Danielle Van Der Leest / @dani.activewomen
Prenatal and postnatal fitness trainer, founder of Active Women SG @activewomensg, five months into her second pregnancy
There are so many things people don’t know about prenatal and postnatal fitness. Some people, women included, aren’t even aware that this fitness specialty exists. But if I had to pick one thing that I wished more women knew, it is that they shouldn’t rush into exercise after giving birth. I understand their eagerness to. So many mothers, including myself, are excited to get back to their favorite sport after not being able to do it for such a long time. Others want to lose some of the extra weight they’ve put on during their pregnancy. But many women’s bodies, mine included, simply aren’t ready. Your body will give you warning signs if you aren’t ready for exercise - mine came in the form of incontinence.
I couldn’t hold my pee in after giving birth to my first child. People are usually able to hold in pee to a certain extent, but after I gave birth, the moment I felt like I had to use the toilet, I had to go – otherwise I would end up wetting my pants. Despite this, I was eager to get back to running. I used to run about 12 kilometers thrice a week, which I really missed doing when I was pregnant. I planned to go back to running three to four months after I’d given birth even though my physiotherapist didn’t recommend I start running again so soon. Even so, she mapped out a running schedule to slowly reintroduce running if I insisted on not taking her advice. The moment I started running again, I understood why she gave the advice she did. I experienced heaviness down there and hip pain during my run, which forced me to stop and forget about running for another two months. But that still wasn’t enough rest for my body.
I thought I would be ready to run after another two months of resting, but it turns out I wasn’t. I was asked to lead a running group six months after I gave birth, twice a week, covering a distance of 10 kilometers for each run. Every time I ran, I experienced a great deal of hip pain and pubic pain, as if I’d bumped my pubic area into the corner of a table and had gotten it all bruised. My inability to hold in my pee was also plaguing me during my runs. I experienced so much leakage while running that I started to only wear black bottoms in case I peed my pants. I even took to wearing period panties that are frequently marketed as leakproof during my runs (disclaimer: they are not).
After completing a full marathon one year after I gave birth, I couldn’t ignore the warning signs from my body anymore and decided that I needed to rest in order to fully recover from my delivery. I went back to exercising too fast too soon, which hindered the recovery of my pelvic floor. I finally slowed down, which is what I should have done from the start. I stopped leading the running group and cut down on the distance of my runs. I changed my running pattern and started running uphill and then walking downhill because running downhill exerts a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor. I also saw a pelvic floor specialist, who recommended I change my breathing pattern. As a personal trainer, I engage my core a lot. Because I also model on the side, I suck in my stomach a fair bit. This resulted in a breathing pattern that affected my pelvic floor because engaging my core and holding my breath created a lot of pressure, most of which was directed downwards to my pelvic floor.
Experiencing incontinence during pregnancy and after giving birth is extremely common. But it is not normal. If you experience it while exercising, it is a sign that your body cannot handle the intensity just yet. I am living proof that incontinence issues can happen to anyone, even the fittest and most educated of personal trainers. It is embarrassing and difficult to talk about these things, I know. But I hope that by sharing my own experience, other women who also struggle with similar issues feel less alone, and know that they don’t have to live with it forever.
COMMON MISCONCEPTION ALERT
Prenatal and postnatal incontinence is very common, but it is not normal. It is a sign that your pelvic floor is weakened and that your body requires rest.