See – she’s fine now! Check out that core strength!! Compare Jelly Bean’s fab plank to this woman’s – this has got to be the worst “fitness” photo I’ve ever seen! (And no comment about the two binkies. We’re working on it!) I love her one boot/one plaid sandal combo. She cracks me up every single day.
“Huh, we never really figured out what happened with that blip,” the doctor said lightly as she traced her finger over Jelly Bean’s growth chart at her recent 2-year checkup. She didn’t even notice my uncomfortable fidgeting as she continued, “Ah well, no matter. She’s all caught up now.” By the time we got Jelly Bean’s shots – little sweetie was such a trouper, didn’t make a peep – and got out to the car I was so overcome I had to call my sister to talk me down before I could drive home. Attack of the mother guilt! Hello, darkness my old friend…
That “blip” where Jelly Bean dropped from the chunky-monkey 86th percentile in which she was born down to the 20th percentile where she stayed for 9 months? My fault. Probably. I say this because after her well-baby checkup at 10 months where the doctor was very concerned that she’d lost half a pound between months 9 and 10, I finally gave up breast-feeding her and switched to formula. She bounced back up to the 80th percentile within two months. I wasn’t trying to starve my poor sweetheart but if you recall I had a hard time breastfeeding her. She had a milk protein intolerance and I was a vegetarian at the time so I ended up basically being a vegan. I’m not saying that vegans can’t make great breast milk but for me, combined with going back to heavy exercise a wee bit too early, it didn’t work. Plus you know I was really worried about losing the rest of my baby weight as fast as possible. Gym Buddy Krista, a doula, made me feel a little better when she told me that the growth charts are designed for fast-gaining formula-fed babies and not for exclusively breastfed infants.
Anyhow, I’m not trying to make excuses – I admitted then that the worst resurgences of my eating disorder (and also my anxiety disorder) happen after I have a baby, thank you hormone hell – but rather trying to explain my state of mind when Gym Buddy Daria, who six weeks ago gave birth to the cutest little boy ever, asked me to write a post about how to get your body back after pregnancy. I think she was a little startled when I immediately yelled “Don’t do what I did!”
Sadly I can’t write the post that she asked for. But I can write the post about what not to do to get your body back after having a baby.
Don’t jump back into exercise too soon. Sure you know this already but for those of us that really like our exercise – and especially those of us who rely on it to keep us mentally sane – the temptation is very real. I was back in the gym walking the track with Jelly Bean in a carrier when she was a week old. I was back to kickboxing by four weeks and full workouts by six weeks. If you remember, my first Great Fitness Experiment after Jelly Bean was born was P90X in January. She was born in November. Not smart. If I had it to do over again I would start with something more gentle like walking and yoga and work up to more hardcore workouts over time. You can work out every day if it feels good but don’t push it past the feeling good stage.
Don’t do ab exercises until your stomach is totally healed. Part of P90X is a workout called “The Ab Ripper.” It’s a great core strengthener but unfortunately I still had my diastasis (the separation between the ab muscles that many women get during pregnancy) and so it literally ripped my abs apart. The problem showed up in my left hip flexor which had taken over for my ineffective abs. Eventually it became so painful that I couldn’t lift my leg to put it into my pants without using my hands. I thought that the pain would go away eventually on its own but it didn’t. Instead I ended up needing to quit all ab exercises for about 6 months until it healed. Thankfully I discovered the Tupler technique – a series of rehab exercises designed to heal a diastasis – which also helped a lot.
Don’t underestimate the effects of exhaustion. Everyone knows new babies don’t sleep much. Even the ones who are great sleepers still wake up before you do. (And that nonsense about “sleep when your baby sleeps” a) only works for your first kid and b) doesn’t really work at all unless you are a narcoleptic who can sleep on command. “And… drop!”) If you have the choice between exercise and sleep, choose sleep. Especially in those first few months.
Don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude. I am admittedly one of those people who fears that if I miss a single workout then it will become a habit and I’ll never make it back to the gym. This isn’t true. (And it also has the unfortunate corollary of making some people quit working out entirely because they think if they can’t workout every day then what’s the point?) Thankfully I’ve gotten much, much better about this over the past year.
Don’t cut calories. Unless you are under a doctor-ordered diet plan then just eat to your hunger. Some women lose weight effortlessly while breastfeeding. My body naturally likes to carry an extra 10 pounds as butterball backup when I’m nursing. Trying to lose those last 10 pounds before I wean is an exercise in futility, frustration and – most heartbreaking – growth chart blips.
Don’t compare yourself to other moms. Yes Dara Torres, Paula Radcliffe and some other moms like the woman who ran the Chicago marathon and then gave birth hours later will be able to pull off superhuman athletic feats with the umbilical cord still dangling between their legs. But they are not you. (They’re not me either.) If you can easily jump back into your old routines then that is wonderful but if you can’t – and for the record, most of us can’t – don’t feel bad.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. …says the girl who is right now being really hard on herself. Seriously though, if it’s one thing I’ve learned from having 5 kids it’s that there will always be something to feel guilty about. Whether it’s using jelly beans as a self-bribe to get up 10 times at night with the baby (true story: that and late-night infomercials was how I survived #3’s infancy) or buying new sweat pants so you can go another day without doing laundry, try and remember how short this time really is. “This too shall pass” is a gift, not a threat.
What to do
And since I didn’t do everything wrong – not even I’m that perfect! – here are a few tips of things that worked for me:
– Wear a belly wrap. Jelly Bean (my fifth) was the first kid that I used a wrap after their birth and I swear it really helped my organs realign (oh yes they move to weird places during pregnancy!), supported my back and, yes, helped my tummy get flat quicker.
– Find a great support system. I was so incredibly blessed to not only have 3 Gym Buddies (Megan, Allison and Daria) who had babies within just a few months of Jelly Bean but to also have my sister have a baby then. Having these other new moms around me was often the difference between sanity and the crisis line some days.
– Focus on quality of workouts, not quantity. This is not the time to get stuck in the endless cardio loop. If you have 15 minutes do a short-but-intense (and I mean “intense” for someone who has just had a baby, not your usual level of intensity) circuit that combines some strength and some cardio. You don’t even need to worry about weights if you don’t want to as your body weight alone will provide plenty of resistance. Repeat after me: more is not more.
What would you guys tell Daria? Did you check out that worst fitness photo I linked to up top (sorry couldn’t embed it as it’s copyrighted) – what is that chick doing?!