Did you know that over 85% of women in the USA are getting pregnant and becoming mothers by the end of their childbearing years?
That gives you pretty high odds that you’ll be coaching clients throughout your training career who are in their first year postpartum or beyond. That’s why it’s extremely important that you understand some basic concepts regarding coaching postpartum clients, since they have some pretty specific needs.
In this article, I’m going to highlight five things to consider when coaching this population. Having this baseline knowledge will help you feel more prepared when a new mom walks in your door or signs up for your online services. It will also help your client feel cared for during their workouts and will help you connect with your mom-clients on a whole new level. Let’s dive in!
#1: Postpartum extends well beyond the first 6 weeks after a woman gives birth
The first thing to consider when training postpartum moms is the timeframe that postpartum recovery actually encompasses.
While the 6-week clearance is the first step toward a client getting back into their old routines, it’s important for coaches to help their clients navigate getting back into those routines gradually, listening to their own bodies and knowing that recovery can look different for everyone.
Being “cleared for exercise” is not a green light for your client to do whatever they did before. As their trainer, you should be cautious not to let them return back to normal right away. What this clearance actually means is that your client can now start building their foundation of exercise with basic mobility, deep core, pelvic floor and body weight movements, then progressively build from there. In other words, mothers are still considered to be postpartum well after that 6-week mark. In fact, after having a baby, every mom is forever postpartum!
The key is to start slowly, build back the body’s base foundation and functionality (especially the core and pelvic floor), and progress over time.
#2: Establishing open communication is key to ensuring your client stays safe during their workouts
It is highly likely, especially in the case of first-time moms, that your client will feel completely different in their body after birth. It’s hard to know what feels right or wrong when your body feels completely foreign to you in the first place! There are also so many things our bodies experience early postpartum that can feel embarrassing or awkward to discuss, but that have huge implications when it comes to returning to exercise and recovering fully. Things like bleeding, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, different hip and pelvic pain, and so much more all affect movement selection and the pace at which your client should progress in their exercise regimen.
Establishing open communication with your client about symptoms and general body feedback will be crucial during this recovery period to make sure they feel understood, cared for, and safe in the gym. This open communication will also help you as a trainer know when to modify and more importantly when to refer them to other professionals so they can get the care they need.
#3: Your client’s lifestyle — and therefore fitness goals — may change after having a baby
Everything changes after having a baby. Your client may be lucky to get 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. Their hormones are fluctuating like crazy. They’ll have a newborn attached to their hip at all times of the day. Breastfeeding, if chosen, is a full-time job in itself. Their routine is no longer chosen exclusively by them – they are now on the time schedule of their baby.
These factors and so much more will play a huge role in your client’s new realistic fitness goals. As they return to exercise, their goal might be to work out twice a week, when before they were hitting 5-6 times a week. They may have a goal or focus on getting 30 minutes of any kind of movement in rather than hitting max lifts like they used to love to do. This makes it important as their trainer to use the time you do have with your client effectively.
The moral of the story is that you can’t expect your client to have the same goals or standards in the gym as they did pre-baby. Their entire life is different (especially in the first few months) and they may or may not have the same gym aspirations as they once did. Work with them to meet them where they’re at and see how you can help them in each phase of motherhood.
#4: Be aware of symptoms to know when to refer out
Unless you are trained in coaching postpartum clients, you will need to know when to refer your client to a professional so they can get the care and guidance they need to recover and heal safely. This is very important because most postpartum symptoms won’t just disappear – they need specific coaching to heal correctly in the long term.
Here are the most common symptoms that arise in the postpartum period that would require you to refer out to a certified postpartum trainer and/or pelvic floor therapist:
- A feeling of bulging, heaviness or “falling out” feeling in the pelvic floor
- Coning, doming, bulging at the midline of the core during many movements
- Urinary incontinence (aka leaking) during exercise or everyday activities (like sneezing or coughing)
- Constant low back, hip or pelvic pain
These symptoms may be signs of pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic floor dysfunction, diastasis recti, or other issues. Although these symptoms are common, they are not normal. You can let your client know that they are symptoms that can be healed, no matter how many months or years postpartum they are, and that seeking professional help will be well worth it!
#5: It’s not just what movements you do, it’s how you do them
There are often terms like “pregnancy-safe” or “postpartum-safe” exercises floating around the internet, but most of the time it’s not the movement itself that is safe or not safe.
What’s more important is how you actually perform a movement. Alignment, breathing and bracing/connection strategies are at the center of creating a postpartum workout plan that heals, recovers and strengthens a postpartum woman.
Even if you are not experienced in postpartum training specifically, being able to help your client with proper alignment, breathing and form can radically help your client recover! Here’s the basics of these three components:
- Alignment: ribs stacked over hips, with a neutral spine. We want to avoid an overarched back and/or an exaggerated posterior pelvic tilt.
- Breathing: on the inhale, belly expands, and pelvic floor relaxes. On the exhale, deep core engages and pelvic floor lifts.
- Bracing/connection: as a general rule, clients should inhale on the easy part of the exercise and exhale on exertion for optimal core and pelvic floor health and for proper engagement of the core during their postpartum recovery.
As you can see, there are many components to take into consideration when training postpartum clients. When we understand the basics of how to approach a woman’s return to exercise after having a baby, we are able to better serve them and help them stay safe, strong and confident in the gym!
As a certified pregnancy and postpartum fitness coach, I am so thankful that Trainerize has provided me with a platform to help coach my clients. Through this platform I was able to create and schedule my day-to-day workouts from my own pregnancy and postpartum recovery so that other moms can have that same day-to-day guidance as they go through these stages of life themselves.
You can check out Katelyn’s postpartum program here.
Each day’s to-do list (with workout instructions, movement videos, tracking features and more) helps my postpartum clients eliminate fear, take out the guesswork, cut around all the BS and outdated advice in the pregnancy/postpartum industry and at the end of the day instill confidence that helps them hit their workouts every day. That can make all the difference when your body is going through such pivotal times!
Additionally, since every woman has different experiences throughout these phases of life, their ability to message me directly in the app helps me establish a close connection with my clients and helps them navigate their own personal needs. Trainerize has been essential in helping serve these clients and I am extremely grateful for this platform!