Rachel Mast is Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) who attends home births and deliveries at New Beginnings Birth Center in Meridian, Idaho. She is also a very talented athlete, gymnast and CrossFitter. She actually does jujitsu competitively too. She's a CrossFit L2 coach. She's also a Certified Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism (P&PA) coach.
She was on The Mother Wit Podcast back in March, 2022 when she was pregnant with her first baby. We talked a lot about how she was managing hyperemesis gravidarum and why coaching and midwifery are so well aligned for both of us. She is now four months postpartum so I invited her back on the show to tell us her birth story and give us an update on her own personal return to fitness. While listening to her tell her story, it was clear she was providing an incredible roadmap that I wanted to share with our listeners. I'll chime in (in italics) from time to time :-)
Birth Prep Tips
1. Take Childbirth education classes
2. Hire a doula
3. Listen to positive birth stories
These first three items are so interesting to me because you might assume that a birth professional would feel that they already know everything they need to know about birth and therefore have nothing to gain from more education. Not true! Rachel recognized that she needed to experience this just like everyone else and she didn’t want to be her own midwife.
4. Tell everyone your due date is later than it is, so people don’t pester you. Boy do I wish more people would do that!
Labor & Birth Tips
1. Once labor starts, don’t get too excited about it. Go take a nap! Sleep/rest between contractions.
2. When resting/sleeping is no longer possible, continue to do restful things like taking a warm bath
4. When that doesn’t work anymore, it’s definitely time for your doula to be there!
5. Labor on the toilet (sitting backwards with a pillow on the top of the tank is really nice).
6. Utilize Positive Affirmations: Throughout pregnancy I took note of affirmations that resonated with me, then wrote them on card stock to hang in the space I was laboring in. One of my favorites was "Add nothing extra", which reminded me to allow the contraction to do its work without holding additional tension in my body.
7. Make a music playlist (Rachel did not end up using hers- some things you prepare you might not end up doing or using, but you have no way to know what exactly you will want or need until you are in it!)
8. Be okay with entering "Labor Land." You don’t need to entertain or take care of anyone. You need to disappear into yourself to birth your baby.
9. Consider hydrotherapy (i.e., shower and tub).
10. Cold wash cloths on face and neck.
11. Hand or portable electric fan.
Rachel's personal postpartum physical recovery & return to fitness
1. Early check ins with your choice of chiropractor (for birthing person AND baby!), physical therapist, pelvic floor PT, etc.
2. Limit your visitors (no one ever takes us seriously enough on this one!).
3. Stay home. Focus on Rachel’s 4 pillars of postpartum recovery – Bonding, Breastfeeding, Sleeping, Eating (nutritious food).
4. Intention now for intensity later. This means start slow! Focus on diaphragmatic breathing and reconnecting to your core and pelvic floor. I did lots of farmers carries, since that mimics everyday movements (like carrying a car seat) and helps engage the core without undue strain on the healing connective tissue. I progressed from resistance bands, to a PVC pipe, to a 15# training bar, and eventually to a 35# bar. My focus was on technique and reestablishing optimal movement patterns, being mindful of positioning from pregnancy, such as a flared rib cage. At first, I was careful to avoid loading weight to the point of needing to use a breath hold for stability. Instead I focused on breathing through the entire range of motion, and eventually worked back into bracing with a "360 breath." That is where you try to breathe into your diaphragm, ribs and lats. Based on current evidence, Rachel made the decision to avoid impact for 1st 6 months postpartum.
5. Utilize Brianna Battles resource Six Exercises for the First Six Weeks Postpartum AND don’t stress about it if you aren’t actually ready for it when you wanted or planned to be!
6. Progressive overload: In the words of Brianna Battles, the founder of the Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coaching Certification, this means, "Learn, Control, Load, Explode." Basically, you've got to walk before you run.
7. Keep Tanya’s 3 P’s in mind as you return to physical activity – Pain, Pressure, Peeing.
8. Get comfortable modifying variables (number of reps/rounds, range of motion, load, intensity). Stay below symptom threshold, and know that it's okay to experiment, but not to be consistently symptomatic and simply ignoring it.
9. Build your athleticism for a lifetime of activity. Postpartum and aging have so much in common!
10. If you have a tough night of sleep, its okay to skip that workout or just scale it back from what you had imagined it would look like. Sometimes the best thing you can do it get that extra sleep and baby snuggles, then go for a walk instead.
11. Give yourself grace (with the caveat that this means different things to different people.) - Listen to Mother Wit mama, Jessica Sant and I talk about what this meant for her- she also shares her thoughts on how others can approach this seemingly easy yet incredibly challenging task.
Rachel expands on grace...
"I had a lot of really great support at home and I had a lot of resources to be able to build this beautiful foundation, but there are people who have breastfeeding struggles, who have postpartum depression, who are single parents, a lack of finances or resources, and maybe fitness is the key to their mental health. I recognize my privilege. I have a lot of resources. We planned the pregnancy within a committed, loving marriage. We have the financial resources to set aside money for a lactation consultant and our doula. And I have some of that knowledge too, just from being a midwife, but not everybody has that. And I pretty quickly realized that sometimes, the way another person returns to fitness may be different from my own."