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Postpartum Exercise & Fitness

Jun09

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Photo by Ed Yourdon

Behold! The long-awaited exercise/getting-back-in-shape entry! My procrastination on this one was epic. Epic and oddly symbolic. Or do I mean ironic? Metaphorical? Similie-ical? Whatever, luckily I managed to snag a few minutes with the much-smarter-than-I-am Linda, founder and overlord of Bodies in Motivation. She could totally kick your ass, but she’s so damn nice and funny you’d probably enjoy it..

Amalah: Look, I’ve seen your hot self in person. You’ve kicked a ridiculous amount of ass and gotten into (what I’m assuming is) the best shape of your life…AFTER two babies. How did you do it? When did you decide to get serious?

Shut up. You look stupid-hot and you had a baby like ten minutes ago. So there.

Hi! I can’t take compliments!

Anyway: you’re right, I really am in the best shape of my life — I’ve spent my entire adult existence carrying around an extra 15 or so pounds, and that number climbed after my first son was born and I spent a year and a half rewarding myself for making it through another day by cramming my food-hole and lying on the couch.

When Riley was around 18 months old I sort of had this moment where I realized I had only a few photos of the two of us because I hated how I looked. I was still slothing around in maternity pants at night. (So comfy! So . . . expandable!) I had no energy. I was in this totally unhealthy food rut I couldn’t see my way out of. I was just . . . sick of it, I guess.

I signed up with the Weight Watchers website, which was immensely helpful in terms of helping me come to terms with what I was eating, and re-learn some healthier eating habits. I also started doing this goofy exercise DVD called Turbo Jam, and actually kind of enjoyed it — from there I started doing other home workouts. In three months, I had mostly lost the weight, but more importantly, I felt better, I had more confidence, and I actually had MUSCLES. For the first time EVER.

Then I got pregnant again and pigged out on Haagen-Dazs for nine months.

Getting back in the groove was easier the second time around, because I knew what sorts of things worked for me. It took some time, but I re-lost the weight, and in the last year I’ve actually stepped up my fitness routine quite a bit — I see a personal trainer now, I take kickboxing classes, and I just ran my first 5K.

You had a c-section, like me (throws scapel-like gang sign). My doctor told me I could do pretty much any physical activity and exercise after six weeks. I didn’t really feel like that was…um…realistic, particularly after my second surgery. Do you have any ideas for some good “first” exercise routines for a newly postpartum mom?

I’ll tell you what NOT to do: do not decide you’re feeling good enough to embark on a vigorous ab-focused workout only a few weeks after your second C-section, because you might throw out your back so thoroughly during a toddler diaper change (while your newborn is strapped to your chest) that you have to weepingly call your husband at work to come home and help because OH MY GOD YOU ARE DYING.

Ahem.

A much more intelligent and knowledgeable lady than myself, Kathleen Donahoe, wrote an article for my fitness website a while back on this very subject. In short, she suggests sticking with exercises where you avoid twisting (because your poor stretched-out ab muscles can separate down the center, a condition known as diastasis recti), and mixing in some getting-your-strength-back moves like lunges, squats, and pushups. A specialized class like postpartum Pilates is a nice option, although not always feasible for everyone.

And on that note, any totally essential things a new mom should have around the house to help with nutrition and exercise?

Hard to say definitively because one person’s “totally essential” is another’s I HATE THIS STUPID THING, but I think if you’re trying to regain fitness as a new mom, DVDs are a great resource. There are any number of postnatal workout DVDs available these days, and even some that incorporate your baby (maybe you . . . lift them, or something? I’m not sure, to be honest, but the cover photos always make it look like everyone’s all happy and stuff).

The nice thing about home workouts is you don’t have to get dressed, find someone to watch the baby, fret about the fact that your hair hasn’t been washed in two days, etc. I’m a huge huge fan of the 30 Day Shred DVD, which is an awesome little kick-butt workout that you can do in about 20 minutes. Perfect for naptimes! When my second son was little, I’d put him in the swing and jump around in front of the TV while my preschooler was napping. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
It’s not easy to fit workouts in as a new mother, but I can’t tell you how much exercise helped me through those early months. Most new moms feel so overwhelmed and stressed and they’re dealing with hormones and the sometimes-miserable feelings of having life turned upside down by the tiny beloved blatting creature who poops and eats all the time, and having that ONE THING you do for yourself, that helps you feel stronger and more capable and more in control . . . it’s just really, really nice. And fitting back into your favorite jeans is an awesome side effect.


Your second baby was not a good sleeper, TO PUT IT MILDLY. How did you fight the urge to nap or go to bed early and find the resolve to exercise through the sleep deprivation? I tend to start exercise programs and do really well for a few days…then I give myself a night off because I’m tired and the baby woke up three times and waaaaah I’m tired. And then that one night off immediately turns into a month.

The thing about exercise is that the more you do it, the more energy you have. Which, you know, isn’t the easiest thing to keep in mind when you have no energy to begin with, but I don’t think I could have SURVIVED all those sleep-interrupted nights if I hadn’t been working out.
Napping never made me feel better, either. I think there are some people who can conk out for half an hour or so and wake up feeling refreshed, and then there are people who wake up in a puddle of drool, bleary-eyed and stupid. I definitely napped during the first crazy newborn weeks, but after a while I’d ask myself what would make me feel better while the baby was down: a quick workout, or passing out on the couch? No matter how tempting the couch was, the workout always improved my day. As Dylan got older, I started a kind of routine I still stick with today: once he’s in bed for the night, I do my workout right away. Then it’s bedtime for my 3-year-old, and there’s still time for relaxing in front of the TV or going to bed early if I really need to.

I feel like the healthier your body is, the more capable you are of physically dealing with all the challenges and stress of a young baby — not that I ENJOYED getting up four times a night for over a year, or anything, but it didn’t kill me stone cold dead like I’m convinced it would have otherwise.

The baby pouch. You know the one. The squishy thing around your belly button. Does it EVER really go away? If I finally lose the last 10 pounds and do a squagillion crunches, will I at least have something sort-of like my pre-baby stomach again?

Uhhhhhh. Well, I think Jillian Micheals would say yes (and then she’d yell at you not to phone it in) (and tell you to GARGLE YOUR HEART). Me, I think it depends on genetics and post-surgery fat redistribution and luck of the freaking draw.

My personal belly looks pretty good if I’m standing straight up and flexing and also not exhaling, but if I sit down, it puddles in my lap like a wrinkly, deflated pool animal. So.

Judging by the yooooooge number of practically brand-new jogging strollers on Craigslist and eBay, it appears to be one of those things that a lot of people buy and then never actually use. So you have one, use one? Any advice for motivating jogging stroller owners to actually put it to use, or do you have any suggestions for something better they can use the Craigslist proceeds on?

That’s a topic I don’t know much about, because I haven’t used a jogging stroller. I never wanted one, and here’s why:
• Jogging is, like, HARD ENOUGH.
• On the few occasions I do get out on my own to go for a run, it’s nice to be . . . you know, ON MY OWN.
• I already bought a crazy expensive stroller four years ago and thus I have pretty much shot my stroller-wad for one lifetime.

Some people seem to really love jogging strollers — lord knows I saw enough kid-pushing people galloping past me on the 5K I ran last Sunday. I think if you are into running, and you think you’ll enjoy taking the kiddo out when you’re exercising, why not? Any investment in your health is a good one, in my opinion. Worst case, it goes back on Craigslist and you try something else.

If you’re looking for some real-life motivation and fitness routines, check out the many bloggers and stories over at Bodies in Motivation. No diet fads, no cayenne-pepper-syrup drinks, no stupid articles about this amazing new secret ab exercise called the “crunch.” Just blogs! Blogs that are good for you! I burned like, five calories laughing and nodding along with them right now! Hooray! Now I might need to lie down.

If you landed here but are still pregnant, visit Amalah’s Pregnancy Calendar. You won’t regret it.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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10 Responses to “Postpartum Exercise & Fitness”

  1. Catherine S Jun 09 at 1:28 pm Reply Reply

    The best things that I did to lose the weight was to join Weight Watchers and join a YMCA. The WW definitely helped with the bad post partum eating habits that I formed. The Y helped because they offer child care while I workk out. My husband travels 4-5 days a week and being able to take my child somewhere and just have an hour or two of me time is essential. I am motivated by both the workout and the opportunity to be baby free. Win-win.

  2. Cheryl S. Jun 09 at 2:56 pm Reply Reply

    If you are a working mom like me, I would say whatever you plan to do for exercise, get your hubby used to taking care of the baby NOW. I didn’t (and don’t) want to drop my daughter at the gym daycare after she’s already spent the day at her regular daycare. My mistake was not taking a few nights a week and telling my husband to watch her. Don’t make that mistake!!!! Take time for yourself! I’ve just started working out again, and my daughter is almost 4!

  3. Brooke Jun 09 at 3:39 pm Reply Reply

    I would suggest a lot of walking at first. And I have a jogging stroller that I use to walk (no running – too heavy, too much work!) on hiking trails in the local parks b/c the stroller is more sturdy/rugged and the baby loves it. As a working mom, I have found that workout DVDs are the way to go. After my baby was in bed for the night I could workout, then I didn’t miss any more quality time with my baby after work before bedtime. Additionally, I was one of those new moms that was too paranoid to use the childcare at the gym….would they watch the baby as closely as I would? what about the germs? are the other kids sick? Yeah, working out probably saved the small bit of sanity I had left….

  4. kelly Jun 10 at 12:08 pm Reply Reply

    Does anyone have any advice about how to manage exercise and breastfeeding?
    In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to get out and work in the garden for a few hours, which is great exercise, but then my milk gets a bit low, because I just can’t seem to ingest enough fluid and calories to keep up.
    Also, I’d like to start going back to Bikram yoga soon, but this can be so dehydrating, and I’m afraid this will really hurt my milk production. And, when I do Bikram, I tend to lose weight really quickly, and I’m afraid of all the icky, fat soluble stuff (like pesticides and ketones) that might get dumped into my breastmilk.
    I’d like to be able to nurse my baby until she’s a year old (she’s 4 months, now), and so I feel like I really need to be protective and watchful about my milk supply. Any insight about how to manage this would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Amalah Jun 10 at 1:10 pm Reply Reply

    Kelly: Everything I’ve read swears that exercise actually has zero effect on your milk supply — maybe there’s something else going on that you’re misinterpreting as low supply? (She might not like nursing when you’re sweaty or covered in sunscreen, she’s started solids and you’re getting a natural drop because of that?)
    And you actually don’t need *extra* fluids to keep up milk supply — just drink to satisfy thirst, be it water or sports drinks or juice or whatever. So if you can remember to keep a nice full water bottle close to you in the garden and by your yoga mat, you should be fine. And fenugreek or Mother’s Milk Tea once or twice a day has always helped me if I think I’m a little low.
    Here are some articles about nursing and exercise that might help:
    http://www.kellymom.com/health/lifestyle/mom-exercise.html
    http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/mom/mom-calories-fluids.html
    http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/mom/mom-weightloss.html
    http://parenting.ivillage.com/newborn/nbreastfeed/0,,447s,00.html

  6. Michelle Pixie Jun 10 at 2:14 pm Reply Reply

    Then there is me who started getting up early five days a week to go for a 30 minute vigorous walk before my day starts and I seem to be going up and down between the same three pounds and I am completely frustrated! I just want to lose the baby weight…I am not going to give up on the walking it would just be nice to see some results in my jeans. I have to say though the increased energy is a great bonus!

  7. annonymous Jun 10 at 5:20 pm Reply Reply

    Kelly, milk is made of protein, fluid, and fat, so you need to make sure you’re getting enough of these things in your diet.
    Additionally, the most important thing you can do to keep your supply up is to nurse and/or pump frequently. Make sure you pump or nurse every 3 hours or so. If you miss feedings too frequently, your supply will definitely drop.

  8. Sally Jul 14 at 1:53 pm Reply Reply

    If anything ever happened to my husband, I would marry my BOB double jogger. It was a gift from an extremely generous aunt, and in the beginning I started jogging because I felt guilty about all the money she spent. Now it is my escape when I can’t stand another minute in the house with the kids. I load them up with sippy cups and cookies, strap on my ipod (turned down low enough to hear if someone is puking or screaming but high enough to block out the little whines), and run until we’re all in better moods. I have pushed around a few other jogging strollers, and nothing compares to the ease of running with a BOB.

  9. Beth Jul 22 at 6:21 pm Reply Reply

    When i had to lose all my extra baby weight I didn’t have the time, and my hisband wasn’t around too much either to help pit with sitting! I got a compressing band that is suposed to tighten up my tummy postpartum. It’s called the Belly bandit, and it was a life saver for my sister and i! :)

  10. Anna Barela Oct 28 at 5:28 pm Reply Reply

    I have found some great ways to still exercise while working full time and spending every non-work second with my baby boy. I reached my pre-pregnancy weight by 4 months. Check out http://www.bananasbaby.blogspot.com.

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