Before we talk about BIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids, I'd love to know about your background. Have you always been interested in fitness or when did that passion develop?
Sure! I was always a B team athlete if that makes sense? I've never been competitive enough to go crazy, but I've always liked sports, movement, and play. As a chiropractor I look at how people move all day long. I have a specialty certification in pediatrics and pregnancy, and care for a lot of moms during and after pregnancy, watching how they change throughout the whole beautiful motherhood transition.
Like a lot of moms, I'm also a planner. When I was pregnant I wanted a plan for working out, and had heard of BIRTHFIT through the grapevine of other doctors I went to grad school with. I love how the online prenatal programming emphasized meeting your body where it's at today, and moving with intention. Before BIRTHFIT I did the classic "hop on the elliptical for 20 min just to say I worked out today". I wasn't working towards anything and it was hard to stay motivated by anything other than being able to tell someone I worked out, which wasn't very fulfilling. BIRTHFIT emphasizes training for birth. Whether you call yourself an athlete or not, as soon as you're pregnant, you're "in season" for birth. It's possibly the biggest athletic event of your life and you don't know if it'll be a 3 hour sprint or a 36 hour marathon.
At a certain point in my pregnancy I couldn't run anymore, but I still wanted to be active. It felt wrong, and weird. However, I could lift a bunch of heavy stuff. So I would go to the gym with my big belly and nestle in with the big body builders (they got out of my way pretty fast). I did lifted and did conditioning that was modeled after contractions (work really hard for 90 seconds and rest!) and was in the gym until 39.5 weeks.
BIRTHFIT Postpartum programming was just as awesome and helpful, and an amazing reminder that healing takes time, and postpartum movement should be intentionally strengthening you for mom life and not just "losing weight". It's way bigger than that!
I love the idea of using your workout as training for birth and focusing on gaining back strength in the postpartum period. Overall, our culture sends us a much different message about pregnant, birthing, and postpartum bodies. Can you walk us through what we could expect from one of your classes? How do your classes encourage members to understand the importance of healing and the importance of, as you said, intentionally strengthening your body for this next stage of life?
Absolutely. We start every class with some breath work to engage our diaphragm, and wake up the core and pelvic floor. It's also time for a mini-mediation, or at least setting the intention to appreciate your awesome mom bod. Then we shift our focus to core strengthening, especially in a way that is safe for a postpartum body and helps moms heal diastasis recti (the abdominal split).
We do strength training based on functional movement patterns (i.e. stuff you have to do for the rest of your life: squatting, pushing, pulling, etc.). They're movements that make life easier, not vanity bicep curls. Then there's conditioning, again, movements tailored to the postpartum body, so not a lot of running or jumping, but still work.
We end with some mom chat time, words of wisdom, q&a, and homework before the next class - which might be as easy as buying yourself a coffee or making time for a relaxing bath!
It's very chill, and class sizes are limited so everyone gets individual attention. You're encouraged to move with the body you have today, not the body you wish you had. Generally, non-mobile babies are welcome, but a lot of moms love having that hour to themselves twice a week! I love babies (who doesen't!), but it's fun to be the one to turn the tables and take care of moms instead so they can keep going for everyone else.
That's fantastic that you use it as a space to encourage moms to practice self-care. I often think that's one of the hardest parts of the transition into motherhood - learning to take care of your needs, too. Has teaching BIRTHFIT shaped your own motherhood journey or are their lessons you've learned in motherhood that you bring to your classes?
It has. I (luckily) don't really know pregnancy/birth/postpartum without knowing about BIRTHFIT and having the positive influence of some bad ass women. Without it though, I could easily see myself having been that person completely frustrated and annoyed with the changes in my physical fitness after baby. I remember walking up hill for the first time outside. I wasn't even pushing the stroller, my husband was. I had to stop because my pelvic floor was so weak. I had a great birth, with no complications, and no tearing, and I was still taken back to ground zero because bringing a baby into this world is so transformative. Luckily with the whole BIRTHFIT community reinforcing the importance of a slow and steady recovery, I was able to appreciate it all (even in the midst of a colicky baby), instead of getting angry with myself.
I think a lot of moms don't understand the timeline of healing because society pushes us to jump back in at full speed after this huge life event. A lot of us either go back to work, or feel like we should be "back to normal" after 8-12 weeks, when physiologically, the tissue in our bodies takes on average 280 days to heal.... way longer than 12 weeks! I like to remind moms that they should have zero obligations other than feeding and snuggling that new baby for 2 weeks minimum. Exercise shouldn't even be on your mind the first 2 weeks, but some moms, especially ones that like to exercise, feel the pressure to lose baby weight like a celebrity. It's not reasonable and not necessary. It was hard for me to relax and just "be", instead of being the busy body, but it was a a great lesson to learn and to reinforce with other moms. If all you accomplish in a day is being with your child, nourishing yourselves, and enjoying it - that's enough. You're enough.
As a postpartum doula, I LOVE to hear other perinatal professionals sending that message to birthing and postpartum women. We are lucky to have you as a resource in our community, Hannah! Thank you so much for sharing a bit about you and the work you do with BIRTHFIT - I know so many women who could benefit from the encouragement you provide.
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.