We looked at each other and said ‘Did that make you pee too?’ Those burpees were intense! We ran to keep up with the boot camp dude. After class, we asked each other under our breath, ‘Are we supposed to wear a pad next time?’
I smiled at this tale’s teller and laughed. “I’m guessing you didn’t go back to that class.”
Sure we did. But we did wear pads!
Wait, say what?
I was baffled as I listened to this mom talk about her return to fitness after birthing her large first child. We were bonding, as women do, over our birth stories and then over our after-birth stories. This woman had been a fitness freak — her words — before having kids, so she had literally jumped back in. Sure, peeing doing burpees had been unnerving, but also funny. Right?
I knew what she was talking about. For me it hadn’t been burpees; it had been jumping jacks during a session with a personal trainer. Involuntary peeing had made me beeline to my doctor and then to a physical therapist. I hadn’t laughed.
But, in this room, holding a cheap glass of wine, and listening to an acquaintance regale me with postpartum stories, I realized some women don’t seek help when they leak after a jump; instead, they put on a pad and show up next week at the awesome boot camp advertised in their mommy group.
I didn’t know how to kindly tell this woman that trying her hardest in the boot camp hadn’t proven her mettle; it had been hurting her vagina and possibly her abs. I wondered about the current state of her pelvic floor and abdomen, but thought asking was out of place and oddly pretentious. Oh, let all knowing me whom you barely know lecture all about your insides. That didn’t seem like a good option, so I simply smiled and ate a cupcake.
This is what I would have liked to say: You aren’t supposed to pee when you workout. If you pee when you jump rope, run, lift weights, do burpees or jumping jacks, this is incontinence, not dedication.
You aren’t supposed to pee, but I still liked her sense of humor about it. Incontinence is not shameful. It’s actually super common after having a baby, even without pronounced damage to the pelvic floor.
If too much pressure exerts downward and outward, common during straight legged jumping and straining, your postpartum pelvic floor muscles can’t keep up. Sometimes structural damage can be the cause, and sometimes the pelvic floor simply needs a post-baby tune-up. Your doctor should make that call.
Similarly, but less noticeably, your abs take a beating. If you do anything that causes excessive outward pressure in your abdominal canister, your postpartum abdominal muscles can’t keep up. If you have a diastasis recti or weakened and stretched muscles (like, were, you know, pregnant), even more reason to pay attention to your pelvic floor and inner abdominals.
Another Exercise Class Example
I was an occasional visitor to stroller classes where you will find pregnant women and new moms just given the go-ahead to exercise. The instructor would reiterate “work at your own pace,” but what the heck does your own pace mean? No one wants to look like the weakling.
As you would expect, the abs are a big focus of these classes. We moms are obsessed with our bellies.
Abdominal work and cool downs often go together, so one morning at the end of a long fun class, the instructor had us do a series of crunches, leg lifts, and planks. I had just finished up my physical therapy sessions the week before and was super concentrated on making sure my abs didn’t “pooch” or “splay” out. I also knew my body was tired and this wasn’t the time to push the abdominal exercises.
I looked around as the other moms completed the series of exercises much faster than I, who was doing all sorts of modifications. I didn’t straighten my legs during leg lifts. I stayed on my knees during the planks. I wanted to explain that I had just finished physical therapy, that I needed to concentrate on my breathing, that technically I could have done the planks on my tippy toes like a rock star, but that I’d be insulting my injured abs and vag doing so.
Sufficient Versus Excessive Loading
There is a difference between sufficient and excessive loading. You build strength and endurance with sufficient loading, but you break with excessive loading.
Planking with a stable core and responsive pelvic floor is sufficient. Planking with a pooched belly, held breath, and a descended pelvic floor is excessive. Leg lifts with a slightly tensed abdomen without pooching is sufficient. Leg lifts with an overly arched back is excessive.
Meanwhile, all the other new moms were sighing over their pleasantly burning abs. The instructor had motivated us with “You can do it ladies! Just think about those bikinis!” (I was living in San Diego, beach weather all year round).
Ugh. Inside I was thinking “No, ladies, some of you can’t do it and should stop.” More isn’t always better. In fact, “more” can push the pee right out of your bikini body.