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Deciding whether or not, and when, to have children is a big decision. For me, one of my biggest fears was related to my paddling. Will I be able to paddle while pregnant? How long will it take me to get back to paddling after having my baby? How will my husband and I balance kayaking with raising our kids? The answers to these questions are obviously different for each woman and couple, but hopefully some of you will find it helpful if I share my experiences. I recently wrote a post and video about how I was able to continue to paddle while pregnant. Check out the video on Daniel’s website here, Now, my baby is 1½ months old and I’d like to reflect on how I physically prepared to get back into paddling shape postpartum.
To start, some background. I am NOT a physical therapist or an OBGYN. I am an emergency medicine physician, and that by no means makes me an expert in this area. The following is my experiences compiled with research I did on the subject.

Kayaking at any level is highly dependent on abdominal muscle strength. Being an avid kayaker, I’ve always felt I had a strong core. However, pregnancy changes this. The growing baby stretches your ab muscles, making them harder to use correctly. I still felt strong and capable while pregnant, but was surprised how weak my core felt after delivery.
It is important to rehab slowly and correctly after pregnancy. Whether you notice it or not, pregnancy stretches the ab muscles and in the extreme case can cause a condition called diastasis recti where the midline muscles completely separate. This is actually more common than most people realize. When people start exercising too soon or vigorously right after deliver, this condition can even worsen. For me, I did not have this condition, but I did have weakened ab muscle strength and was afraid I might develop diastasis if I wasn’t careful. At first, even neighborhood walks were tiring and I could feel how weak my core was.

After careful research and discussions with other women, I came up with a plan. I started by doing simple and easy ab strengthening exercises several times daily. These exercises focused on strengthening the transversus abdominus muscles (the ones on the sides), to pull the midline muscles back together. I also started slowly increasing the length and intensity of neighborhood walks to work on endurance. After 2 weeks, I added in body weight squats, lunges, and a few free weight arm exercise. Also around 2 weeks, I started doing revised plank holds with my arms elevated up on a couch to make them easier, and slowly increased the duration and intensity. By 4 weeks, I felt strong enough to safely kayak and paddled for the first time since having my baby.

Obviously, the plan and experience will be different for everyone. But I found it very helpful to talk to other women about their experience so hope it’s helpful for a few people to hear mine. Continuing to paddle while pregnant and getting back into it after delivery is possible! For now, my husband and I have been taking our baby to the river and taking turns on laps. Stay tuned to hear about our experience paddling with a baby and later on figuring out how to introduce out little one to white water!

~Diane Brasuell (Gaydos)