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Let's Get Physical. FAQs Around Postpartum Exercise. Part Two.
This is part 2 of Dr. Lindsay's interview. See Part One Here
How long does it usually take to get back to pre baby shape or fitness?
Great question! I’ll come right back at you and ask you these questions: What level of fitness were you at before you were pregnant? What did your fitness routine look like while you were pregnant? Did you have a healthy pregnancy, or did you have to go on bedrest (hello muscle atrophy!)? How was your labour and delivery (other than ridiculously painful and nothing a man could do)? How has your recovery gone? How is life as a new Mama going? Are you breastfeeding? Phew…a simple question really does not elicit a simple answer.
That being said, I can give you some guidelines. But, you really need to keep in mind that every woman is different. Let’s start with the facts…it took you 40 weeks to grow your little bundle of joy, probably 6-48 hours to deliver that bundle and experience the “ring of fire” (c-section Mamas nevermind this comment, vaginal deliverers…you KNOW what I’m talking about), and it will take you 6-12 weeks to recover from delivery alone. So, that puts up to about 3 months post-partum.
Your pre-pregnancy and pregnancy fitness routine are really going to help determine how long it will take you to get back into shape. It is true, the fitter you are prior to becoming pregnant, and if you maintained activity level while your body grew another human being (man, our bodies are UNBELIEVABLE), the easier it is for your body to “bounce” back to the state it was in before. You will not have lost a lot of muscle if you kept active throughout your pregnancy (the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn) and your cardiovascular fitness will come back more quickly so you’ll be able to push yourself in your workouts more easily than someone who is starting from scratch.
Okay, okay…enough. I know you want numbers. So, if you’re committed to exercising 3-4 times per week for at least 30 minutes, if you’re committed to eating a balanced and nutritious diet, if you’re committed to keeping your hydration levels up by drinking a lot of water, you can expect to lose 1-2lbs per week. This is considered to be a healthy rate of weight loss. I approve. I’m sure that means a lot to you (:p). Please remember, this all depends on where you were at AND what your delivery was like. C-section Mamas require more time (often up to 12 weeks) to fully recover, whereas most vaginal deliveries are recovered after about 6 weeks (except you Mamas that had trauma to your down-under due to your little one needing some help to join us in our world…HELLO FORCEPS!). Okay, where are we (3 months post-partum just for labour recovery + 1-2lbs/week), depending on how much weight you want to lose…getting back into shape, in general…GIVE YOURSELF ONE YEAR!!! I’m not kidding, one year. There, I said it. Then you’ll get back into shape and get pregnant and start all over again! Wooot! Woooot! More babies!
I have two more important points and then I will be quiet on this. Your skeletal body (your bones) have probably changed with pregnancy. Your feet may have gotten bigger, your ribs may have expanded and your hips may have spread. Unfortunately, these changes may be permanent. So, blouses that you used to wear (even after your ta-ta’s are back to normal size) may not fit and jeans that you used to wear may not do up. Just take a little look at your little one and know that it was all for a good cause. IT IS OKAY…our body change, it is a fabulous excuse to go shopping. This does NOT mean you need to go buy “Mom” jeans with a 9” zipper. Just sayin’.
Lastly, I fully and completely support you in having a scale smashing night with your other Mama friends. Seriously, get your friends together, tell them to bring over their scale, open a bottle of wine (yeah, yeah, yeah…I know you’re nursing…pump and dump…this night calls for wine!) and SMASH your scales. Don’t go by numbers, Mamas…go by how you’re feeling and how your clothes are fitting. The MOST common email I receive from my Mamas is the day they put on their pre-pregnancy jeans and can zip them up! Seriously…I KNOW you’ve posted about it if you’re there already. And, good for you!!!! Good job.
I am breastfeeding, does this affect my workout routine?
Short answer. No.
But, I’m Dr. Lindsay, I have no short answer. There are a lot of rumors out there about exercise and how it changes milk composition and decreases milk supply. Well, I’m here to tell you that I have not found a decent article out there that can actually support these claims. If you want to discuss the 1992 paper that says that women who exercise have increased levels of lactic acid and their babies refused their milk, then yes…let’s discuss. The researchers tried to feed the babies this milk using medicine droppers. Not boobies. Medicine droppers. So, I banish this study (plus it is 20 years old).
Yes, Mamas who workout do have increased levels of lactic acid in their milk for up to an hour post-exercise. This is in no way harmful to your baby, but it does cause the milk to taste a little bit bitter and sour, so your baby may not enjoy that compared to your usual sweet stuff. If your babe does tend to fuss a bit when you’re trying to nurse right after exercise, this may be the problem. So, if possible, wait an hour after exercise to nurse. However, most babies don’t notice the difference…I’m just giving you an option here. So, that covers the change in milk composition. Oh wait…sweaty boobies = salty boobies. Your babe may not enjoy getting his/her sodium intake from your sweat, so if your baby fusses, trying wiping off perspiration prior to nursing.
Changes in milk supply with exercise? Again, numerous studies have suggested the opposite, in fact. Exercise can actually increase milk supply and help with effective let-down (release of milk). The problem many Mamas have is that we forget to properly hydrate. If drinking water was a chore for you before you started breastfeeding, adding exercise and sweating will put you at an even higher level of dehydration and therefore may cause decreased milk supply. This is NOT exercise causing a decreased milk supply, it is your hydration level. So, don’t you go be blaming my precious exercise. Go drink your water. Seriously. Stop reading and go get yourself some water.
Okay, feel better? Mmmmmm water.
Does exercise change milk composition? No (except the lactic acid that isn’t harmful and most babies don’t notice). Does exercise change milk supply? No (if you drink lots of water). Does breastfeeding affect my workout routine? It shouldn’t. The best tips I can give are: 1) nurse your babe a few minutes before any high intensity workouts so that you don’t become engorged halfway through your workout, 2) wear a couple bras to help support your breasts (and back) and 3) put nursing pads in your bra as exercise often causes milk let-down.
To sum it all up…exercise is good for Mamas. It releases endorphins that help you feel great and relax. This state of being often aids in effective milk let-down creating an easier time of nursing with your babe. So, get out there and know that exercise will never harm your baby once he or she is breathing our air and will only add positive benefits like increased energy, increased sense of awesomeness, increased health and increased mental and physical well-being. Go get your sweat on, Mamas!
What are your top tips for moms who want to get back in shape?
I’m going to do this in point form. In no particular order:
- Make sure you have clearance to begin physical activity from your doctor or midwife.
- Start slowly. Ease back into physical fitness and assess yourself once you’re finished.
- Walking is a great place to start. Fresh air does a world of good for both you and your little one.
- Hydrate with water.
- Eat enough. A lot of new Mamas forget to eat as they are so busy. Big mistake. So make sure you plan your meals ahead of time and have convenient (and healthy) food on hand.
- If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Your body has changed a lot and will need some work to get back into shape, work your way up to levels you were previously at.
- Don’t push yourself too hard, you don’t have time to be injured!
- Be kind to yourself. Decrease your expectations and listen to your body. You WILL get back to where you were at, it will just take time.
- Try to workout at least 3 times/week, aim for 5 times/week.
- Try to workout between 30-60 minutes.
- Eat vegetables. All colors, all shapes, all sizes.
- Find a community of support to help you with not only your fitness goals, but with being a Mama who has fitness goals.
- Set “SPA DAY” goals. Sensible, Purposeful, Attainable, Detailed, Assessable, YOU (that means the goals need to be about you!). Once you achieve your goal...head to the spa. Seriously. It’s awesome.
- Stop comparing yourself to what you looked like before. You are beautiful.
- Start working on core exercises to help get your abdominal and back muscles back stronger.
- Incorporate strength training into your workouts to help build muscles and burn more calories.
- Take the time to exercise. You need and deserve it.
- Get new running shoes. The running shoes you wore while pregnant need to be replaced, trust me and go get a proper pair of running shoes.
- Push-ups…every day.
- If you don’t know what you’re doing, find a trainer or a company that can help you (I highly recommend Hot Mama Health & Fitness, but um…I’m a bit biased). There are a lot of companies out there that can help you…go, find a good fit for you and your fitness goals.
My favorite tip: GET OUT THERE. Any activity is better than no activity.
This woman is incredible! Thanks Dr. Lindsay!