Postnatal fitness: an exercise in patience, priorities, perspective

They call it the fourth trimester, and for good reason. Raise your hand if you still feel like you are renting yourself out to a small human! Stand up if you feel like you are living in an unfamiliar body with a mind of its own! Can I get an AMEN!?

Whether you are nursing, up every hour in the middle of the night, losing your hair in clumps in the bathroom shower, smelling differently than you remember, or contemplating whether you should charge admission for those who ride the roller coaster of your emotions, you are probably still learning this new version of YOU.

Now, that’s not to say that this YOU is permanent. I have to imagine that eventually, once the hormones are on their merry way and our babies are old enough to run around the house like banshees, we will feel like ourselves again. Of course that stage will present its own challenges, but for many of us, the fourth trimester is an unexpected purgatory between being pregnant, and being the SuperMom you always envisioned yourself to be.

Finding time, energy, and motivation to work out during this stage is a challenge to say the least. It usually goes something like this:

Scenario A: You finally have the energy to work out, and maybe even the time, if your baby is gracious enough to give you a nap longer than 30 minutes, or your partner gracious enough to take over for a bit. You are determined to up your intensity and give it all you’ve got in that small window of time to lose the spare tire. But… you can’t make it to the gym and back in that time frame, and if your sweetheart isn’t home, you sure aren’t paying for daycare just to hit the treadmill. Scenario B: Baby won’t nap. At all. Not to mention, baby didn’t sleep at all last night, which means mama didn’t sleep. Finally, baby settles and either a nap, a shower, or a glass of wine wins over a workout. Scenario C: You are really doing it. You’re a working mom. Power suit by day, silly faces by night. But by the time you pick up your little one at daycare, battle rush hour traffic, figure out something for dinner, feed the baby, read bedtime stories and rock her to sleep, it’s already 8:00 pm and all you have the mental capacity for is trolling facebook.

All three of these scenarios, and several other wildcard situations (um, the cat puked twice?! on two carpets!?) have played themselves out in my life in recent weeks. So what’s an active girl to do?

Well, I do have a few suggestions, which I’ll introduce today, and continue to build upon in coming weeks. But first, I think it’s wise for us to all take one step back, and reframe the way we view postnatal fitness. In other words, considering the new circumstantial and physical challenges we have to contend with, let’s set ourselves up for success.

Patience

….with yourself, with your body, with your baby, with your partner. Patience with losing weight. Patience with gaining strength. We all just need a little patience (cue Guns ‘n Roses). You’ve probably heard the adage “It takes 9 months to put it on, it will take 9 months to take it off.” Or, it might take more. Here’s the deal: feeling fit and strong is not going to happen overnight. Losing 15-30 pounds would have taken awhile even when you were childless and could afford the luxury of 2 hour gym sessions. Now, you have so much more to contend with. And here’s a lesson I’ve learned: if you are nursing, you may have to be even more patient. When I hit the three month mark, I decided to intensify my workouts with the sole purpose of burning fat. And guess what? My milk supply hit the skids. The main components of breastmilk are water, fat and protein. If you work out like a maniac, depriving your body of the first two, you might trade in a few pounds for a ton of anxiety and a screaming child. For me, it wasn’t worth it. My colleague Kristin McGee blogged about this very topic on the Rosie Pope blog – and in my opinion, every new mom could benefit from reading her take on holding on to the mummy tummy.

Priorities

So that’s just it. Breastfeeding, for me, was a priority over losing weight – at least right now. At the end of the workday, I’d rather spend 30 minutes on the floor with my Nugget before she goes down for the night than trying to get a run in before the sun sets. That said, on a Saturday morning, I try to get my workout over with before the rest of the day catches up to me: the laundry can wait. Cleaning the bathrooms can wait. Life is about balance, and it’s about prioritizing. Be clear with yourself about your priorities – make a deal with yourself that feels manageable, and then stick to it. And by sticking to it, I mean no self-induced guilt trips when the only workout you can fit in is a walk around the block. Believe me, this is easier said than done.

Perspective

It’s time we, as a culture, shift our focus. When we see the 4th trimester played out in the media, it’s usually either A) admiring a celebrity who has returned to a bikini-ready body about 6 nano-seconds after having a child, B) the newsworthy moment when some brave soul decides to show the reality (thank you Kate Middleton!), or C) articles, videos, and news segments about how to get back your “pre-baby body”. Let me just hop up on my soap box for a moment. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET BACK TO YOUR PRE-BABY BODY, becuase….. YOU’VE HAD A BABY. It’s not just about added weight. Your proportions might change, your proprioception and balance might change, for goodness sake, your hair might even change. It’s time we also change our perspective. Instead of trying to get back your pre-baby body, work towards your best body now. Think of it this way: being pregnant means that your body takes on a mind of it’s own in many ways – trying to accommodate the life will soon spring forth from its loins. You only have so much control. So afterwards, it’s like you have turned a new page, into a new chapter. Your body has pressed the reset button. You now have to start from scratch… but starting from scratch also means that you have a clean slate. Begin with the basics. Start with your alignment. Develop proper form. Rebuild your fitness foundation from the ground up, rather than trying to catch up to where you were before. Trust me on this one. You will be better off in the long run.

In the coming weeks, I will be adding some postnatal specific workouts to my Work It Out page and YouTube Channel. Yes – there are safe, time-efficient, results-driven workouts out there. But remember this postnatal motto: Something is better than Nothing. Take a walk with your partner and push that stroller a little faster than you would normally. Go a little further than you did yesterday. Walking is a great choice when you can’t sweat it out, and bonus – it might just put your kiddo to sleep, or help you brainstorm your next big idea. Please, whatever you do, stop comparing yourself to where you were. It’s time to look around, take it all in, and realize that where you are now is actually pretty damn great.

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3 thoughts on “Postnatal fitness: an exercise in patience, priorities, perspective

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