How to Heal your Body After Birth and Get Safely Back into Fitness
As a postpartum fitness coach, one of the most common questions I get asked by new moms is, “what exercises can I do to lose my baby weight?”. It’s quite understandable that most moms are nervous of going back to their regular fitness routine – their body feels weak, sore, tired, or just different.
When it comes to postpartum fitness, I see new moms making the same two mistakes. They either workout too hard, too soon, or, they feel so tired, sore and scared to exercise that they avoid it all together. Both approaches are harmful to the delicate postpartum body.
So here are my 5 best practices for getting back into shape postpartum.
- Accept your new body
Your body will change from pregnancy, labour and childbirth, there is no way around this. Acceptance is the first step toward healing. Know that your body will bounce back but only with lots of intervention on your part, especially if you started your family in your 30s and beyond.
- You MUST restore your core
A weak, damaged core is at the root of ALL your pain, discomfort, and unhappiness with your body. Jumping back into fitness will only create more damage - this means pain and problems for the rest of your life and especially when you hit menopause. A strong, functioning core supports you no matter what you are doing and allows you to live a full life and get back to all the things you love! Regular exercise – running, crunches, lifting heavy weights – puts a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor and rectus abdominis (6-pack abs) and could hinder your efforts at healing. Targeted core and pelvic floor restoration exercises, combined with postural training is the BEST way to heal any postpartum dysfunction (abdominal separation, incontinence, prolapse, a thickened waistline and general weight gain). Proper core training targets all 4 of your core muscles – pelvic floor, diaphragm, transverse abdominals, and multifidus. This means Kegels alone don’t cut it.
- Stretch for strength
Flexibility is so overlooked in the world of fitness but is, in my opinion, the real fountain of youth – freedom of movement with no pain or discomfort is where it’s at. Make flexibility a priority as you get older so you can age without decline. One thing to note is that not all stretching methods are created equal. Passive (stretch and hold) type stretches take too long and any gains achieved are only temporary. Instead build flexibility on a foundation of strength – this is know as end-range strength building and is the type of stretching that dancers and gymnasts do. If you train your flexibility in this way, you will injury-proof your body, improve your posture and build long, strong muscles.
- Healthy habits over dieting
Breastfeeding moms often have the dual goal of wanting to lose weight while increasing their milk supply. This means balancing out nutritional needs of yourself and your newborn over a 1-2 year period. In order to do this, you need something sustainable that will serve you whether nursing or losing baby weight. Diets lead to confusion, interfere with body’s natural processes, are restrictive and generally lead us to give up on any weight loss efforts. Instead focus on the bigger picture, keep it simple, eat for longevity. A nourished body will recover faster which means more energy and time for your family.
The best diet for a nursing mom is a simple wholefoods diet. Think fresh, unprocessed, all-the-colours-of-the-rainbow type foods. Most nursing moms need about 300-350 extra calories per day – that’s about 2.5 chicken breasts (not a whole bucket of chicken)!
- Train smarter
Once your core is healed and you can start exercising properly again – aim for intensity or quality over quantity. The last thing you have time for is endless hours of cardio. You can work out long or workout hard but you can’t do both. Too much cardio is not good for the body. Our bodies start to break down muscle tissue for fuel and with less muscle in your body, your resting metabolism will drop. Your body then holds onto fat stores in anticipation of your next long cardio session. Yes, cardio does burn more calories minute-for-minute during your workout but the fat burning stops the minute the workout is over. A better approach is to workout less but with more intensity – combine strength training with high intensity cardio intervals. This burns up to 10 x more fat during and after your workout, builds muscle, improves fitness, and works the full body in less time. Don’t be afraid to lift those weights – strength training prevents injury, builds bone density, protects against disease and aging and increases metabolism. But perhaps the most important reality is that, while good nutrition reduces fat stores, lifting weights builds that sexy shape. Diet and cardio alone just won’t give you those sexy curves you’re after – muscle does that.
As a new mom, your life changes so much and it can be overwhelming to even think about exercise. But the best gift you can give to your family is your good health. Movement is medicine. Food is life. By prioritizing your health and fitness you are filling your own cup, creating a positive example for your children, and preserving YOU in this new equation of life.
Written by: Marise Dusheiko
Marise Dusheiko is a former professional dancer, Pilates instructor and post-natal fitness coach with over 15 years’ experience in the fitness and flexibility industries. Her mission is to help women safely rebuild their post-partum bodies and reconnect to their feminine power through movement so they can feel beautiful and confident again. For more info on her 12-week postpartum coaching program reach out via email@example.com.