Postpartum Health and Fitness Journey: How I Got Back to My Pre-Pregnancy Body Weight and Fitness Level
I am quickly learning that there are SO many wonderful things about motherhood. But let’s be real – it isn’t perfect, there are always challenges, and “new” motherhood is a big adjustment in every way; and I’m only six months in (eek!)! From a health and physical fitness standpoint, I have found that getting to the point where I feel like myself again has been harder than I anticipated. In my conversations with other (new and experienced) moms, it seems that this is a common (valid) feeling and concern. Add to that crazy hormones ;-), and it can really impact confidence and body image.
With this in mind, I thought I would share my general health and fitness routine which has finally helped me feel like “me” again, including how I got back to my pre-pregnancy body weight and fitness level. There have been many ups, downs, challenges, and things that went south (literally and figuratively, ha ha), and I am opening up about that as well. While exercise science/health is my area of professional expertise and most of what I try to do aligns with research and my own field/personal experiences, everyone’s pregnancy and postpartum experience is different. Therefore, my exact routine may not be the best fit for everyone. I simply hope those who have felt the same way or are looking for some guidance in this area might find something that I’m sharing helpful, such that you can apply to your life in a way that works for you. BUT whatever you do, please embrace where you are now, love yourself and your body, and no matter what feel proud that you “grew” a human…which is a pretty kick butt thing to do.
Below you will find a general outline of my current workout and dietary regimens, including what I wish I could modify to improve my routine, as we are both still a work in progress, :-). I have also listed out some “trainer tips” below each section that you might find helpful (do not miss the text between photos). Oh, and in case you are wondering, my answer to feeling more fit and losing my baby weight is NOT going to be “breastfeeding” ;-)… and I am talking about that too.
Cardio: 4 x/wk, aiming for 40 minutes per session
- I typically run 3 times per week for 40 minutes + indoor row 1 time per week for 15-25 minutes, interspersed with kettle bell and functional weight lifting exercises (for a total workout time of 40 minutes).
- Not only does this tend to work for me, research shows that this is the most ideal frequency and duration for weight loss as well.
- I am fortunate that grandma takes Colton for a handful of hours two days per week while I run, clean, and do errands; and I have an agreement with Brandon that I have time to run one time on the weekend. Otherwise, I try to fit the rowing or any missed runs in around naps, which can be a challenge because Colton is not the best napper. I do love my Baby Jogger stroller which has come in very handy now that Colton is old enough to ride in the stroller without the car seat/adapter.
- Tip: Avoid having an all-or-none mentality. Just 10 minutes of cardio during a lunch break can improve health, and if you can fit in activity for 10 minutes, 2-4 times throughout the day, this cumulative approach will improve fitness just like one continuous exercise session. Also, if you have a good stroller and safe place to walk, take advantage!
- Tip: If you work outside the home, take advantage of uninterrupted lunch breaks for workouts, or negotiate with your employer to work through lunch and leave early to work out. I also highly suggest compromising on a weekend system with your spouse where you get to, for instance, work out and get your nails done while he watches the kids; and then he gets to go enjoy one of his hobbies.
Weight training: 1 x/wk (I am hoping to add another day as weather gets colder and I have to be inside more often)
- I would love to weight train 2-3 times per week, but time doesn’t allow right now. I usually weight train on the days that I row, including exercises such as kettle bell swings, clean and press’, squats, lunges, rows, push-ups, and TRX exercises.
- I also try to throw in other body weight resistance exercises with Colton when I can such as “kiss the baby” pushups, planks, or pushing him overhead. We also made the mistake of building a house with a lot of stairs, so carrying an almost-20lb. baby around the house is good for my arms and back side, lol.
- Tip: Incorporate your little one as much as possible, like I indicated above. Also look for ways to add resistance exercises to your cardio routine, such as lunges on all uphill portions of a run; or pushups, step ups, and tricep dips on a bench as you walk through the park.
- I walk Colton and Nala outdoors as much as possible. This can be a challenge to fit in, but it really adds up and we all feel better mentally and physically :).
- I sometimes squeeze in a short yoga video and I wish I could say I do this weekly as I feel SO much better. Time, however, doesn’t always allow, in which case I lightly stretch.
- Tip: Research shows energy expended during very brisk walking with a jogging stroller may be equal to a light jog (assuming equal distance), so take advantage of that extra cargo (and your fur kids)!
MY DIETARY INTAKE
Healthy eating: I try to eat as healthy as possible, including a large variety of colorful veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- I am not one to strictly count calories, but when I am trying to “refine” things, I aim to stick to about 1500-1700 cal/day. I aim for this range because most adult females need around 1800-2200 calories/day (more if nursing/lactating), and a deficit of 500 calories/day is necessary to lose one pound per week. Therefore, reducing intake by ~250 calories and burning ~250 calories by working out once per day = a deficit of around 500 calories/day.
- With respect to my point above, eating too few calories will not work to your advantage. Health, energy and workout recovery will be compromised; and metabolism tends to adjust accordingly and hold onto “reserves”… i.e. body fat.
- While I do watch what I eat, I do not deprive myself. A girl has got to live! Many days I have something sweet or an evening glass of red wine (or two ;-). I simply try to stick to the “150 rule,” meaning whatever the daily indulgence I try not to exceed 150 calories.
- Tip: Plan ahead – if you know you are going out to eat one night of the week, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, enjoy your dinner without guilt, and then get back on track the next day. Another thing I always tell my clients is to “just pick one.” In other words, have the wine but skip the dessert, or have the burger but pass on the fries.
Thankfully I felt good enough during my pregnancy that I was able to maintain a good health and fitness regimen up until about 30 weeks (when I was placed on bed rest). I believe this allowed me to maintain a strong level of fitness and gain the minimum recommended weight, which helped tremendously postpartum. I will never know for sure, but I would also guess this helped prevent any stretch marks (hallelujah!).
As I mentioned above, I was placed on bed rest around the 30 week mark of pregnancy. This was not easy for me to handle, physically or emotionally. I also had an unplanned c-section delivery. Both of these circumstances forced me to stay inactive longer than I had hoped and forced me to ease into things more slowly. Exercise is not only something I am passionate about, but it is my therapy :)… and my job; so it probably goes without saying that this was quite frustrating for me. However, at the end of the day, Colton arrived safe and sound which is what really matters!
Within the first two weeks of delivery I was very close to my pre-pregnancy weight. I was nursing, so I thought that the rest of the weight would come right off. Wrong. In fact, counter to what happens to most people, I gained weight breastfeeding! Say what?!? Yes, despite working out regularly and eating healthfully, I gained weight. It may have been in my head, but I actually felt like I looked worse two months postpartum than I did two weeks postpartum, lol. Turns out those darn hormones are powerful things… as is this breastfeeding mom’s appetite! Once my hormones leveled out, combined with continued healthy eating and exercise, my weight started going down. Unfortunately, we had to stop nursing earlier than I had hoped due to medical reasons, so breastfeeding may have eventually helped in the weight loss area. However, if you experience weight gain while breastfeeding, don’t get down on yourself – you aren’t alone and it will get better!
THE THINGS THAT WENT SOUTH
Figuratively speaking, about 3.5-4 months postpartum I had some terrible issues with my calves that lead to a lot of pain and inability to do many of the things I wanted to do physically. My calves were so tight and I would have such awful shooting, stabbing pain when I tried to do anything more than walk that I was truly afraid I was going to rupture my Achilles tendon(s). I had to back off on my workouts once again for several weeks (ugh!). I believe the calf/Achilles issues were very hormone related because as soon as my hormones leveled out and my cycle returned, the pain disappeared. If something strange or unlikely is going to happen, apparently I’m your girl, ha ha.
Literally speaking, there are some things that will just never be the same. The girls are droopier, my abs are not as tight as they once were, and the area below my c-section incision still aches from time to time. I am not quite as lean as I was pre-pregnancy, but I think this is at least partly due to the fact that I am only able to weight train once per week. I do love working out, but it does take dedication and some weeks are harder than others from both a temporal and physical standpoint. I have never had the perfect physique; however, I feel healthy and strong, and at the ripe old age of 41 (now 42) I am proud of what my body did to grow another human being. Above all else, despite the fact that some undesirable body changes are permanent and will never be the same, I truly love motherhood and my little guy is absolutely worth it!
If you are feeling the same or have experienced similar postpartum frustrations, I want you to know that you are not alone! While what is “on the outside” is not nearly as important as what is on the inside, if we aren’t feeling “ourselves” it can have a negative effect on how we feel on the inside. So physically speaking, I encourage you to just get moving… every day or most days or whatever days you can, do a little activity. Walk, ride your bike, stretch… anything! It will add up and you will see improvement and above all else it will be good for your mind and soul. You got this, mama!
As always I hope you found this helpful! Please feel free to leave a comment or email me with any questions you might have :). I would love to hear from you!
Also, if you are interested in some functional exercise options, I have some older posts where I show several kettlebell (HERE– please excuse the quality of photos… this was one of my first posts ever) and core exercises (HERE).
Wishing you a blessed day,