Bouncing Back: Fitness After Baby

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Taking Malachi on as many hikes and adventures as we can!
Before I had kids, I thought all mamas were “sacrificing” their trim, healthy bodies in order to have children. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I didn’t achieve many noteworthy fitness goals until after I had kids. Your childbearing years have the potential to be some of your fittest, healthiest years ever!

“Bouncing back” definitely depends on your type of birth and on how you feel. I healed much faster with my second baby than my first so it was easier the second time around. 

Tips to get you started:

Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. 

There are a lot of great reasons to workout. There are also some bad reasons to workout. I believe in working out to improve health, fitness, and confidence. I believe in working out to challenge myself, to get off the couch, to regain strength, to take time for myself, to improve my stamina and my mood.

Some less-awesome reasons to workout are hating the way you look, trying to offset unhealthy habits, and trying to look a certain way for an image-driven society. This is all in vain. Jumping into a workout routine because you’re insecure about your body is not good motivation. 

Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes. Embrace your journey to health and fitness by embracing your postpartum body before any weight is even shed. If you’re reading this after giving birth, your body just did an incredible thing! It sustained and grew and birthed a human! Working out isn’t meant to be punishment for your body for doing something bad. Especially postpartum.

Working out is a way to say thank you to your body for all it’s done. It’s a way to keep your body performing well for years and years to come. Working out is the main thing that boosted my emotions and stabilized those crazy postpartum hormones. I felt so amazing and powerful after a good workout! That was my motivation, first and foremost.

Take it slow.

Especially if you weren’t very active before, you want to ease into activities. Birth causes your body a lot of stress and it takes time to recover. Allow yourself to rest for the first month at least. Gradually add things back in.

With Shiloh I started with just daily chores around the house. Then walks in the neighborhood. Then hikes. Then core building. Then runs (I was already a runner. Couch to 5K is a good resource if you’re starting from scratch.) Then I started adding in more cardio and resistance training. By three months postpartum I was doing full workouts like I used to.

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Getting outside with Shiloh at one month postpartum.

Set realistic goals. 

 Give yourself grace. It takes time. It took 9 months to make your baby. It’s normal for it to take 9 months to a year for your body to fully “bounce back.” Every day you workout, you’re making progress though. Count each workout as a victory.

Fuel.

Focus on nutrients rather than calories and fitness rather than weight-loss. Make sure you replenish your body after every workout. If you’re breastfeeding, nursing will mostly take care of any extra pregnancy pounds. It’s so important to keep eating and nourish yourself and your baby.

I eat a whole-food, mostly meatless diet, but I don’t count calories. For instance, I add an extra smoothie if I do an intense workout. I eat a bigger lunch if breakfast was too small. As long as what I’m putting in my body isn’t processed or empty, sugar-laden calories, I follow my (usually ravenous) appetite.

Don’t look at the scale.

I was eating nutritious food and working out. I felt amazing and my pre-pregnancy wardrobe was fitting, but I was still disappointed by the number on the scale. I don’t know how many times I’ve over-analyzed what the scale says, but I finally stopped checking it.

“That’s the most I’ve ever weighed.”

“I’m not down to my pre-pregnancy weight yet.”

Maybe your weight will fall off when you start eating better and working out. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it will at first and then you’ll hit a plateau like I did.

Just don’t worry about it. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

If you’re building muscle and losing fat, the scale might not budge. Track your progress other ways. Track your speed increase, track your resistance increase, track your distance increase. Don’t obsess over weight.

Do what you enjoy.

Someone once said: “Do whatever workout you will do.

Yoga, cycling, dance, running, swimming, hiking, crossfit. The type of workout doesn’t matter. Do what inspires you. Whatever gets you excited about being active. Get some friends together and walk at the park or the mall. If the library or grocery store is nearby, consider walking there rather than driving. My family walks to church and often the grocery store year-round. We save money, car emissions, and we get ourselves moving at the same time. 

 

A Christmas day hike with Shiloh at four months postpartum.

Sign up for something.

Whether it be a class or a race, this is a huge help. I signed up for a mud run with my friends after Malachi was born. I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I trained and learned to run. This is what got me into running, which I still enjoy!

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First 5K ever! Five months postpartum. 
Find a workout DVD or online program.

Because let’s be honest, it’s sometimes hard to get out of the house. If your daily workout requires a babysitter, it’s unlikely you’ll stick with it. Something you can do during nap-time or after bedtime when you can grab a few minutes to yourself is best. I personality love doing Insanity. (Not promoting them particularly, it’s just what I use!) The cardio feels amazing, and the whole thing takes 30-40 minutes. If you have help with the baby on the weekends, then is a good time to go for runs or to the gym. Working out can be a huge stress reliever and it feels amazing to do something for yourself by yourself when you can! The rest of the week, DVD it up!

Incorporate the baby.

Since it can be hard to find childcare for every workout, try to find ways to do it together as much as you’re able. My first workouts with Shiloh were long walks around the neighborhood while wearing him. Jogging with a stroller, hiking with a carrier, and learning some baby yoga moves will make it easier to transition back into your active lifestyle. I know my walks are more strenuous and my squats are more effective when I’ve got the baby strapped on in his carrier.

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A rainy hike in Arkansas…but we’re all smiles!
Get a buddy.

I find it hard to find the motivation to get out of the house with my kids unless I’ve made plans to meet a friend. A workout buddy will give you motivation on a regular basis. There’s nothing like setting an actual day and time to workout with your buddies every week. Turning “I should workout” “I should go for more walks” into a real activity on the calendar makes all the difference in the world. And the community and relationships it builds are a huge plus!

Ask for accountability from other moms wanting to get active, from your sisters, friends, or husband. The internet makes it easier than ever to find like-minded people in your area and meet-up for hikes and runs. Take advantage of this powerful tool!

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So much fun! These girls were my accountability.
Rebuild Your Core.

The amazing way your body makes room for the growing baby is by splitting your abdominal muscles down the middle. Ouch, right? It’s important to help fuse them back together correctly if a large amount of separation occurred. After my first child, I jumped right back into crunches. Bad idea. My abs never fully healed properly. After my second child, my midwife taught me exercises that helped pull my core together – no crunches allowed. Planks and simple core contractions will safely rebuild your core and promote healing. A strong core is so important because it saves your back a lot of strain when lifting and bouncing that baby!

Don’t forget pelvic muscles.

Hahaha… If you delivered vaginally, be sure to empty your bladder before every workout! Every time. No exceptions. Don’t learn this the hard way (like I did, sprinting to the finish of a 5k!)

It’s important not to overlook those pelvic floor muscles. As a mother, Kegels are just part of my life now. Rebuilding those muscles to the strength they once had takes time and a lot of patience. 

Benefits:

Less fatigue.

It may seem counter-intuitive but I find working out gives me more energy to get through those nights of interrupted sleep. A workout invigorates me more than a nap. Even if it’s just a DVD during nap-time, I feel so much more alive afterward than if I’d just rested.

Better mood.

Some days are long and lonely after baby comes. Sometimes the workout is the highlight of my day. Just being honest. Getting my body moving after six weeks of sitting on the couch nursing and healing felt awesome! Mentally it’s a huge reliever for me.

More to give.

Carving out some time for myself recharges me and I feel like I have more to give my kiddos as a result.

Sweat.

After giving birth, my body retained some leftover water weight from pregnancy. I had night sweats immediately following delivery, but for months after found that I sweat easily. It was that water weight shedding. I helped it out as much as I could by incorporating cardio and sweat into my routines.

Stamina.

You’ll be hauling around this baby and their car seat, gear, and diaper bag for months now. Working out preps your body for this extra daily haul. Shiloh likes to be worn and carried a lot, so he’s like my little personal trainer everyday!

Teaches your kids.

If you want healthy, active children, now’s the time to get started. They’re ready to imitate everything you do, so why not give them some good habits to mimic? Why not make hiking, camping, running, or cycling family traditions? By starting young and leading by example, an active lifestyle will be their “normal.”

It’s Worth It!

Given enough time, you’ll eventually return to the body type you were before you got pregnant. Having children and breastfeeding won’t magically make you fit, but if you were active before baby, and you continue to be active after baby, you will likely get your body back. At less than a year postpartum with Malachi, I was buying small jeans again. Now at four months postpartum with Shiloh, I’m back in those same jeans. The scale probably says I still have a ways to go. But you know what? I feel amazing and that’s all that matters. Get out there. 

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Getting faster and still loving running!

 

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