We’ve all seen the images in the media of celebrity moms who snap straight back into shape after they’ve had a baby, but it this realistic? Should we all be hitting the gym after we’ve given birth, so that we can get back into shape straight away? Pre and postnatal fitness expert, Dahlas Fletcher, founder of BodyFabulous shares her tips and experience on what to expect after giving birth and how to ease back into exercise.
Allowing Yourself Time After Birth
That sensitive period after birth is a huge time of adjustment. You’ve been pregnant for 9 months, looking forward to this moment, you’ve given birth, you’ve come home with the baby and life has changed.
The biggest thing to understand is that you are still on recovery mode for at least 12 months after you have a baby. You’ve been through labour, and/or a caesarean section, and your body is going to take at least 12 months to recover. Your hormones are still fluctuating for quite a long time after birth as well. You’ve just got to take two steps back and be a bit kinder to yourself, and just switch off from all those media images and just think "I’m not going to snap back straight away". Then give yourself that 12 months to recover and that 12 months to enjoy your newborn because it doesn’t last, it goes so quickly! So just be a bit gentle with yourself.
Avoid Following Fads
There are so many people giving advice out there, often people who aren't qualified or who are relying on just their own experience. It can become really overwhelming about what to eat and what exercise to do. You might think “my friends doing this, should I do this?”, or “My friend is on a gluten-free diet and she looks fantastic, I think I’m going to go gluten-free”. Every body and every baby is different so it’s important to understand that just because someone’s doing something that seems to work for them, that you don’t simply jump on a band wagon to do that. There’s no magic prescription, you’ve got to do what is right for you, and basically, for most people that boils down to nourishing yourself properly. Everyone’s body responds differently. You’ve got to find something that works for you.
It takes 9 months to grow a baby
It’s taken 9 months for your body to grow this baby, and you’ve been through your birth. It’s going to take at least 9 months or say 12 months for you to recover. Plus, you need to allow time for the fourth trimester. The fourth trimester is that time for you to recover and it’s also that initial time out of utero, when your baby wants to be close to you and be nourished and nurtured and get to know you. So just take the pressure off for that fourth trimester, that first 12 weeks, forget about routines, forget about trying to stick to some diet (diets don’t work anyway!), and forget about putting that pressure on yourself to do too much, just enjoy that fourth trimester with you and your bubby and be in that moment because you really, really need to.
You need to plan for this time. Instead of loads of baby shower presents tell your friends and family to bring meals after baby arrives, or vacuum the house! Some nourishing snacks to have in the fridge, there’s so many things that friends can do and bring over that makes a big difference. Just unpacking the dishwasher can be an absolute milestone a day for new mothers, so if someone comes over and does that for you, it’s just amazing.
Baby Carrying and Supported Recovery
Being able to have your baby snuggled in and still be able to do some things if you need to can be incredibly helpful. My third baby lived on me, because I needed both hands with the other two and I just lived in the Ergo Baby Carrier, I found that Ergo one of the best baby carriers. It supported me well through recovery with the right support and balanced weight. I could even breastfeed her in it! You have to remember, how you’re carrying, and what you do with your baby while you’re still in that recovery mode. Things like, how you’re lifting, how you’re moving, because motherhood is so physical. You’re bending over, you’re carrying prams, you’re lifting shopping, you’re carrying other children, you’re on your feet, nearly every day, so you know if you can learn how to lift correctly and how to exercise safely even during your pregnancy, it’s going to carry you afterwards in recovery mode.
Best Tips for New Mums on Post Natal Fitness
It’s really important to look after yourself, find a safe and effective exercise program, and something that works for you. It might be going for a walk for 10 minutes a day, or it might be going to yoga class, something that’s going to work best for you. I wouldn’t start exercising until you’ve had your 12 week medical clearance, and so you can enjoy that fourth trimester as well. One of the biggest tips is to begin slowly and consistently. I’d say have a goal of exercising two times a week. I often say to my ladies “I prefer you do 10 minutes 2 times a week and not go 2 hours twice a week” because it’s not achievable. Every day is different and you’ll going to find a lot more benefit from giving yourself some consistent exercise 2 or 3 times a week for 10 minutes. You'll get in the zone, you’ll feel good, and you’re going to get endorphin’s happening. Your fitness will gradually increase, and then you can start building up from there. So, you and baby sort of work out what you’re doing as well and you get into a better pattern then you’ll be able to work out what days/times and types of exercise work best for you and your family. It's also a good idea to mix it up a bit and include some variety! One day you might do a bit of yoga, another day you might go for a walk. Choose something that is going to make you feel good and make you happy.
Remember to mother yourself as well! Ask yourself "what is going to be good for me at this moment". You can do so many little exercises on YouTube for a quick pick-me-up! For a lot of my clients I develop a home program for them to do and they can do that at home, or at the gym and it can be adapted to where ever you are.
Life has Changed! Accept and Move Onwards
It’s also important to understand that what works for you before having a baby may not work for you after you’ve had a baby. Suddenly you have a little person that you need to take account of.
A lot of clients who are fantastic at exercising and love their exercise and go hard, before they’ve fallen pregnant, and then while they’re pregnant I say “Look, you got to take back a notch, you’re in maintenance mode, and after you have the baby you’re in maintenance AND recovery mode”. So you’ve just got to think, okay my body is in recovery. Also, every day is different with a baby. And every night is different, so it’s a totally different time schedule.
Resistance Training is a Key Part of a Healthy Exercise Program
One of the key things that is really important when you are exercising post baby is do some resistance training. This is great to do with a personal trainer or someone who can help you understand the right exercises for the post-natal period. That could be body resistance training, it could be Pilates, it could be with weights and doing it safe and effectively, because while you’re pregnant your baby is leaching Calcium from you, and a lot of women have Calcium deficiency and your bone density reduces.
For each pregnancy, your bone density gets lower and lower and resistance training helps to improve this. They’re finding a lot of women now in their 80’s, they’re encouraging them to do resistance training to improve their bone density to prevent Osteoporosis, it’s going to prevent joint pain, arthritis, all of that, and it’s not going to turn you into an Arnold Schwarzenegger!
So get out of that mindset that resistance training is going to make you big. A safe and effective program is really important.
Running and Pregnancy
A lot of women love running and then really miss it after being pregnant but again you just have to listen to your body. Women who jogged prior to pregnancy will get back into running a lot quicker than women who’ve never jogged before and you need to be really conscious of that. If you’re feeling too much pain ‘down there’, you’ve got to listen to that body and that’s not working. A lot of my clients who love jogging, I say “Let’s just start with a little jog, jog-walk, jog-walk, jog-walk and you have to begin to what works for you”. Then also back to that pelvic floor again, that doesn’t stop, if you’ve done pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy you need to do them afterwards and you need to do them safely and effectively! You also need to learn not only how to activate your pelvic floor but also to release it. Once again we talked about this before, it’s a muscle and its activating and releasing it, but it’s also learning to switch it on and switch it off, because we are finding there’s more women with an overactive pelvic floor these days.
Avoid Crunches after Birth, and Do These Instead
Also, when you’re getting into post-natal exercise don’t suddenly get down around doing crunches. A lot of women have separation in their tummy or Diastasis Recti and that’s really common, so don’t panic if you’ve got that. They often come around if you’re in hospital and they check your tummy and say “Oh you’ve got a two finger gap or whatever” but you just had a baby in there. So that’s completely normal, but you can learn some safe and effective core exercises that can help you. One of them is squats and learning how to squat effectively, there are actually studies out there now, that say you engage your tummy muscles more when you’re squatting than you do if you a plank. But learning how to do them properly, and it’s similar to the ones we’ve talked about in the pregnancy exercise podcast, you can get a fit ball up against the wall and against the small of your back and just squat down so your butt is in line with your knees, keeping your chest up tall. Thinking about engaging and lifting up through your lower tummy as you do that, is a good way to slowly start engage in the core muscles.
Another one is getting down all fours so you’re in tabletop position, and very gently, tilting your pubic bone up towards your belly button, but keeping your back nice and flat. So, you’re not trying to arch up like a cat and you’re always coming back to a nice flat neutral spine and that’s a really good one, you can actually start doing that one very slowly and gently in the first 6 weeks after you have a baby. It’s a really good one just to start reactivating your pelvic floor, and it’s going to help that lower tummy, that transverse abdominis, just to reactivate and re-engage. Once you start feeling strength down there and listening to your body, then perhaps you can move into something else but I do highly recommend you look for a safe and effective and certified program.
Nutrition is Important Too
“Just Eat Real Food”. I know it’s hard sometimes ,when you’re such a busy mum, so you just grab something out of a packet but just eating real, natural, nutritious food, is so much better for you and your baby. Eating nourishing food, like veggies! Just pack as many veggies in there as possible. I actually, on a Sunday, make a lot of green smoothies and line them up in the fridge, just in jars, and I grab them in the morning when I’m really rushed and drink them, so that’s a really good one for busy mums.
You’re going to be ravenous when you’re breastfeeding, absolutely ravenous. I wouldn’t think about how much you’re eating, because if you’re eating nourishing, healthy food your blood sugar is a lot more stabilized, and you’re not going to have those cravings where you’re going to reach for other options that aren’t as nourishing for your body, and if you’re eating good food it’s going to fill you up and keep you satiated for longer. I remember when I was breastfeeding I used to just bake a whole tray of sweet potato and I still do this now. I didn’t even take the skin off, I just wash it, chop it up, bake it in coconut oil and sprinkle some cinnamon on it. Leave in the oven for half an hour and I would pretty much eat the whole tray. Just snack on that throughout the day. So delicious, fresh, roasted veggies is perfect. Fruit is fantastic. Also, to keep your blood sugar levels stabilized, if you’re going to eat something sweet like fruit, compliment it with a protein and a fat so maybe these are fruit and nuts, a great one to have on board. If you’re going to have coffee as well don’t become too reliant on it, it does kick in your sympathetic nervous system which is your go, go, go and you need to be able to switch off and have a bit of down time.
Same with making sure you're eating your healthy fats, like avocado on toast with tomato, all those healthy nourishing fats really important too and they’re really important for your baby, for their growth, it’s going into your breast milk. Then, just avoiding refined processed foods. You need to get off processed carbohydrates, try to avoid white breads and white pastas, go for more wholegrain nourishing food because it is basically turning into empty calories. They’re processed too quickly and then once they’re empty calories if you’re not burning them, they’re going to be stored as fat.
You have To Eat Fat To Lose Fat
It comes back to when you’re eating your healthy fats, you basically have to eat fat to lose fat which can be a bit scary, because a lot of us have grown up with this ‘low fat diet’ mentality, but it’s really important because if it’s healthy fats, your omega 3’s will reduce inflammation throughout your body. They’re going to prevent heart attacks and they’re going to give you a good source of energy, so your body’s going to use them as energy. It will help you produce breast milk better and they’re also going to give you better skin and you’re going to glow. I actually throw half an avocado in my green smoothie in the morning and it’s really filling and delicious, it keeps me going.
Eat the rainbow, have a variety of foods, don’t start limiting yourself. Eat healthy, nourishing food, start being more mindful when you eat, am I hungry or actually, am I thirsty? As mums, we run around and forget to drink sometimes. You might actually be thirsty and not hungry, so have that water on board, drinking that.
If you look at my Instagram page it’s pretty much food, so I just love food and there is so many healthy and nourishing choices out there that can make and just planning a little. I know it’s hard when you are so busy with children, but it might just be grabbing an extra dozen eggs while you’re at shopping, boil them up on a Sunday keep those boiled eggs in the fridge, eat them on the go, smash them onto a piece of toast in the morning, eggs are one of the most nourishing foods ever. So having things like that on hand but you know, just helps you make healthy choices.
Breastfeeding Places Lots of Demands On Your Body. Tune In To What You Need
Once you start to make those healthy choices and start feeling good and not eating sort of junk food or processed foods, then when you do go to eat it you realize ‘Whoa I feel terrible, why am I so exhausted?” and it sort of makes you want to make those choices ongoing. Especially when you are breastfeeding because your baby is making different demands on your body all the time. Sometimes they might be going through a developmental spurt or other times they might just be feeding less. It’s actually difficult to know what kind of energy requirements your body is going to have. Tuning in to your actual appetite and what your body is calling for is so important, it’s a really bad time to try to do any kind of dieting or trying to count any calories.
Don’t even go on the scale. Listen to your body, it is a hard time because your body shape is not pregnant anymore, and you’re not back into your normal clothes, you’re still wearing half maternity clothes which is so hard because you’re not feeling 100% about yourself, and you know where you’ve been before and you want to get back to that.
Just nourish yourself with healthy foods and eat your fats. Make sure you have protein in every meal, once again protein satisfies your hunger, and it actually helps preserve your muscle mass so the more muscle you have and the more energy you’re going to burn and it actually raises your resting metabolic rate, so you’re going to actually be burning fat more naturally when you have that protein on board and it just stops you getting hungry.
Eat More Frequently
Also you should be eating more frequently while you’re a new mother, while you’re breastfeeding. Try to get out of that mentality “I should only be eating 3 times a day” or most ladies, what they do is have breakfast, survive on coffee most of the day and then have dinner and then they’re ravenous after dinner. You wonder why, it’s because you haven’t set yourself up during the day. You should probably be eating at least every 2 to 3 hours while you’re breastfeeding. So go for about 6 meals a day and go for a great breakfast, have your mid-morning snack, have your lunch, have another snack and just small healthy nourishing meals regularly, it’s going to actually boost your metabolism the more you eat your body’s going to fire up, you’re going to burn more energy and you’re going keep you and your bubby happy. You’ll produce enough milk, you’re going to have enough energy to do things and you’re not going to be hungry. Having that bottle of water on hand is really useful, it’s awful to sit down and start breastfeeding and then you realize you’ve got a dry mouth.
Thank you so much to Dahlas Fletcher for her tips! If you've enjoyed this interview please hit the LIKE button or share it on social media :) Thanks for reading!
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