Welcome to a deep dive into an essential but often overlooked aspect of fitness training – coaching postpartum clients.  

The journey into motherhood is profound, transforming a woman’s life in myriad ways, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Fitness trainers can play an important role in this journey, assisting new mothers to regain their strength, restore their wellbeing, and navigate their new bodily landscape.  

However, even well-intentioned trainers can unintentionally make mistakes in their approach, potentially hindering their clients’ progress or even posing risks to their health. This article takes an in-depth look at common mistakes and offers solutions and best practices, ensuring you’re equipped to offer the best possible support to your postpartum clients. 

Avoid These 7 Mistakes That Many Health Coaches Make When Training Postpartum Clients 

Not Recognizing the Importance of Lived Experience 

A significant mistake trainers often make when coaching postpartum clients is failing to appreciate and acknowledge the diversity of lived experiences. It’s essential to remember that every pregnancy, labor, and postpartum journey is unique. Each experience is shaped by a multitude of factors, including physical health, mental wellbeing, support systems, personal beliefs, and cultural practices. Not all women’s bodies respond to childbirth or recover in the same manner, and their emotional experiences also differ vastly. 

Trainers can sometimes unconsciously project their own experiences or assumptions onto their clients, leading to misunderstanding or unintentional harm. This is a common pitfall for those trainers who have gone through pregnancy and childbirth themselves, as they may inadvertently universalize their own experiences. Equally, those who have never gone through the process might unconsciously apply stereotypical or generalized perspectives that may not reflect their client’s reality. 

It’s crucial for trainers to approach each client as an individual with her own unique narrative. Active listening, empathy, and openness to learning can go a long way in understanding each woman’s unique experience. This approach will not only help tailor a more effective and personalized fitness program but will also contribute to building trust and rapport between the trainer and the client. 

Finally, it’s important for trainers to educate themselves continuously. They should seek out and learn from diverse sources of information and perspectives, especially those that directly come from women’s personal experiences of pregnancy and postpartum recovery. This promotes a more inclusive and empathetic approach to postpartum fitness coaching. 

Not Considering the Mental Health of Their Postpartum Clients 

One of the common oversights trainers often make is failing to consider the mental health of their postpartum clients. It’s important to recognize that the postpartum period is not just about physical recovery and body transformations; it’s also a time of significant emotional and psychological changes. A woman’s mental health during this period can be affected by factors such as hormonal shifts, lack of sleep, and the immense pressure to adapt to new roles and responsibilities. 

Research shows that around 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, which is a serious mental health condition requiring appropriate care and attention. Therefore, trainers need to be aware of this possibility and ensure that their training programs are not adding undue stress to the lives of their clients. The program should aim to enhance mental wellbeing in tandem with physical fitness. 

Ignoring the signs of mental health issues or failing to incorporate mental wellness strategies into a postpartum fitness program can create an imbalance. For instance, pushing a client to achieve certain fitness goals without addressing mental wellbeing could exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety, possibly leading to burnout or demotivation. It’s therefore crucial for trainers to maintain open lines of communication and encourage their clients to share not just their physical, but also their emotional experiences. 

Comprehensive postpartum fitness programs might consider encompassing strategies to bolster mental health. These could include mindfulness exercises, stress management techniques, and incorporating rest and recovery days into the workout schedule. It’s important to remember that recovery is not just about the body bouncing back; it’s about holistic healing and adapting to a new phase of life. If these topics lie outside the trainers’ or coaches’ expertise, consider building partnerships with experts in these areas or referring your clients to complementary services. Trainers who recognize the centrality of mental health will better serve their postpartum clients, fostering a more positive and beneficial training experience. 

Not Accounting for Physical Trauma Experienced Before, During, and After Labor  

A common error that fitness coaches make when training postpartum clients is underestimating or overlooking the physical trauma that a mother may have experienced during her pregnancy, labor, or postpartum period. Childbirth is a significant physical event that can impact a woman’s body, and the recovery process differs significantly for each individual. 

Key among these are conditions such as diastasis recti, a condition in which the large abdominal muscles separate, and perineal tears, which can occur during childbirth and may take significant time to heal. These issues can seriously affect a woman’s ability to exercise and perform certain movements, and trainers need to understand and account for these in their training programs, even if it means delaying the initiation of an exercise routine. 

More complex scenarios can arise from traumatic births and high-risk pregnancies. These experiences might include prolonged labor, C-section deliveries, or pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia. The physical and emotional trauma from these experiences can lead to a prolonged recovery period, with a need for specific care and attention in a fitness program. Trainers must be aware that pushing a mother too soon without adequate recognition of her past trauma, could lead to further physical harm and emotional distress. 

It can be very beneficial for fitness coaches to work in close collaboration with their postnatal clients’ healthcare providers, including physiotherapists and obstetricians, to understand the specific needs and limitations of their postpartum clients. A well-informed, multidisciplinary approach will ensure the safe, timely, and effective integration of exercise in the postnatal period, tailored to the unique recovery process of each woman.  

Not Holding Space for Body Dysmorphia  

A major mistake trainers can make when working with postpartum clients is neglecting to address body dysmorphia and the challenges associated with body image that many new mothers face. Body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder, is a mental health disorder wherein individuals can’t stop thinking about perceived defects or flaws in their appearance — flaws that are often unobservable to others. After giving birth, many women struggle with their changing bodies, fueled in part by societal pressures and unrealistic expectations about ‘bouncing back’ to their pre-pregnancy physique. 

It’s essential for trainers to create a supportive environment that counters these harmful narratives. This includes emphasizing the marvel of the body’s capabilities and resilience rather than focusing solely on aesthetic changes. For instance, during pregnancy and postpartum, the body undergoes significant transformations to nurture, give birth to, and nourish a baby. This includes increased  blood volume, changes in the musculoskeletal structure, and hormonal shifts that all work together to support pregnancy and childbirth. These changes do not simply revert immediately after birth but adapt over time as part of the recovery process. 

Body dysmorphia can be particularly challenging to navigate in a fitness setting, where measurements and scales are often used as markers of progress. To counter this, trainers can shift the focus towards strength, endurance, and functionality. Celebrate the body’s ability to heal, carry a child, and adapt to new demands. Encourage clients to marvel at their body’s capabilities rather than criticize its changes. 

Additionally, it’s crucial for trainers to be aware of the signs of body dysmorphia and to approach such situations with sensitivity. If a client exhibits signs of body dysmorphia, it may be necessary to recommend they seek help from mental health professionals. Fitness professionals can play a vital role in fostering body positivity and promoting healthy attitudes toward body image in the postpartum period. 

Not Respecting Recovery Time 

A pivotal mistake trainers often make when coaching postpartum clients is failing to respect the necessary recovery time after childbirth. Standard guidelines suggest that women should wait six weeks after a vaginal delivery or eight weeks following a C-section before returning to their regular exercise routines. However, these are merely general guidelines, and the recovery time can greatly vary among individuals. 

Many factors can influence the length of recovery time, including the type of delivery (vaginal or C-section), whether there were complications during childbirth, the mother’s overall health, and her fitness level before and during pregnancy. Moreover, it’s crucial to remember that physical healing is just one aspect of recovery. Mental readiness, social support, sleep quality, and emotional wellbeing are equally important and can affect a woman’s ability to safely and effectively engage in physical activity. 

Every woman’s postpartum journey is unique, and therefore, the approach to postpartum exercise should also be personalized. Trainers must respect individual recovery timelines and not rush the process. They should closely monitor their clients’ progress, adapt training plans according to feedback and healing, and constantly communicate with their clients to ensure they are comfortable with the pace of progression. 

Additionally, collaboration with healthcare providers can be valuable in these situations. Some trainers and coaches may even consider requesting a doctor’s note acknowledging that their patient is in good physical condition to begin a training program. Regardless of whether a doctor’s note is requested, communication with the healthcare provider can provide a comprehensive overview of the client’s recovery progress and advice on when it would be safe to initiate or intensify a fitness program. Respecting recovery time isn’t about slowing down the process; it’s about ensuring that the return to fitness is safe, enjoyable, and sustainable in the long term. 

Not Acknowledging the Role of Nutrition in Postpartum Health and Wellbeing  

A critical oversight many trainers make when assisting postpartum clients is neglecting the crucial role that nutrition plays in postpartum health and wellbeing. Often, both women and personal trainers are under the misapprehension that calorie restriction is necessary during the postpartum period to ‘get back in shape’. However, it’s vital to understand that the energy requirements during the postpartum period are often higher than prior to gestation. 

The physical demands during the postpartum period are significant. Adapting to new routines, minimal sleep, stress, breastfeeding, and the overall demands of caring for a newborn all place considerable stress on the energy needs of the body. Inadequate caloric intake during this period can make recovery and adaptation processes more challenging and can potentially interfere with healing

However, it’s not just about consuming enough calories. The focus should be on balanced and sufficient nutrition. Women need a variety of nutrients to support their recovery, maintain their energy levels, and, if they choose to, support breastfeeding. These might include protein to support tissue repair, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and zinc to aid wound healing and immune function, and other essential nutrients like iodine and vitamin D. 

As a fitness trainer, it’s not within the scope of practice to provide detailed nutritional advice unless you’re also a qualified nutritionist or dietitian. However, trainers should be aware of the increased energy demands of the postpartum period and be able to recommend that clients seek professional nutritional advice if needed. Understanding and promoting the role of nutrition in postpartum recovery is critical to support women to regain their strength and energy and to foster a holistic approach to postpartum wellbeing. 

Ignoring Core & Pelvic Floor Training 

Trainers and fitness coaches specialized in postpartum fitness know the importance of core and pelvic floor work. However, many trainers who work with postpartum clients do not have the training or experience to know the importance of focusing on these areas in the fitness program.   

Pregnancy and childbirth can have profound effects on a woman’s body, particularly impacting the core muscles and pelvic floor. During pregnancy, the growing baby puts pressure on these areas, and they naturally stretch and weaken to accommodate this change. Childbirth can further exacerbate this process, leading to potential issues like pelvic floor dysfunction, diastasis recti (a separation of the abdominal muscles), or a general feeling of weakness in the core. 

Regaining strength and function in these areas is an integral part of the postpartum recovery process. A targeted exercise program can help to improve muscle tone, enhance stability and balance, prevent urinary and fecal incontinence, and reduce the risk of pelvic organ prolapse. Moreover, a strong core and pelvic floor can also help to alleviate some common postpartum discomforts, such as back pain. 

However, it’s crucial to understand that not every postpartum woman will be ready to jump into core and pelvic floor exercises immediately. For some, particularly those who have had a complicated delivery, underwent a C-section, or are dealing with conditions like severe diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction, these exercises might initially do more harm than good. It’s essential that trainers are aware of these contraindications and work in collaboration with healthcare providers to determine the appropriate timing and intensity of core and pelvic floor work for each individual. 

A thoughtful and personalized approach to core and pelvic floor exercises can make a significant difference in a woman’s postpartum recovery, helping her regain strength and confidence in her body’s capabilities.  

Reminders for Trainers and Coaches Who Work with Postpartum Clients 

It’s Progress Not Perfection 

A key reminder for trainers working with postpartum clients is to focus on progress, not perfection. Remember, each small step toward a goal is a victory to be celebrated. Postpartum recovery is not a race, and each individual will move at their own pace. Encourage your clients to appreciate their incremental advancements, such as increased energy levels, improved strength, or enhanced mobility, rather than obsess over goals like weight loss or a return to pre-pregnancy fitness levels. 

Trainers should periodically reflect on and adjust goals with their clients, ensuring they remain realistic and achievable. This helps keep the training experience rewarding and enjoyable rather than stress-inducing. It’s about fostering a positive relationship with exercise and recognizing the remarkable work that the body is doing to heal and adapt to its new normal. 

Don’t Forget Community & Support Groups 

The power of community can’t be overstated in the postpartum period. Whether it’s a gym, a postpartum support group, or a circle of family and friends, feeling connected and supported can make a significant difference in a woman’s postpartum journey. Trainers can play a pivotal role here, fostering a sense of community among their postpartum clients, promoting support groups or relevant resources, and encouraging their clients to seek and offer support in their respective communities. 

Remember, postpartum recovery goes beyond physical healing. Emotional wellbeing is equally important, and a supportive community can provide the emotional sustenance needed during this period. It provides a platform to share experiences, struggles, and victories, fostering understanding, empathy, and shared triumph. 

Accountability Is Central to Support  

Compassion and understanding are crucial when coaching postpartum clients, and so is accountability. Most clients engage a trainer because they seek someone to hold them accountable in their fitness journey. As a trainer, don’t be afraid to lovingly bring truth and remind your clients of their goals and the steps they need to take to achieve them. 

Of course, accountability should be balanced with empathy. Understand the unique challenges your clients are facing during the postpartum period and adjust your approach to accountability accordingly. The goal is to motivate and encourage, not to overwhelm or induce guilt. 

By striking the right balance between accountability and compassion, trainers can effectively support their postpartum clients, making them feel both challenged and cared for, which can ultimately  enhance their progress and satisfaction with the training process. 

Main Takeaways 

As we journey through this comprehensive exploration of training postpartum clients, there are some vital insights we’ve gathered along the way. First and foremost, it’s critical to prioritize the mental health of your clients. The postpartum period can significantly impact a woman’s mental wellbeing, making an empathetic and understanding approach essential for any fitness coach. Moreover, as a trainer, it’s crucial to respect the lived experiences of your clients. Each pregnancy, labor, and postpartum journey is unique. Acknowledging these individual experiences can greatly enhance your ability to provide tailored, effective coaching. 

Physical trauma is another important facet to consider. Pregnancy and childbirth can be physically challenging, sometimes leading to lasting trauma. Being aware of these potential issues and adjusting your training plans accordingly can make a world of difference to your client’s recovery process. Alongside physical changes, many new mothers grapple with body dysmorphia due to societal pressures and personal expectations. As fitness professionals, we have the opportunity to help shift this focus from ‘bouncing back’ to celebrating the body’s amazing capabilities and progress. 

The recovery time after giving birth is another important consideration. It’s not one-size-fits-all and respecting this can help your clients heal without unnecessary pressure. Nutrition also plays a pivotal role in postpartum health and recovery. Encouraging your clients to maintain a balanced diet and to seek professional nutritional advice, if needed, is a key aspect of your role as a trainer. 

Physical recovery often focuses on core and pelvic floor work, areas heavily impacted by pregnancy and childbirth. However, it’s vital to be aware of contraindications and to collaborate with healthcare providers when needed. 

Lastly, remember the value of celebrating progress, fostering a sense of community, and maintaining accountability. These three components can build a positive, community-oriented training environment that encourages growth and consistency. 

Embracing these considerations in your coaching practice will improve your effectiveness as a trainer and also significantly enhance your clients’ postpartum experience. You’re in a position to positively impact their journey of healing and recovery—let’s make that journey a powerful and empowering one!