(Be sure to check out the resources at the end of this blog post!)
You recently had a baby...
...Slow it down, sister. Don't rush this. You've got time, even if it doesn't feel like it.
Why are you trying to get your body back as fast as you can? As soon as we have babies, the race is on to look like it never happened. "I don't want to be like this forever!"
I totally understand that panicky feeling. Being pregnant is a wild ride where you have almost zero control over your body. Everything just grows and grows and grows. And being that large is uncomfortable and a tad bit depressing, especially when you know what it feels like to be active.
You’re anxious for the day that you can feel and move like normal again.
It certainly doesn’t help when some women wear their sleek post-baby bodies like badges of honor. We try not to judge, but it’s awfully difficult when your friend had a baby at the exact same time as you, and she “doesn’t even look like it!” Ugh.
Stay with me here…don’t look over there at her.
You're not going to be like this forever, but you are going to be postpartum forever. And you need to slow down. If you hurry into this, like so many new moms do, you could do it all wrong and hurt your body for a long time.
Try not to worry about losing fat yet, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Your hormones are all over the place and it’s hardly the right environment for good fat loss. Instead of worrying about losing fat right now, focus on re-establishing good eating habits, especially if you let them slide during your pregnancy.
Do NOT restrict your overall intake at all, which could hinder your milk production and even your body’s ability to create a good metabolism. You'll probably feel best if you eat every 3 hours. Aim to eat high quality unprocessed foods, emphasizing eating your PRO’s (lots of protein and lots of produce) with every meal, and include healthy fats throughout the day, like nuts, seeds and olives. Go ahead and eat some whole grains, but the bulk of your foods should be coming from your PRO's and fats.
The day for losing weight will come, but it will go much smoother if you just focus on having some good habits in place. Having a new baby is very stressful, so piling on more stress with strict eating guidelines is not helpful for anyone!
Gain strength slowly and in the right places.
1. From day one postpartum, work on good posture. Make sure your ribs are lined up evenly over your pelvis, your shoulders are low and your hips aren’t cockeyed. Get as many pillows and wedges as you need to prop yourself up well while nursing and napping. Pay special attention to this when you wear your baby in a carrier or push her in a stroller. Your core, hips and pelvic floor will heal much better if you're body is aligned.
2. Also, from day one you can learn how to breathe using your entire core. Here's how: Inhale through your nose and fill up your entire rib cage and belly, enough to even feel your pelvic floor bulge a bit. Then exhale through your mouth long and evenly, pushing the air out of your core by gently engaging your abs and lifting upward with your entire pelvic floor (from your pubis to your tailbone). Do about 2 sets of 10 of these breaths daily. (By the way, this is the right way to do a kegel!) Practice this breathing in any position (sidelying, on your back, sitting or standing), but always with good posture.
3. Start with strength training. Even if you were a runner or cardio-fiend prior to giving birth, the best place to start is with a good total body strength training program like this one. You can easily monitor the intensity and listen to your body with each exercise. Plus, you can build upon this with harder and more intense strength training when the time is right. (Fast, intense strength training workouts are the best types of workouts to lose bodyfat, so your work now should be pointing in that direction!).
4. Avoid direct abdominal work for a while. Your abs have a lot of healing work ahead, so any exercises that place direct tension on your abs should be avoided for several months postpartum. This includes planks, crunches, sit-ups, V-ups, bicycles, and anything else that makes your abs bulge and strain hard. Instead, slowly add in some indirect core work like glute bridges, squats, half kneeling lifts, farmers carries, and any exercise that has you carrying the weight on one side of your body. Continue to focus on good posture while doing these exercises.
5. Avoid jumping and bouncing for a while. Once again, your core needs to heal to do these well, but more importantly your pelvic floor needs to regain its integrity. If your favorite form of exercise is running or athletic-style plyometrics, you should hold off on these for a few months until you have done a good job of re-training your core and pelvic floor. Hang out with your breathing/kegel exercises, your posture work, and some good indirect core exercises in addition to total body strengthening exercises for about 3-4 months at least before you do any power training, jumping or running.
(See below for some extremely helpful resources!)
Think longterm. If you progress through these early stages of postpartum well, you will have a much stronger foundation to build upon. It’s tempting to immediately hop back into the fast, hard, bootcamp style workouts as soon as a doctor gives you the green light. But if your body hasn’t been prepped for this, you could do more damage.
I'm just going to say it...be careful with many of the "baby bootcamp" style classes. Often, the workouts are really random and don't take into consideration your postpartum body. I know you want to meet up with all your friends again and do a good, sweaty workout, but they usually include a lot of jogging, jumping and even inappropriate ab work. Not good.
(Some groups are fabulous and have trained postnatal fitness specialist, while others don't. Be discerning.)
What would you rather have: a strong body that can do anything you ask it to do with power, strength and ease at 18 months postpartum? Or a damaged back, hips and leaky bladder because you tried to get there in 6 months?
If you take the time to condition and strengthen your body properly, you will eventually be able to hit it hard and efficiently lose any extra body fat that you’d like to get rid of. It's crazy hard to lose weight when your body is injured. (Read that again.)
“But what if my baby is 6?” Do you remember what I said in the beginning? You are postpartum forever. Your body will have always endured the stresses of pregnancy and labor (whatever your labor looked like). It doesn’t matter how far removed you are from it, you can certainly still benefit from this stuff.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you need to treat your core and pelvic floor like a postpartum core and floor, putting in the work to regain proper strength. Learn how to breathe and maintain good posture, start to engage your pelvic floor, do plenty of indirect core work and total-body strengthening. After a month or two of this groundwork, you can start to progress and try harder things.
You might still have "baby weight" to lose...or the weight you gained when you were pregnant, regardless of how long ago that was. Fortunately for you, you’re probably not breastfeeding anymore so your lactation hormones aren’t going to mess with your ability to lose bodyfat.
Make sure your mindset is in "progress mode", not "maintenance mode" anymore. Get your nutrition dialed in and stay disciplined until you feel like your goal is met. Combine good eating habits with a sound strength and conditioning program, and you'll probably feel stronger and more fit than you ever did before babies.
Finally, just take a breath. A good, pelvic floor engaging breath (remember, from above?). Sit up with good posture and relax a little. This is not a race. Nobody is watching and judging you to see how fast you get your body back. Take the time to do it right and you'll have the potential to be strong, lean and functioning at the top of your game again.
If you're realizing that you've been going about this a little wrong and need professional guidance, here are some great resources that will help: