Shortly after giving birth, it is common practice to have a “postpartum checkup,” during which your medical provider will see how you are healing and provide the necessary clearance to resume exercise and physical activity. The postpartum checkup typically occurs about 6 weeks after a vaginal birth and 8 weeks after a Cesarean birth. Despite having just gone through such a major physical and life change, this checkup is typically quite cursory. While there are certainly exceptions, most medical providers do a very brief 5 to 10-minute check to ensure bleeding has stopped and any tearing or stitches have healed, then “clear” you for exercise.
Many postpartum people say that they leave their appointments without even being checked for the common core issues of diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction, nor given specific guidance on where or how to begin a return to exercise. We want to make sure you feel well-informed when heading into your first checkup so that you can get the most out of this time with your medical provider. So, that will be the focus of this article.
1. Ask your Provider for an Earlier Visit
While 6 weeks is standard, there is no hard rule that you can’t be seen earlier if your provider agrees to that. In fact, many providers see their postpartum patients at 2-3 weeks AND later at 6-8 weeks. It can be helpful to be assessed earlier to address any issues that may have resulted from childbirth and to get clearance to begin some physical activities (if you should so desire). Many providers will accommodate this request, so make sure to check soon after birth for your provider’s availability.
2. Check-In Before Your Checkup
Your postpartum visit is a helpful way to get an outside look at how your body is healing from delivery. However, it is helpful if you take an inventory of your body, as a form of a “check-in” to note how YOU feel first.
Exhausted may be the first, and most obvious, answer. But go deeper.
- Do you have trouble sleeping when you actually get time to rest?
- Do you notice any pain in your ______ (back, neck, hip, pelvic region) during certain movements?
- Has bleeding stopped?
- Do you experience any unintended leakage (incontinence) or a feeling of pressure in the groin during certain activities?
- If you had a Cesarean birth, do you have any pain (redness or swelling) at or near the incision site?
- Do you have any concerns about your psychological health (sudden crying, apathy towards the baby, disinterest in caretaking, etc.)?
Take note of your answers, which you can even write down to bring to your appointment (because “mom brain” is real). That way, you will be an informed participant in your postpartum healing journey.
3. Ask Your Provider Three Important Questions
Often, providers will ask how you are doing, and this is the time to tell them (and not fluff off your concerns). Note any remarkable findings from your self-assessment prior to your appointment. In addition to bringing up any specific issues, you can ask a few more questions:
- Do I have Diastasis Recti?
- Note: Your medical provider may not know how to (accurately) check for DR. See this post for guidance on how to check for DR. You can always perform a self-assessment as well.
- Does my pelvic floor appear healed? This includes any stitches you may have needed from delivery. Learn more about the signs of pelvic floor dysfunction and ask your provider for a pelvic floor physical therapist referral if you are experiencing any symptoms.
- Note: even if you do not think you have any dysfunction, seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist is incredibly beneficial if you do have access to one.
- What recommendations do you suggest as I return to exercise?
- Note: If your provider does not provide much guidance here, it’s important to start with recovery work. You can find some tips here on postpartum core recovery.
4. Be Your Own Advocate
When you are newly postpartum, it may feel like you are stranger in your own body. And to be fair, that’s true to some degree. Your body has been through so many changes over the course of nine months that it is bound to feel somewhat foreign. However, it’s important to spend time getting to know the new YOU in order to determine if something that feels unfamiliar is problematic. It is a subtle discernment but one that can determine if you need further care.
If something doesn’t feel right, bring it up to your provider. If s/he tries to downplay your concerns, you may need to seek out someone who takes them seriously. This holds true for physical and psychological issues, which may not be obvious immediately postpartum.
Beyond the Check-Up
Postpartum care isn’t a “one and done” experience. You are on a healing journey and that process isn’t always linear. Therefore, try to stay as embodied as you can while navigating life as a caretaker to baby. It’s easy to suppress or ignore your own needs during the early weeks and months postpartum but issues that get neglected may manifest into discomfort or pain, which can disrupt your ability to be an effective caretaker.
Want Additional Resources?
For additional resources to help you recover, build strength, and get back to doing what you love, explore our Postpartum Training Programs. Or, for a more personalized approach, visit our Find a Coach page to find an expert trainer who can design and coach you through a customized training program.
Finally, if you had a Cesarean birth, you may find this C-Section Guide helpful. It gives you several strategies to support healing — from scar massage, to recovery exercises, to movement adjustments and much more.
Are you a Health & Fitness Professional?
If you are a health & fitness professional interested in coaching pre & postnatal clients, explore our ProNatal Education & Certification.