Myths and Lessons Learned: The Breastfeeding Journey

I was talking to my cousin on the phone one day about 3-4 weeks after my little Nugget was born. She had a baby two weeks, to the day, after I did. “I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I feel like breastfeeding is the most unnatural natural thing ever.”

Yep.

I can tell you: I prepared for labor and delivery more than a lot of people (chalk it up to my OCD tendencies – needing to feel in control when I am not at all in the driver’s seat!). But one thing I was not prepared for was learning how to breastfeed. I just assumed, like most women I know, that it would come naturally. That it would be relatively easy. That it would be icing on the cake after pushing a watermelon out your hoo-ha.

Nope. Not necessarily true.

How many of us visualize our labors, thinking that after the baby makes his or her grand entrance into the world, we will be lounging on a chaise, sipping a cool beverage in one hand while cooing and smiling at the little person who tenderly nuzzles into your breast? Well, sure… when it goes right. But for a lot of us, it takes a long time to get it “right”.  And then just when we find our groove, something changes. My Nugget just turned five months, and I’m still learning. So, I’m here to share my story – to help you prepare, and accept, if things don’t fall into place right off the bat. While I’m at it, I might as well share a few of the things I’ve learned, and a few of the things I’ve learned to disregard.

Please note: I am NOT a lactation consultant, I have never been one, and I am not nearly as smart as one. All of what I write is based on my own experience, and just as with any other advice you might receive, 1) consult your chosen expert, 2) take what works for you and forget the rest. 

Myth #1: Breastfeeding is painless.

Eventually, this is true. But those first couple weeks are tough. From what I gather, it’s normal to have some pain when that little mouth is sucking away, before your nipples become used to it. The level of pain is what you probably want to pay closer attention to. I used to do a mental checklist to see if the pain was normal or something I should look into: 1) Check her latch. Often re-doing the latch several times makes the pain worse, so try to adjust as much as you can while baby is on the breast. Dr. Jack Newman has a great article on proper latching. 2) Does the pain subside after a few minutes? 3) After two weeks, are you still in so much pain that you either can’t nurse without ibuprophen, or dread feedings? If this is the case…

Lesson #1: SEEK HELP

I cannot stress this enough. Number three above? That was me. By week four, the pain was getting worse and worse. I had visited the lactation support group at my local hospital, and while it was nice to get some support from the other mamas in the room, I was disappointed with the advice I was getting from the nurses and more confused than ever. Supposedly her latch was great. She was still gaining weight like a champ. I was told that the pain would go away eventually, or told that I probably wasn’t experiencing pain, but just tingling (really?! Last I checked I knew what pain felt like.) Everyone seemed to be giving me conflicting advice.

Enter Amanda Ogden, at the mama’hood in Denver. My co-worker had enlisted Amanda’s expert advice when she gave birth to twins 7 months before, and swore up and down that she wouldn’t had made it without her. “Uh-huh, ok,” I would say when I was pregnant, and shove the post-it with Amanda’s contact info in my purse. But after enduring 4 weeks of increasing pain, I looked her up. I found that the mama’hood offered drop-in lactation group classes led by Amanda and her team – an affordable alternative to a one-on-one session. I knew that this was my last resort. If they couldn’t help me, I was giving up the boob.

Within 5 minutes of arriving to group, one of Amanda’s lactation superstars, Ginny, came up and introduced herself. I was undressing the Nugget, getting her ready for the weigh-in, and she was screaming. Immediately, Ginny noticed that my precious Nug was tongue-tied – and quite prominently. She explained how that could be the root of my intense pain, gave me a referral for a pediatric dentist, and made me feel like I was, in fact, SANE. After 2 hours at group, I walked away with so much more knowledge about all things breastfeeding, a plan for addressing my vasospasms (my pain even had a name!), and  some much needed emotional relief. So I wasn’t the only one that felt like this “natural” experience was totally difficult and unmanageable? Everyone in that room had an issue of some kind! And yet when I left, I felt reenergized to keep trying, and to figure it out.

Often we don’t seek help because we feel like we may be failing. We don’t want to expose our vulnerabilities. We are afraid we might be the only one who can’t get it right. But in reality, not seeking help may isolate us even more. Finding this group got me out of the house, it allowed me to meet other moms and babies, it gave me answers to my questions in a safe environment, with expert advice. Nothing was off limits. It helped me grow more confident and empowered and made me feel like, with a little support, I can provide for my child the way I imagined I would. In eons past, women used to teach other women how to feed and raise their babies. They would sit together and share stories, share advice, and even share milk. Now, we all expect we will figure it out on our own. Take it from me. Seek help. And if you can, do it before the baby is born. Put a recommended lactation consultant on speed dial. Because you may find yourself looking at your watch, realizing you have to feed your little one in another 2 hours, and having no idea how you’ll do it.

MYTH #2: Breastfeeding is the easiest option.

Cheapest? Yes. Most convenient? Yes. Easiest? Ha!!!

At about 3-4 weeks, I hit a wall. It was about the same time I was in pain… and sleep deprivation was at its peak. I had told myself “You just need to get through the first three weeks, and then you will be off and running.” Let me tell you, that worked for… the first three weeks. Then, when there wasn’t some magical epiphany, no spontaneous shift at that three week mark, my hormonal self came crashing down. Wait – you mean she still isn’t sleeping through the night? Wait, are you telling me I still have to pump or feed the baby every three hours? WAIT, you mean I can’t just go out and have a couple – few vodka gimlets to take the edge off?? I called or texted every woman in my life that has breastfed, and desperately pleaded. “This is going to change right? When do they start sleeping eight hours? When do I get to decrease the number of feedings? When can I HAVE MY LIFE BACK!?”

My pleas were met with encouraging words…. a lot of “you can do it” and “it does get better”…. but no concrete answers to my questions. Because, there aren’t any. Every baby is different, every story is different. The reality is this: when you are breastfeeding, it will be the closest you will ever be to your baby. Literally and figuratively, for better and for worse. You are living in a symbiotic relationship, which is sometimes Really. Freaking. Tough. Add to it the dietary restrictions you may have to take on if your little one has reflux (yep, right here) and it feels even harder. For me, giving up cheese and ice cream induced a few extra meltdowns.

But sometimes, it is absolutely beautiful. Like, take-your-breath-away-beautiful. When your baby starts taking breaks during feedings just to look up at you, smile and coo, your heart melts, and you realize, these are the moments that make it all worth it. It amazes me when I wake in the middle of the night, before I hear a cry, and think “She will need to eat soon…”. And without fail, five minutes later, she awakens. We are in synch. Two peas in a pod.

And it does get better, and quicker. Five minutes in the middle of the night is much more palatable than one hour. One or two glasses of wine is better than none. Giving up dairy has helped me shed some pounds. By four or five months, these kids are pros, and you feel less inhibited. Sure, some days I still think “It would be so much easier if I could just go away for 48 hours and not have to think about my boobs.” But then I remember, in the grand span of my life, this is actually a very small window of time.

I’m not here to tell you the reasons why I’d recommend breastfeeding, despite the difficulties. There is plenty of research if you’d like to school up. But I won’t be the one to tell you, because…

LESSON #2: Don’t Judge

There are too many people giving too much advice and too many women feeling too badly about themselves. Please, for God’s sake, let’s support one another. We are all passionate about our children. We all want the best for them. We are all doing our best for them. Our choices may be different, but our motivation is the same. What works for one will not work for another. Please, be forgiving of yourselves. Please, be compassionate to others. Please, stop telling each other they aren’t doing it right. All we can do is all we can do.

If all of us, as mamas, come together and support one another, think of the mountains we could move. The choices you make aside – formula or breastfeeding, cereal or vegetables, cloth or disposable, daycare or stay-at-home – our children look to us to lay the groundwork for their perspective on the world. We directly have the power to make a cultural shift. If we begin by tearing others down, what example are we setting? Let’s welcome everyone to the table.

MYTH #3: Pumping and Dumping 

Ok. So this is more about the actual Pumping part. I’ll get to the Dumping in a minute. Firstly, pumping is not as easy as you might think. In fact, in my case, my body seemed to hate the pump for the first few months I used it. My poor Nugget was being inundated with milk every time she ate, yet I would get next to nothing out of the pump. Our bodies are super smart. Why would I put out if I’m not getting that hormone high from that sweet little bundle resting on my chest? The mechanical whoosh-whoosh-whoosh just doesn’t give you the same warm and fuzzy feeling. This can make going back to work especially tough. I was losing ounces every day as Nugget increased her intake and I pumped less than what she was getting. Back to group I went. Now, armed with new membranes and new tubes for my pump, Mother’s Milk tea, the power of breast massage, videos of my baby on my phone and oatmeal for every snack, I’m starting to win the battle yet again.

So that is why when I hear my not-yet-mom friends say “Come out with us! You can always pump and dump!” I kind of cringe a little. Yeah, I’ve done it once or twice. But the thing is, when you have to work so hard for that milk, the LAST thing you want to do is dump it. In fact, I HAVE cried over spilled milk before: when I accidentally knocked over a freshly pumped, 6 oz bag. There are few things that create more anxiety for a breastfeeding mama than watching the freezer supply dwindle. Now, I’m slowly, slowly adding to my freezer supply… so that sometime in the future, when the next wedding or concert or girls weekend is upon me, I might actually be able to skip one feeding. But even so, I may not feel like sacrificing my liquid gold. Which brings me to…

Lesson #3: Breastfeeding is a Journey

Before I gave birth, I mistakenly thought that once you were past the first few hiccups, breastfeeding was mastered. Now I know better: it is an ongoing adventure. My timeline went a little like this:

Weeks 1-2: Mastered latching and positioning

Weeks 3-4: Mama still in pain – headed to the mama’hood breastfeeding group for help.

Weeks 4-5: Post tongue-tie frenulotomy (you think shots are bad, try watching your baby get her tongue clipped!): WAY less pain, baby relearns to latch and suck using her tongue. Mama and baby still attending group to keep tabs on weight gain and help decrease vasospasm.

Weeks 6-12: Baby gets fussy at breast during every feeding, can’t control milk flow. Not sure if it’s oversupply or fast letdown or both. Back to group to figure out how to help her manage.

Month 3: Baby develops reflux. Back to group when she won’t stop screaming. Mama reduces cow proteins and caffeine in her diet. Baby sees doctor for prescription to help acid reflux. Simultaneously Mama starts intensifying her exercise and wonders if there is a dip in supply. Back to group we go.

Month 4: Mama returns to work. Goes back to group when pumping was netting a loss in ounces during the work week.

Month 5: Baby seems interested in solid foods, and daycare starts suggesting cereal. Mama isn’t sure she wants to start solids until 6 months. Back to the mama’hood for the starting solids class.

….and now here we are. Month five, and new challenges. I’ve come to expect that every stage along this journey is going to be different and difficult in its own way. Yet, each stage will bring new beauty. Now, she laughs when she sees the breast -she gets THAT happy. My heart swells to know I can provide for her in a way that brings us closer, develops a lifelong bond, and keeps her healthy. This is what keeps me going. I also set short term goals for myself: I will try to breastfeed for six months, then re-evaluate. Who knows what will happen then. As I said before…. all I can do is all I can do. And that is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from breastfeeding: take each day as it comes. Despite the challenges,  breastfeeding my Nugget has been an incredible journey, and one I will never regret.

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Third Trimester Park Workout

Spring has finally arrived in Colorado and I’ve been itching to get out of the house! Its the best time of year- when exercise doesn’t feel like exercise but instead an excuse to get fresh air, soak up some rays and enjoy this gorgeous world.

Though my workouts are definitely much different than they were in the beginning of my pregnancy, I notice that my body feels much better when I’m keeping up my strength. I have shifted away from heavy cardiovascular sessions; my SI joints (where your pelvis meets your tailbone) were not having it, and all the added bladder pressure made it pretty uncomfortable. At about 35 weeks, I noticed my hip flexors would be all jacked up for a couple days after “doing cardio”…. And realized it was time to shift my focus.

At that point, strengthening exercises – using little more than my own body weight or an elastic band- felt so good. After weeks of feeling like my joints were spreading and stretching, pulling them all back in with muscle strength and control was just what I needed to feel like I was still making progress, and quiet the burgeoning aches and pains.

This park workout has been one of my recent favorites- just enough to get the blood pumping and to fatigue my muscles, but still leaves me feeling strong and pain-free at the end of it. You can make it difficult or simplify it as needed, day to day, depending on how you feel. Get creative and try to move your body in as many different planes of movement as possible to achieve a full body balancing effect. Here’s what worked for me:

1) Start with a brisk walk to the park (about a mile) where there is a 3/4 mile gravel-paved loop.

2) At the first bench, do a set of ten tricep push-ups, elbows in and legs a little wider than hip distance. Holding plank is always a good option to modify.

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3) As I walked I added in some lateral arm circles to hit the deltoids…

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4) When I got to the picnic table, I did step-ups on the bench. Start with one leg leading for ten reps, then switch sides for ten. Try to keep the hips as level as possible rather than hiking the hip on the way up. Use your arms in front of you for counterbalance but try to avoid pressing down on your thigh to get up. This is great for the glutes, core, and hamstrings when done correctly!

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5) At the next bench, I did some tricep dips, keeping my legs slightly bent to modify.

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6) Continuing around the circle, at the next picnic table it was side step-ups and lateral pelvic tilts. I have been trying to focus on glute medius strengthening, to take some pressure off my piriformis and relieve the hip aches and pains as my pelvis spreads. What does this mean? Lots of one-legged balancing, side leg work, and keeping my hips as level as possible!

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7) Continuing the walk around the loop, I added a shoulder rotation exercise and a row- always trying to counteract that rounding and hunching of my upper body! The key when doing these sans resistance? Don’t let your ribs pop open or your back arch. Isolate the movement in the shoulder joint only and you’ll feel much more.

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8) I took a break at the next bench to do hold plank, and side plank as long as I could… Reverse plank is another great choice which will open the chest, and work the back side of the legs. And as always, plank on the knees is a great option.

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9) Finishing out the loop, I did ten walking lunges on each leg, aiming to keep my ear, shoulder, rib, hip and knee in one line, and hips even with each other.

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Some days I do the whole circuit again before heading home. But if I start feeling more Braxton Hicks, I call it a day and walk the mile back to my house.

Remember to be adaptable. Maybe running five miles doesn’t feel good anymore or your hour long power vinyasa class is leaving you achy and sore. Or maybe you are a couch triathlete whose body is starting to hurt more as your pregnancy progresses and moving a little is just what you need. There are many different ways to add exercise into your day- the key is to remain open, listen to what feels good, and get creative. Your body and baby will thank you!

Welcome to the Pelvic Floor Revolution, Part Two

So, now that you’ve had a moment to digest the news that will rock your preggers world, I wanted to show you three ways you can add deep squatting into your prenatal fitness routine. The best part is, you need very little equipment, and you can do them in your living room! In fact, I demonstrated in mine.

1) Use an exercise ball to help you learn the movement

Start with your lower back against the ball, and the ball against the wall. Your feet should be about 25-30 degrees in front of your pelvis – this is so that, when you bend into your squat, your knees stay over your ankles and not in front of them. Your legs should be slightly externally rotated, into a position that feels natural to you. Bend your knees, aiming to bring your body to a straight vertical position, allowing your upper back and neck to roll onto the ball. Continue to push evenly into both feet, making sure your heels and toes equally carry your weight. Be sure that your knee caps are aiming directly over the second and third toe of your foot, trying to avoid internal rotation. Go as deep as you can support through the legs, keeping the core engaged by drawing the baby in towards your spine, and then engage your glutes (that means your BUM!) on the way back up. Aim for 10 repetitions, gradually increasing reps as you get stronger. And if you want a bigger challenge, you might add in a few arm exercises as you squat – say, anterior deltoid raises or an overhead press.

Starting Position

Starting Position

Squat Position

Squat Position

2)  Use your arms to help you go deeper

Once you have the feeling for the squat, use your arms to hold something in front of you. This more closely mimics the position of squat without assistance – notice that my body is pitched forward a bit more. Meanwhile you want to try to keep your chest lifted, and your shoulders back to maintain the neutral alignment of the spine. In this example, I’ve used my coffee table for support, but that means that as I stand up, I won’t have anything to hold onto. If you notice that you have a hard time balancing, you may want to use something that you can hold throughout the motion. For example, I love doing these while holding onto the TRX suspension trainer, with a very light grip. The lighter the grip, the more you are training your lower body to perform the work. Always remember to fire the glutes as you stand up, and watch your knee-to-toe alignment.

Remember to engage through the upper back, keeping the shoulders from rounding forward!

Remember to engage through the upper back, keeping the shoulders from rounding forward!

3) Use a towel when you are ready to let go

If you need just a little support under those heels in order to hold your squat comfortably, go for it. A rolled-up towel or yoga mat works well. As you descend into your squat position, keep your back long and your chest lifted. When you arrive in the squat, you may put your elbows on the insides of your knees, and gently press into the legs. This will allow your hips to open and spread wider. Not only is this a great exercise for toning the lower body, but this is a great way to begin preparing yourself for labor and delivery. Try holding this position for a few deep, cleansing breaths, and as you exhale, visualize your body opening up from the inside out. When you are ready to stand up, push equally into the toes and the heels, feeling the muscles on both the front and back sides of your legs contract. As you approach vertical, engage the glutes a bit more, and lift up through the abdominals, aiming to bring your pelvis to neutral (though, it probably won’t make it all the way there! A slight anterior tilt to your pelvis is just fine in pregnancy, but try to support it with some muscle strength in the core and bum!).

Aim to hold this position for 2-3 deep breaths with each repetition.

Aim to hold this position for 2-3 deep breaths with each repetition.

Stay tuned for more glute and prenatal exercises to come on my Work It Out page!

Welcome to the Pelvic Floor Revolution

silouhetteAt this point in your pregnancy, I’m sure you’ve heard or read something about Kegels, or the pelvic floor. Maybe this is your first introduction to the world ‘down under’ (there are muscles where!?) or maybe you’ve heard it all before. But I bet you haven’t heard this before: Kegels – long prescribed as the best exercise to tone the pelvic floor – are most likely NOT the be-all, end-all of pelvic floor health. Yep that’s right.

New research is showing that Kegels, when coupled with a weakness in the glutes, may actually contribute to pelvic floor disfunction. Before we get into the hows and whys, let me break down the terminology for all of you who aren’t familiar with the topic.

1) Pelvic Floor – a group of muscles that sit at the bottom of your pelvis like a hammock. Or, if it helps to envision your pelvis as a bucket, the pelvic floor are the muscles that create the bottom of the bucket. They surround the vaginal walls, the perineum, and the anus. When they are working properly, these are the muscles that help you control the flow of urine, prevent you from passing gas, and contribute to the strength of your orgasm. But they are also the muscles that must release in order to give birth. And yes – men have these muscles too – they cause “shrinkage” in cold water, if you know what I mean.

2) Kegels – These are exercises that are done by tightenting your pelvic floor.  Imagine an elevator travelling up inside your pelvis to the 5th floor, all while holding in a fart. That’s basically a Kegel; the point being to continually get stronger and tigher, pulling these muscles in more and more as you progress.

3) Isometric contraction – holding a muscle tight and strong for an extended period of time, not allowing it to change lengths or release. Iso = same, metric = length.

As a Pilates instructor, I’ve talked about the pelvic floor a LOT in the last ten years. It’s not uncommon to hear me musing over the way these muscles work at the dinner table (my dear sweet husband has certainly gotten used to his anatomy-geek wife! He barely bats an eye at this point!). For years I’ve told my clients to keep their pelvic floor muscles engaged, at about 30% contraction, as often as they can….and I said this because this was what I was taught. However, as I learned more about the body, this logic confused me. There is no other muscle in the body for which we prescribe an isometric contraction, all the time. Why would we do that with the pelvic floor?

When I teach anatomy to my future Pilates instructors, we discuss the importance of muscle balance: contractions that both shorten the muscle (concentric) and lengthen it (eccentric), as well as how each mobilizing muscle (agonist) works with an opposing muscle (antagonist) to create harmony of movement. For a joint to move effectively, with optimal efficiency and ease, the muscles on either side of it must take turns contracting and releasing in tandem, creating equal and opposite actions. In an ideal situation, it’s as if the muscles are creating a perfectly balanced tug-of-war; and though the tug-of-war is constantly shifting and moving, it’s always balanced. When a joint is balanced in such a way, we create a sense of stability for the joint at hand – our risk of injury and chronic pain is minimized. Most of the work I do as a Pilates instructor is carefully studying the movement habits of my clients, to see where there is an imbalance, or pathology. Then, I am able to choose exercises that will help them not only correct, but maintain muscular balance in various areas of their bodies over time.

Many new Pilates instructors, mindful of the term “stabilize” (which we use all too often) and lacking an experienced eye, will often confuse stability with rigidity. They hear terms such as “stabilize your pelvis,” and immediately think that holding the pelvis in a certain position (whether it be neutral, or the slight posterior tilt we refer to as a “scoop”) will achieve that goal. However, thinking back to the image of a balanced tug-of war, we realize this is not the case. The body and all of its components are meant to move – a concept that originates in the very cells of the muscle fibers, where a contraction is optimized only when myacin and actin have enough leverage to create traction; in other words, those little grippers inside the muscle that create contraction can only grip well when they have enough length to grab onto. Therefore if we approach stability from the standpoint of isometric contraction (holding still), we are not allowing the muscles to do their job, and in essence, creating inherent weakness. We are intended to be dyanamic, moving bodies, with the ability to react and respond to changing stimuli from outside our bodies. If someone accidentally bumps into you, and you try to stabilize by standing perfectly still, you will fall over. On the other hand if you try to stabilize by letting your body absorb the blow, take a step, and then recover, you probably won’t lose your balance. With these concepts in mind, I’ve tried to teach my clients to adapt their positioning for optimal stability as they move through the exercises.

So, to treat the pelvic floor as if these muscles function differently than every other muscle in the body perplexed me. To teach my clients to hold these muscles in a constant state of contraction when I was teaching something else for every other muscle group felt incorrect, but I couldn’t find any research to inform my instruction differently. The reality was, I just didn’t know any better. And now I do.

So without further delay, let me introduce you to some revolutionary information, presented by biomechanics expert Katy Bowman of Aligned and Well, who explains it better than I ever could. I invite you to read the two articles below and chime in – I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you read no further remember this: to prepare for pregnancy and post-natal rehab, stop Kegeling, and start squatting. Your body with thank you!

http://breakingmuscle.com/womens-fitness/stop-doing-kegels-real-pelvic-floor-advice-women-and-men

http://mamasweat.blogspot.com/2010/05/pelvic-floor-party-kegels-are-not.html

10 things I learned from the second trimester….

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Where has the time gone!? I’m now staring down 30 weeks, and a huge ‘ol belly. So, let’s take a moment to recap the last 15-ish weeks, shall we?

1) It turns out 9 months goes pretty quickly.

I distinctly remember a day when I was 10 weeks along, with a HUMONGOUS work deadline hanging over my head, feeling so tired that I thought I wouldn’t make it to 5pm, let alone my due date. And suddenly, here I am with just over 10 weeks left. Yowza.

2) It really isn’t so bad after all!

They call the second trimester the honeymoon period for a reason! My energy came back in full effect; I might even go so far as to say I felt like a rock star through most of the last 15 weeks. My motivation returned, my worries subsided, my confidence increased, and my mood swings and hormones chilled out. When the bump became visible, and I started feeling the baby move, the excitement of expecting a baby really set in. There is indeed a pregnancy glow… and it feels like a million bucks.

3) And then, you try to find something to wear.

Let me clarify. The getting bigger part isn’t really the issue. It’s more the awkward in-between stage of not fitting in your regular clothes but not quite big enough for your maternity clothes…. That’s the thing about the second tri: there’s an art to finding the right ensemble to show off the best assets of your new body (hello D cup! Where did THAT come from??) without feeling like you look like you are swimming inside a maternity tunic that gives you no shape whatsoever. My husband came to expect an added 10 minutes, 5 outfit changes, and at least 2 outbursts of “I have nothing to wear!” every time we got ready to go somewhere.

4) Don’t ever call a pregnant woman “chubby”

Here’s a good rule of thumb. Before you offer your two cents about my burgeoning belly, check yo-self. If you wouldn’t say it to me normally, then definitely don’t say it to me when my hormones have me by the jugular. “You are so BIG!” or “Look how chubby you are!” or “Wow, I thought you were much further along!!” are not compliments, no matter HOW sweetly you say them. Just chill already. Yes, I’m getting bigger by the day. Yes, the baby is growing (thankfully). No, I do not need to hear your comparisons to your brother’s first wife’s cousin who carried so much smaller than I am at this stage. And this rule applies doubly if you are a nurse or assistant at the hospital. Please don’t weigh me and then say, “Wait, that can’t be right. Let’s check again.” Seriously, people, here’s the deal. Some weeks we pregos grow faster than other weeks. It’s not consistent. It’s not the same for everyone, and it’s certainly not something we are completely oblivious to. It’s best to comment on things that make me feel good, or ask how I’m feeling, or tell me congratulations. But if it’s something you wouldn’t dare say normally, don’t say it at all.

5) Body Pillows: Best. Invention.Ever.

There is a another love in my life, and it’s name is Snoogle.

6) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

I knew water was important, but getting the flu really drove the point home. After my insides were ravaged by the virus, I had nothing left in me, and almost ended up in the hospital from dehydration. I experienced some pretty serious Braxton Hicks, and it was enough to scare me into drinking my weight in water every day. And if you need another reason to drink up, just think: it might even help prevent stretch marks.

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7) Take a babymoon!

It’s not just a made-up marketing hoax to get you to spend more money. It’s really actually quite lovely to get away for a bit without thinking of the million things you need to do before baby arrives. Even if you just go check into a bed and breakfast for a few days, I totally advocate getting out of your house, out of your daily routine, and spending some quality time with your sweetheart, doing nothing but relaxing, and eating good food. The truth is, there are moments when planning for your arrival can be a little stressful. Take one look at my white board list and you’ll see why I had trouble sleeping for a couple weeks. But then, we decided to take a weekend getaway. We laid by the pool at our hotel, our minds doing nothing more than brainstorming baby names and dreaming about what the baby will look like… and it was glorious. And, when will you have the chance to do this again without a little one?

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8) “Are you STILL working out?”

Yep. I am. And I feel good about it. Sure, I have to take each day as it comes and listen to my body. But seriously, people – I’m pregnant, not paralyzed (thank the Good Lord). I can’t tell you how many stares I’ve received while exercising, and how many people have asked me this question (or some version of it) while implying that I’m out of my mind. Here’s the thing: when I exercise my joints hurt less, my back hurts less, I sleep better at night, my emotions stay in check, I have more energy, and I enjoy my pregnancy more. So as long as I remain vigilant to the cues my body gives me, and as long as my doctor says I’m a-ok, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on.

9) That said, my workouts have changed.

As my body changes, so do my workouts. Lately, an hour of yoga makes my tailbone tender for the rest of the day, so I switch it up to a half hour of yoga or a short jaunt on the elliptical. Jogging now makes me feel like the baby is using my bladder as a trampoline, so I do a pre-natal cardio DVD instead. It’s all about listening, and adapting. There are a lot of options. Finding what works for you, on that particular day, is the goal.

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10) Nesting is precious.

Cherish the process. Preparing the nursery has made me calm, excited, sentimental and reflective, all at once. From the moment we painted the room, I didn’t want to leave it. With each new piece of furniture and each generous gift from our family and friends, I realize: this little one is already so loved. We are truly, truly blessed, and I can’t WAIT to meet this little soul.

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A new year, a new perspective

new years

I love the energy that comes with a New Year. So many of us recognize January 1 as a day of new beginnings, new opportunities, and new adventures.  If last year wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be, December 31 is a clean break – a time to say goodbye to the dissapointments, frustrations, and fears of the year that has passed. It’s a line in the sand, allowing us to let go of what isn’t serving us, and embrace all that lies ahead. On the first day of the year, it seems like the possibilities for our future are endless…

Working in the fitness industry means I get to experience the New Year, New You Energy ten-fold. After two typically slow months in the gym, people return in droves, with fresh resolutions, fresh excitement, fresh motivation and a fresh outlook on the world, and themselves. The energy in the air is palatable. It inspires and motivates me to bring the best to my teaching, to help everyone that I meet achieve that goal they’ve set their mind to…

…And then sometime around mid to late January, the energy starts to shift again. Some people fall off the wagon, get frustrated or feel they’ve failed, and remain so discouraged they decide it’s easiest just to forget that resolution anyway. Others get crabby, angry at the throngs of people vying for their parking space, or their locker, or their favorite treadmill. Still others push on, trying to maintain the commitment they made to themselves to make THIS the year… only to find out it’s a lot harder and takes a lot longer than they thought. They start to wonder if they will ever lose that weight, or recover from that injury….

Really, it doesn’t matter if your ‘resolution’ is fitness-related, or work-related, or family-related, or anything else: this cycle is all too common. Riding the wave of possibility and lavishing in the liberation of a blank slate, we set our sights high, creating resolutions that we just KNOW we will stick to. This will be the year, goshdarnit. And then, when and if we fall behind, we beat ourselves up, often feeling worse about ourselves than we did before we made the resolution.

What if instead of making a RESOLUTION, we decided to approach the new year with RESOLVE? These two words are rooted in the same meaning, yet their connotations are markedly different. A resolution is a lofty goal, often hard to keep, and often broken. But when you posess resolve, you posess the drive and determination to soldier on towards a better you, despite the difficulties, despite the obstacles, despite the 5 cookies you had for dinner last night. Resolve is what will guide you, keeping your end-goal in sight, while allowing you to forgive yourself of the small setbacks you are certain to encounter along the way. A resolution may break in an instant; resolve will help you to keep your eye on the prize.

My mom always told me that fitness isn’t a destination, it’s a lifestyle. And it’s true. In the grand scheme of your life, one rough day will not make or break your goal. But the discouragement you feel when you beat yourself up for breaking a resolution could last for days or months, paralyzing you.

So I urge you to think about this: in what area of your life do you wish to see a positive change?  What are the simple things you can add into your day to help you make that change? Once you’ve identified it, RESOLVE yourself to keeping that end goal in mind, no matter the setbacks. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake. Forget the rough days: sleep them off and start anew tomorrow. Soon enough your good days will outnumber the difficult days. And before you know it, your resolve has set you free.

Happy New Year, my friends. Cheers!

Exercise for the Expecting: Guidelines to Remember

By now, I’m sure you’ve all figured out that I am a big proponent of exercising during pregnancy… in fact, I’m a big proponent of exercising, period. Still, there are a multitude of benefits that come from keeping up with a regular fitness routine during pregnancy in particular. These include, but aren’t limited to, maintaining a healthy pattern of weight gain, better sleep patterns, stress and anxiety relief, better circulation,  less risk of C-section, fewer joint pains, regulating blood pressure, easier weight loss post-pregnancy, and shorter, easier labor and delivery. Nevertheless, there are also special considerations to keep in mind for exercise while you are expecting. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind in order to work out with care and confidence.

1)  Clear everything by your doc first.

Just as no two women are the same, no two pregnancies are the same either. Certain conditions and complications may make exercising difficult, or worse, contraindicated. Make sure you have clearance to continue your exercise routine before you  proceed.

2) This is not the time to train harder, faster or longer.

If you have been working out regularly, you can most likely continue your fitness routine (refer to point 1). That said, you should not be trying to increase your fitness levels or intensity. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to bring your intensity down by about 15% in every workout. Think less weight, more reps, for example. Use the talk test during activity; if you can’t hold a conversation, bring your intensity level down.

Here’s a thought: cardio intervals are a great option to replace endurance training. Try 15-20 minutes of more vigorous cardio, and then 5-10 minutes of a lighter intensity, bringing the heartrate back down, and repeat. Not only does this pattern help you keep your cardiac output in check, but it also simulates the natural interval rhythms you will experience during labor. After all, you are in training for a very important event.

3) Keep your body temperature reasonable.

It’s ok to sweat. It’s ok to get a little warm. But is this the time to be drenched in the middle of a packed Hot Yoga class?? I would say no. If you are fully red in the face, you may be too warm. Remember, your body’s way of cooling down is to sweat. But that little baby inside does not have the ability to self-regulate body temperature or sweat just yet. If you get too warm, think about how warm Little One is inside that cocoon! Just as you would avoid a hot tub, it’s probably best to avoid working out in hot rooms during pregnancy.

Additionally, STAY HYDRATED. Remember that if you are working out, you need to drink even more water than usual. Dehydration can lead to some pretty scary things if left unchecked. I’m not going to freak you out. Just suffice it to say that Little One is swimming in amniotic fluid, which is, in large part, water. So drink up!

4) Avoid plyometrics, excessive range of motion, val salva maneuvers and impact sports.

Avoid whah…?!? Let me translate. Your body is now inundated with a hormone called Relaxin, which is preparing you for birth by stretching the muscles and ligaments around your joints. This creates a certain amount of instability, and often it’s harder to recognize your limits. So avoid plyometrics: quick, rapid, impactful movements that change direction quickly. For instance: repetetive jumping, sprinting, etc.

Avoid excessive range of motion: stretches or exercises that push your flexibility to it’s limits, and especially when weight is involved. Work within a range of motion that is manageable for your shoulders, knees, hips and back. Avoid forcing a stretch, or stretching for too long. 10-15 seconds in a stretch should be plenty at one time. If you still feel tight, alternate sides and stretch twice.

Avoid val salva maneuvers: this means no holding your breath while exerting force. When lifting weight, make sure it’s not so heavy that you are forced to stop breathing. When you are performing an isometric exercise like a plank, breath through it, and focus on that breath. Synchronize your movements to your breath, making sure your muscle contractions remain dynamic (growing tighter gradually, then gradually releasing), rather than contracting your muscles in a static, rigid fashion. Getting into the habit of breathing and moving in this way will also help in the delivery room.

And no impact sports – this is also for your safety and the safety of the baby. Basketball, volleyball, skiing, snowboarding, water skiing…. really anything that has an inherent danger of 1) colliding with someone else, 2) colliding with the floor, or 2)  falling and falling FAST should be avoided.

5) Be aware of your posture.

Your posture will change substantially in pregnancy, in part because of the growing belly, in part because of the growing breasts, and in part because of the relaxin. You will most likely develop more of an anterior tilt to the pelvis: this means your hip bones will move forward and downward, giving the appearance of “sticking your butt out”. This will also increase the extension curve of your lower back. As a result your lower back muscles and your hip flexors will tighten while the abdominals become weaker, and stretch out to acommodate baby. Simultaneously, the hamstrings may feel as though they are getting tighter, even though they are lengthening. The muscles in the back side of your body, aka the posterior chain, are forced to work much harder in order to counteract all the growth and weight in the front of your body. Before moving, bring some awareness to your posture and dynamically engage the muscles of the core and posterior chain. Furthermore your shoulders may also begin to round forward more with the added weight of the breasts, and in response to the ever-growing arch in the lower back. Keep reminding yourself to roll the upper arms outward, slide the shoulder blades in toward the spine, and slide the shoulders down your back.

6) Avoid prolonged periods lying on your back after 20 weeeks.

As the baby grows, lying flat on your back for a longer period of time can interfere with your circulation, specifically bringing blood back to the heart. The baby will lie right on your vena cava, preventing proper circulation, and therefore oxygenation. That means it’s time to get creative with your sleeping and fitness patterns!

7) As your belly grows, start reducing supine flexion and twists.

Supine flexion = lying on your back doing a sit up. Twists = well, twisting the spine. As you start to get bigger, diastasis recti, or the splitting of the 6-pack stomach muscles, is a possibility. Try to avoid over-doing traditional cruch style exercises. Instead, focus on some of the more subtle core exercises which target the deep abdominals, and those working from a seated position as opposed to lying flat (check my Work it Out page for ideas!). If you have two feet in the air and you feel a lot of tugging or strain, back off to just one leg, or none. When you twist, be sure you are doing so from a comfortable seated position rather than starting in a position that already causes you discomfort or forces you into a slumped position. Eventually, back off these types of exercises all together. You can still tone and tighten your over-stretched abdominals, but focus exercises that target your transverse abdominis and obliques.

8) Feel off balance? You probably are!

Balancing exercises from a standing position will continually be more challenging throughout your pregnancy. Even exercises on two feet are sometimes more difficult! Your center of gravity is shifting daily, making standing upright a new challenge every time you workout. If needed, broaden your base of support by widening your stance. Check your posture and engage your glutes. Hold your arms out to the side to help you balance, or keep your hand on a chair or wall for support. Holding your arms overhead will be more difficult, so perhaps it’s best to avoid moving from that position for now.

9) Heed the warning signs.

If you feel at ALL lightheaded, nauseous or dizzy, stop what you are doing. Furthermore, stop exercising until you speak with your doctor if you experience any of the following: vaginal bleeding, leakage of amniotic fluid, extreme calf cramping or pain, or decreased fetal movement. Please pay attention to your body… and that brings me to my last point:

10) Doubt means Don’t.

I say this a lot. And yes, it’s my favorite phrase. You know your body, you know what feels good and what feels strange – make sure you pay attention. If you have any hesitations or reservations about what you should or should not do, it’s best to hold off until you speak with you doctor. Your number one priority right now is your health and the health of the baby. If you don’t break a sweat one day, don’t fret – it’s not the end of the world. Your job is to maintain your level of fitness during this 9 months, and over-doing it can be as bad or worse than not doing anything at all.  You will have plenty of chances after baby is born to push your limits; for now, enjoy this time. Revere your body, and the miracle it is producing. The wisdom of our bodies is immeasureable, and we are simply tasked with letting it flourish.