Podcast Episode #69: Postpartum Fitness
Today we talk with Dr. Theresa, Chiropractor and BIRTHFIT Instructor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We ask her about what’s safe for a pregnant and postpartum mom to be doing and why having a supportive tribe around is so important. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud. Be sure to listen in or keep reading to get a special discount code for your BIRTHFIT registration!
Kristin: Welcome to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas! I’m Kristin.
Alyssa: And I’m Alyssa.
Kristin: And we’re here with Dr. Theresa today from BIRTHFIT. She is also a chiropractor and does many things, which she’ll explain later. So, Dr. Theresa, tell us about BIRTHFIT and why you decided to bring this to Grand Rapids.
Dr. Theresa: Yeah, so I have been in practice for about seven years, focused on the perinatal population, and I found this big disconnect in the postpartum time where women are preparing for birth, and it’s kind of like this mindset of, okay, I just need to get through birth. And we’re kind of forgetting about that postpartum time where the real work begins, because now you’re not only taking care of a new family member, but you need to heal and take care of yourself, too. So I really wanted to help with that time specifically and give women more information on what they can do.
Kristin: So when does a woman typically take your class after they’ve had their baby?
Dr. Theresa: We recommend the first two weeks postpartum as the coregulation period, so that would be way too early to take my class. That’s when you are bonding with Baby, hopefully not really leaving the house at all, and usually after that time, women are like, okay, I’m ready. So probably the earliest somebody has taken my class was after two weeks postpartum, and that was almost an exception to my rule because of her fitness level during her pregnancy and before. But for the most part, I recommend four to six weeks as a perfect time. But also with that being said, postpartum is forever, and I’ve had moms that are a year or two years postpartum take the class.
Kristin: That’s what I’ve seen on your social media posts, and tell us about how babies are involved.
Dr. Theresa: Yeah! I kind of time my classes so that, even though women are on their maternity leave, they may have other kiddos at home that they want their husband to come home and take care of. But Baby needs to come with Mom, and we totally encourage that because they need to nurse or they need to be tended to during our class. So we encourage moms to bring their babies; bring your favorite carrier, and we can implement them during the workout in a safe way.
Kristin: That is amazing. Do you find, since you also have a prenatal series, that women take that during pregnancy, and then you’re able to extend the relationship into the postpartum time?
Dr. Theresa: Yes, that is the goal, and my last session for the prenatal series is all about postpartum. So I talk to them about things they can during pregnancy to stay active and hopefully lead to better birth outcomes, but then what can you start doing postpartum at what time. So for those first two weeks, right away, women can start working on their belly breath, whether they’ve had a C-section or a vaginal birth. They can start doing that to mobilize their pelvic floor in a really gentle way, and then also reteach their abdominal wall how to come back together.
Kristin: You mentioned Cesarean. If she had a Cesarean, does the provider need to give approval at some point for her to start taking your series, or how does that work?
Dr. Theresa: Good question. So, typically they’re released for exercise, depending on the person, between 8 to 12 weeks or whenever the scab falls off is usually another really good time to start doing some exercise. And with those women, we teach the slow-is-fast mindset anyway, for everybody, but especially for those women, because now there’s a different pull happening when they move. So that can be a little bit scary, so we talk through those things; we talk through signs that, okay, we need to slow down a little bit. So it’s totally customizable to the woman and the birth that she had, which is also why I keep the class sizes small. They’re limited to about ten people per class, so I make sure everybody’s being tended to.
Kristin: Now, of course, you mentioned some of your students are very fit and they exercise throughout pregnancy. So say they’re a CrossFitter or they took prenatal yoga. What about women who were not in shape before they got pregnant and who are trying this and worried about their fitness level?
Dr. Theresa: Yes! Those are my favorite clients that I have in these classes because most of the women have never picked up a barbell before; women like that who have really never exercised. And when I first did this, you think BIRTHFIT; CrossFit — is it the same thing? And it is not the same thing at all, so I don’t want that to intimidate people. When I say barbell, that could be an empty 15-pound barbell that’s just there to give you a little bit of load, and it can even help you with your form on some of the movements. So we go really slow, and we really focus on form and breathing through each and every movement. And I love to see how confident these women get when they have a barbell in their hand. Or when we’re coaching pull-ups and we use a band to help assist them with the pull-up, and they have so much fun! They’re like, I never thought I could do a pull-up before! And it’s just the coolest thing to see.
Kristin: So what, of all the focuses you could have, why are you so passionate about the postpartum phase in women’s life? You’re focused, obviously, on prenatal, as well.
Dr. Theresa: So I think we’re really luck in Grand Rapids. There are so many resources for prenatal. There are some awesome childbirth education classes, and I see a lot of people preparing and taking multiple childbirth education classes and taking, like, car safety and CPR and all the things to get ready for a baby, and then postpartum kind of looks like this, where they go to their six-week checkup, and they’re released for exercise and maybe they’re given a sheet with exercises to do on it, like strengthen your abs and do Kegels. And it’s such a blanket recommendation that is not doing service to women the way that we need them to be feeling really connected back to their body through the four pillars of BIRTHFIT, which are fitness, nutrition, mindset, and connection. So I think those four things are so important in the postpartum time that women aren’t having the opportunity to do or they’re not understanding how they can do it postpartum. So I want to take each person and individualize to them: what can you do postpartum to really help fill your cup so you can take care of everybody else?
Kristin: And it sounds like a wonderful community. Women are often isolated after giving birth and they struggle with childcare or even wanting to leave their child. So they can bring Baby with them and find a circle that women are going through the same thing around the same time; some may have toddlers and be the “wise ones” to give the newer moms some advice. So I think that part of it sounds great because everyone needs a tribe. I know that word is overused, but it’s true.
Dr. Theresa: Yeah, and that is so fun, to see them exchanging phone numbers. This summer is the first year — because I just finished up my first year of BIRTHFIT. I started in 2018, so now I’m on my second cycle of it, and we’re going to do a meet-up this summer where, whether it’s going out for coffee or meeting in a park or whatever, because women are asking for that. They want to see the people that they took class with; they want to talk to other people. So I really loved that. We also have a private Facebook group, so they’re able to still keep in touch that way, too.
Kristin: And then you’re able to give them resources in the community if they need to see a pelvic floor therapist. I know you said you work on the pelvic floor, but they need recommendations, and as an expert, you’re able to give them.
Dr. Theresa: Absolutely.
Kristin: And postpartum doula recommendations and sleep and lactation and whatever they might be looking for?
Dr. Theresa: Yes, exactly, and I really keep that door open. We always have, during each class — so we meet twice a week for four weeks during the series. At each class, there’s a workout, but then there’s always an education component, whether I’m having my good friend Emily VanHOeven from Spectrum Health, who’s a pelvic floor PT; she comes in and gives a really awesome presentation and answers questions for these women. I have a nutritionist come in, Jenna Hibler, who you guys had interviewed. She comes in and talks about nutrition. So I have these different resources and topics, depending on — and sometimes it changes, depending on the needs of the group. I kind of ask them in the beginning what they’re looking for and what they need, so that way I make sure, at some point, they’re getting that.
Kristin: That’s great!
Dr. Theresa: Yeah, it’s really fun!
Kristin: Alyssa, is anything coming to mind for you?
Alyssa: Where were you six years ago?! Because, yeah, it was really hard to find things to bring my daughter to with me postpartum. And I know some moms are like, no, I don’t want to bring my kid with me; I’m coming alone. This is my time. But when that’s not an option, it’s good to have a place that you can bring your baby, even if it’s just in a car seat right next to you. I mean, I’ve done that before, too.
Dr. Theresa: Absolutely, yeah. And the postpartum series takes place at the CrossFit gym I go to, CrossFit 616, and they have a childcare room there, which you never see. Especially in a CrossFit gym, it’s unheard of. And we’ve had a baby boom in the last couple of years within our gym, so it is not uncommon to see women breastfeeding just at the gym, out in the open, and it’s not uncommon to see somebody else holding somebody else’s baby and just kind of helping out. So it’s a great community.
Kristin: Yeah, I would not picture a childcare room in CrossFit at all!
Dr. Theresa: There’s a TV; they have PBS Kids. It’s pretty nice.
Kristin: I’ve supported some birth doula clients who were CrossFit, and they were incredibly strong and determined. So, yeah, I’m inspired that they’re so healthy that they could exercise in that way through the entire pregnancy.
Dr. Theresa: Exactly, and those are sometimes the hardest ones to teach that slow-is-fast mindset, and there have been several high-level CrossFitter women coming out now, like athletes coming out and saying, I really wish that after my first baby, I had done this differently because I did some serious damage just starting too soon. And then after they have their second baby, they’re like, I’m doing this differently and slowing down.
Alyssa: I like that you talk about breathing, even just having that breath, like that yoga breath, of when you breathe in, your stomach should expand, and that actually helps your pelvic floor. You don’t know that — I didn’t know that until I saw a pelvic floor therapist. I’m, like, breathing helps make my pelvic floor stronger? And it does! And how slow and gentle that is for somebody who just gave birth, no matter whether you had a Cesarean or a vaginal birth; that slow movement makes you stronger. Your breath makes you stronger.
Dr. Theresa: Absolutely. Those are our top pelvic floor tips: belly breathing and LuLuLemon high-waisted pants because they give just enough compression without too much downward pressure.
Kristin: And the focus on nutrition is key. Woman are so depleted, especially if they’re breastfeeding, so making sure that that’s part of the class and having someone who specializes in nutrition speaking — I love that you bring in experts.
Alyssa: If you want to ever talk about sleep, I would love to come in and talk about sleep.
Dr. Theresa: Yes! I am always looking for people who want to come in and talk to these women because it takes some of the pressure off of me, too, and they don’t have to listen to me talk the whole time. It’s nice to hear from an expert! That would be great! And a postpartum doula — I think a lot of women don’t know that’s a thing. That’s big.
Kristin: And I think of it as more of the tasks that we do as postpartum doulas, like someone to clean up or do meal preparation, and caring for the baby, but we are caring the whole baby and setting up strong systems and supporting sleep. So it could be anything from three hours in a week to 24/7, and so we’d love to come in and talk about our role and how we can support a family.
Alyssa: That would almost be better for a prenatal series, to get them thinking about it before. I think the biggest thing is that we plan for this birth, and then it’s like, what now? What do I do? I’m home alone with this baby. So talking to them about the resources that they have postpartum before the baby actually comes. Not that it’s too late; if you have a six-week old or a six-month old, you can still hire a doula, but it’s certainly more critical in those first few weeks.
Dr. Theresa: Right. And I find in my classes, it’s the women who are third- or fourth-time moms, even fifth-time moms, that are like, I understand why I need all of this stuff now to help support me. Even though you would look at them and think, oh, they must know it all; they’ve been through this — but those are the women who are seeking more information, I find, and they’re the ones hiring doulas and really trying to prepare because they know what they’re in for.
Alyssa: Exactly! They know how hard it is. These first-time moms are in this state of bliss, which you should be, thinking about all the wonderful things that will happen, but no matter what kind of birth you have, you’re going to be waking up every two to three hours while you’re healing. So you’re not getting the rest you need to heal. You can’t really exercise yet. You’re sleep deprived, and you are in pain. It’s hard!
Dr. Theresa: It is! It’s really hard! It’s so good to have support, from having somebody coming into your home to having that tribe, again, using that word, but having that tribe to talk about those things together. One of my favorite topics that we talk about during the postpartum series — and it’s totally one of those things I was nervous to even bring up because I don’t want to offend anybody, but talking about having sex for the first time. We’re talking about all of these things that other women are like, oh, my gosh — you, too? So having those resources to be able to talk — I think that’s a perfect thing, that you could have a conversation about that one-on-one with your doula, because I don’t know how many OBs are talking about that.
Alyssa: It’s a lot of what our doulas do postpartum is just tell them, this is normal; this is okay. Let’s normalize this. You know, as a first-time mom, breastfeeding is really hard and I’m failing. No, no, no. This is normal. Let’s talk to a lactation consultant, or let’s just change your latch a little. Some very simple things a doula can help with, but this mom might not even know she has a problem with latch. She might not know that it’s a problem that her nipples are cracked and bleeding. The doula can say, no, this isn’t normal; you do need to seek out additional help.
Dr. Theresa: Totally. Something that I’ve seen crop up a couple times lately are vasospasms, that they just have no idea what that is, so they don’t do anything about it, and it’s like, oh, this is a perfect opportunity to work with a doula or work with somebody who can be, like, oh, yeah, I’ve seen this before; this is what you do.
Alyssa: What’s a vasospasm?
Dr. Theresa: From nursing; it’s like Raynaud’s in your fingers where you lose blood supply, so the nipples turn white and it’s super painful. It’s like frostbite on your fingers, you know, that searing pain.
Alyssa: I get that on my fingers all the time. I can’t imagine that on my nipples!
Dr. Theresa: I know, yeah! And it’s things like warm compresses, checking latch; you can use some magnesium to help dilate the blood vessels. So some things like that can really save that mom some excruciating pain. Yeah, just talking about those things that people think are normal, and you’re like, no; that’s not normal. We can do stuff about that.
Alyssa: Well, and that’s the beauty of a doula, too. It’s different than a babysitter. It’s different than a nanny. Doulas have this vast knowledge and experience and resource base to share, and sometimes, it’s crying and talking together. Sometimes it’s just like, okay, go take a nap and I’ll clean up your house, and that mom feels like a million bucks after a two-hour nap and a clean living room when she makes up. It’s much, much more than that.
Kristin: And a doula, just like you, as an instructor, would have resources to say, hey, you should really check out this BIRTHFIT postpartum series, or you need to go see a chiropractor, or there are some things that you can do in the community. You can do to La Leche League meetings and bring your baby with you.
Alyssa: And I think that’s what you’re doing, too. It’s so much more than just going to work out. You mentioned those four pillars; they’re getting that, and that’s why they want to keep coming back and why it feels so good.
Dr. Theresa: Absolutely! And changing that mindset, because women want to come for the workout. They’re, like, yes, I want to get back in shape, and that’s kind of their focus is that physical piece. But we sneak in all this other educational stuff that they didn’t know that they needed, and they are able to leave with so much more than they thought they were going to get. I love that. I love seeing that.
Kristin: So, Dr. Theresa, tell us when your next series is, how people can find you and register, and any other info that is relevant.
Dr. Theresa: Yes! So this year, with the postpartum series, I also developed a workshop to do before the actual series starts. So the postpartum workshop is a two-hour event where we just focus on body weight exercises, more like floor exercises, which are great for that early postpartum time for Mom to get reconnected to her body. And it’s great, too, if Mom can’t commit to four weeks, but my goal is that women are taking the workshop and then they take the series, which builds on the workshop. So the next workshop starts April 23rd, and that’s from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at Renew Mama Studio, and then the series starts a week or two later; I believe it’s May 4th, something like that. It starts in May, and that will go for four weeks twice a week. And you can find more information on our website on how to register.
Kristin: And you said you had a special coupon code for Gold Coast clients and our podcast listeners?
Dr. Theresa: Yes, absolutely. So I’m offering $20 off registration using code BFLOVESGCD. That promo code can just be applied at checkout.
Kristin: Fantastic! Well, thanks for joining us today. It’s so good to see you, Dr. Theresa!
Dr. Theresa: Thank you! It’s so good to be here! Thank you for inviting me!