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If you were to only look at Instagram you would probably think that a baby is born and within two weeks Mom is back in her pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and crushing plates at the gym. You might also assume that if you don’t start working out as soon as you’re cleared by your doctor that you’ll never have any hope of losing the baby weight. What if I told that the exam your doctor did on you at 6 weeks postpartum appointment isn’t that helpful for determining if you’re ready to work out? Moreover, what if I told you that you can take your time jumping back in to working out and still lose all the baby weight and be completely fine?
If I have learned anything during my postpartum journey it’s that no two postpartum journeys look alike. They are not linear and often don’t go according to plan. You can breastfeed exclusively and not lose any weight, despite what people might tell you. You can start working out immediately and hold on to weight until you’re done breastfeeding. You could have weird places that hurt when you do certain movements. You could feel tired even though you and your baby are sleeping through the night. You may not have the mental space to workout or even think about your appearance, even though other people might be obsessed with it. All of these things are normal and can be a part of your postpartum journey.
For me, I thought that I would workout throughout my pregnancy and then start working out again as soon as I got cleared. I figured most of the weight would melt off and I would only really need to work on regaining muscle tone once I was cleared. The reality was that I had twenty extra pounds on my body by the time my 6-week postpartum checkup rolled around and a two-finger gap at the top of my abs. This gap was there even though I had been doing low-intensity core rehab from about 3 weeks postpartum (you know once I could feel my abdominals again following my c-section). I had been walking every day and going up and downstairs from the moment I got home from the hospital. I drove from Charleston to Miami at 5 weeks postpartum after my mother died. I was breastfeeding and not overeating but I looked like Jabba the Hut.
When I got back from Miami I tried to work out but my breastmilk supply which was already not enough for my son would dip. This was after adding in more calories during the day, eating all the galactagogue foods, and drinking tons of water. I gained about five more pounds during this period around 3 months postpartum. I decided I wouldn’t try to work out. Really I wasn’t in the headspace to do it. I was still in mourning and just trying to be a good Mom. I worked toward my goal of breastfeeding for at least 4 months and stored away some stash to use in case Rigel got sick over the next few months.
I’m sure during this time a lot of people judged me. Some probably thought I was being lazy. I was just trying to do the best I could with what I had at the time. I focused on being the best Mom possible to Rigel and put everything else in the backburner. At four and half months postpartum I decided it was time to wean Rigel, he had stopped wanting to nurse and pumping all the time was taking a toll on me. So I stopped and you all can read about how that worked out here.
Once I had weaned I was convinced that the weight would finally start coming off but it didn’t. Instead, my hormones had a little bit of a meltdown. I was tired and all my joints ached. All of my sensitivities to foods returned and working out was miserable. I took the holidays to just enjoy my family and think about what my goals really were and then I got to work.
The amazing thing about pregnancy is that your body completely reshapes itself to safely house this little person. But then you’re left with a body that’s usually just a little bit wider than it was, a little looser than it was, and a little softer than it was. So how do you get back in shape after you’ve lost your shape:
- You figure out your goals – What does postpartum fitness mean to you? Is it just losing the pregnancy weight or do you have other health goals in mind? For me, I don’t just want to lose weight, I also want to get physically fit for my next pregnancy whenever that happens. While pregnant with Rigel for one reason or another, my blood pressure was borderline, which made my doctor pretty nervous. For that reason, I would like to improve my cardiovascular fitness as much as I can in the hopes that the next time around I won’t need to take any blood pressure medication.
- Decide how you’ll incorporate fitness into your day – Being a Mom is a full-time job, add a full-time job outside of the house on top of that and it could be really hard to squeeze in any time to work out. You don’t necessarily need to work out at a gym, working out at home could be more convenient. But working out at a gym with childcare could be a nice way to disconnect from the house while also giving your little one an opportunity to socialize. Right now, I’ve been working out at home. I have a set of resistance bands, some dumbbells, and a stepper set up in my study. I usually squeeze in a workout during Rigel’s nap or let him jump in his jumper while I workout.
- Focus on nutrition, not restriction – As someone who just had a baby (and may still be breastfeeding) you’ve been sharing resources with your baby for months (maybe years). This phenomenon is often referred to as postnatal depletion when mothers feel tired and spent in a whole host of ways. The last thing you want to do is severely restrict your calories to lose weight. You need to make sure you’re being kind to your body. So cut back but only if you feel you’ve honestly been eating in excess and don’t go under 1800 calories per day. I’ve removed foods that cause me inflammation and am eating intuitively. My joints have stopped hurting and because I can’t really eat gluten anymore it’s harder to overindulge in carbs.
- Don’t step on a scale for a while – You’re going to be tempted to weigh yourself once you start working out again and focusing on your nutrition. I urge you not to, especially if you’re the type of person that’s easily discouraged. It could be weeks before the scale budges, not because you’re not doing the right things but because you may be retaining water to help those muscles that haven’t done anything in awhile recover. I suggest taking progress photos if you want to track how you’re doing and take your measurements. If you must weigh yourself wait at least 4 weeks from the time you start working out again to step on the scale. I am six weeks and have stepped on a scale once. I’ve only lost 4lbs so far according to the scale but I know I’m losing body fat because I’ve measured myself and some of my pre-pregnancy clothes are starting to fit.
- Challenge yourself but remember to check in with your body – You’re going to want to jump right in guns blazing once you decide to get back in shape after having a baby. Enthusiasm will take you far! However, I urge you to make sure you listen to your body as you’re reintroducing it to exercises. You may feel energetic and strong but remember your body did stretch itself and open itself up to bring that baby into the world. Things are going to be loose and weak. If anything feels weird and definitely if anything hurts back off! There’s no shame in this. Better to take it slow than go too quickly and end up in physical therapy. I’ve been especially protective of my core. While my gap closed months ago, it’s only just in the last couple of weeks that I’m starting to feel like I can really sustain certain core based movements.
- This transformation will likely exercise your patience as well – if you’re reading this you probably haven’t been having an easy time losing the baby weight. I’m here to tell you that not only are you going to be exercising those legs but you’re going to be exercising your patience too. It may be a slow drag. I’m talking months before you finally get someplace and that’s normal because you didn’t make that baby in six weeks, it took 40! So enjoy the ride and celebrate your small victories, like hitting your pre-pregnancy deadlifting PR.
Remember, just because you’re doing the above doesn’t mean life isn’t going to throw you curveballs on your way to getting fit again. I came down with chemical pneumonia following my exposure to some harsh carpet cleaner (harsh for me anyway). I have particularly sensitive airways thanks to my asthma, which is why I don’t inhale anything other than oxygen and clean with wimpy all-natural products around the house (I’ve become a very aggressive scrubber to compensate). Anyway, that put me out of commission for 2 weeks. Even now I’m still a little wheezy so aside from walking around Disney World with a 20lb diaper bag on my back I have yet to resume exercise. I plan to this week but I’m giving myself grace during this period. I mean I can’t very well get skinny again if I can’t breathe and subsequently drop dead.
Like always you can follow along on this journey. Watch the weight drop, hear the wheezes, and see how long it takes me to look a little more like Leia in Return of the Jedi (and a lot less like Jabba). Let me know in the comments if there’s anything particular you want me to touch on as I continue chasing lean.
Thinking fit thoughts,