During my first pregnancy, I gained an unhealthy amount of weight. I enjoyed both my pregnancies to say the least. I ate whatever I wanted to — which in hindsight was not a very healthy way to live. The amount of weight I gained wasn’t what disturbed me though. What disturbed me later was the realisation that the junk I ate had absolutely zero nutritional value. This, aided by no exercise, led me to develop a very unhealthy lifestyle.
As soon as the baby was out, I hit the gym. My incentive wasn’t to lose a drastic amount of weight, but I wanted to be a more fit, healthier mom. I have never been one to starve myself, or even deprive myself of something I might really be craving. I knew from the get go that my nutrition and workout plan had to be slow, steady, and consistent. The first time I hit the gym after 9 months of exercise and an unhealthy lifestyle, it was painful. Most of my muscles had been left sedentary for a very long time! I quickly hired a personal trainer to come to my home and began to cut out carbs. It was something I had never done before – and obviously it was something that didn’t suit me while breast feeding. Reality struck instantly after giving birth, and I realized that it would take me much more time than I had anticipated to ease back into my desired physical shape than I had expected.
My pelvic floor needed work, my core muscles had become weak, and I was downright tired from sleep deprivation – and naturally very stressed! Studies show that steady prenatal yoga students shared a similar experience with atrophied muscles, bad posture, an achy body, and general fatigue. Postpartum fitness is an entirely different ball game from what we know and expect otherwise, and even the most laser focused new moms find that their fitness takes a backseat to the newest member of their household.
To get back into a postpartum exercise routine, new mothers should always be realistic and patient. It takes around 40 weeks to form the pregnant body, and it could take nearly as long to fully return to your pre-pregnancy self. I am not talking about body shape and size — I am talking about muscle and bone strength too, which is definitely more important in the long run. Whether your labour was long and arduous or surgical, the body undergoes a huge burden and transformation during the process.
By my second pregnancy I had a better understanding of my body; of the changes that come with being pregnant, the amount of risk my body can take, the weight and force it can handle, and of course, how to find healthy alternatives to unhealthy cravings. My second pregnancy was spent mostly in London and was an absolute breeze. I went for long walks every day, took pre-natal exercise classes and binged on Ben and Jerry’s when I felt like giving myself a treat. I developed a new love for fruits and vegetables, but an aversion to over cooked and oily food. It was the beginning of a healthier lifestyle.
Once the baby was out, my newly developed healthy lifestyle tided me over for a little more than a month until I got back to the gym. Most doctors insist women avoid exercising for 6 months post a c-section. While most women aren’t quite ready for any kind of rigorous fitness regimen so soon after childbirth, others find staying away from the gym during the postnatal period an incredibly tough ask—especially if they’ve been working out throughout their pregnancy.
I was so desperate to blow off some steam that I joined Fatima Zara Malik at the FZM Boutique Fitness. I had enjoyed a pretty fabulous experience with FZM and her team while being pregnant. Trained in pre and post-natal fitness, these extraordinary trainers helped me work my core muscles out during my second pregnancy. I rejoined FZM soon after my baby was born, and went back to working on strengthening my body.
First thing’s first, no matter how healthy you feel, the act of giving birth shouldn’t be taken lightly or underestimated. Always with your OB/GYN’s approval, start off slow. Take brisk walks and do Kegel exercises so you can regain strength in your pelvic floor.
Roughly 6 to 8 weeks after birth is the optimal time to become active again. Most vaginal lacerations are almost finished healing, and C-section incisions are completely closed. The uterus would have returned to the lower pelvis and abdominal exercises won’t be uncomfortable anymore.
Do your best to create a feasible exercise schedule that you can commit to, but remember it’s going to take time to rebuild your strength, stamina, and muscular endurance. Set small, attainable, goals that you can conquer and maintain. Women who were active before pregnancy can return to their normal activities including running, weight lifting, swimming, or whatever else it may be. Once you progress onto some heavier activities, pay attention to signals your body may give. Some women find the bleeding they experienced which had tapered down becomes heavier again. This is one of the signs that indicates your body needs more time to heal before a post-pregnancy workout plan.
Beyond that, the most important step in post natal recovery lies in healthy eating. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding create extra demands on women’s bodies. Some of these may affect their bones. The importance of calcium rich food such as milk, cheese and other dairy products should be consumed in the doubles.
If you’re nursing, your body needs a surplus of 500 calories a day to work the way it is meant to. A healthy diet is a balanced diet, and consists of a variety of foods. Try to eat a mix of fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy each day.
Although I personally do not enjoy eating meat, it is still vital to consume foods that have protein like milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish and beans. Protein rich foods are important to help you recover from childbirth and keep your body strong. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of fluids (water, milk, and fruit juices), especially if you are breast feeding. Perhaps the most painful advice to give and follow is to limit junk foods. Sodas, cookies, donuts, potato chips, and french fries all have to go!
I understand the sudden itch to drastically shed off all your baby weight. I’ve been there. It is so much more important to lose the weight safely, especially when your post partum body is healing. Talk to your doctor about safely losing weight after your baby is born. They’ll be able to help you the best, because the have the most personal knowledge about pregnancy experience. Losing weight too quickly can affect your breast milk supply too, amongst other things.
While my post-natal health journey was strict and slow, one thing I never compromised on was taking pre and post-natal vitamins. I actively went to the lab, got my blood work done, and asked my doctor to prescribe me vitamins. Post-natal recovery is a journey, and how well you treat your body will determine how you heal!