Getting Your Pre-Baby Body “Back”

In Part 2 of this two-part MAKING YOUR WORKOUTS WORK FOR YOU series, we’ll be talking about your postpartum return to exercise and getting your pre-baby body “back” (my own being the pic below).

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IMG_7903After we’ve had a baby, one of the first thoughts that cross our mommy minds is getting back to “our old self” – physically, mentally and in our capacity to “do what we used to”. Even though we’ve had the baby, the feeling of “heaviness” still exists as we find ourselves in a body that doesn’t feel like our own. On top of that, we are exhausted from interrupted sleep and totally depleted from labor + all the new demands of motherhood. Regardless of being completely wiped, though, we are anxious to take action. Action to get back to feeling more like ourselves. Action to “get our body back” and to have control over something [in a time where we can literally control almost nothing].

Can you relate? The first 6 months of motherhood certainly rocked my world [and body].

What we don’t realize and what we’re not told – by the media, by our fellow mama friends, by our doctors and seemingly almost everyone around us – is that the practice + pressure of jumping back in to exercise too soon {or with too vigorous of a practice} is not only counterproductive to weight loss efforts, but it can and most likely will sabotage your health + well-being both in the present and down the road.

Screenshot_2015-12-08-10-28-25Let me explain — from the outside, we see that the baby is gone. Society tells us that it’s time to lose the baby weight and, in a sense, act like the biggest event of our lives {pregnancy, labor + birth} never happened. Since the concept of immediately taking action to lose ‘the weight’ is socially accepted as “normal”, we mamas also assume that our bodies ARE ready to jump back into action, returning to the form of exercise we did before pregnancy – or perhaps an even more rigorous practice. Because after all, we’ve got some weight to lose.

But while we may look “ready” to move from the outside, my dear friend Jen, a midwife once put it to me this way – if you’ve ever seen a placenta when it comes out [or even take a look at your baby], remember that was just INSIDE your body. Meaning that it left behind a big, open wound where it once was. A sacred space that held your precious baby for those growing 9 months and one I believe we should honor and treat with the utmost reverence and respect. Now if that wound were on the OUTSIDE of your body, imagine how long it would take to heal. And imagine the attitude we’d have towards even being out of the house with that kind of wound, let alone working out. I also think that if we had a wound like that to look at on the outside, we would intuitively know that perhaps working out is something we shouldn’t jump into just yet.

Even so, our culture puts pressure on women to immediately return to our “pre-baby body”, to act as if pregnancy, labor + birth are not the physical, spiritual and emotional events that they truly are. To wave aside our need to heal and pretend like our lives and bodies have not been turned upside down. Or to act like we immediately have this motherhood thing down pat – and that it’s super easy to just go back to our old way of being – including working out. We mamas know that type of thinking is ass-backwards. We know we’re not the same. Yet, women are praised for looking polished and “back to baby weight” weeks or even days post-birth. We know it’s not reality, we know it shouldn’t be this way and yet, it’s hard not to fall victim to this mentality. Because it’s literally EVERYWHERE – on blogs, in the media, on social media or walking around our neighborhoods. And it’s hard not to feel anxious for not having control over our time or our bodies. And in truth, at least for myself, although I had this beautiful baby boy, I didn’t feel comfortable in my new skin and it’s {still} taking me awhile to figure out this “new me”.

My Body Made A BabyBut there’s good reason for that — because my body is not the same body. The body I am living in now made a new life. Like #mybodymadeababy, hello?! And it not only made a new life, but it brought that life into the world as well {I believe this holds true whether you had a vaginal birth or c-section}. Brought my little Will into this world naturally, at home with 12 hours of labor and about 3.5 hours of pushing. My body bears witness – internally and externally, to these amazing feats. The uber fit, exceptionally strong and trim body I had before my baby didn’t do anything awesome like grow + birth a baby. Didn’t do anything as physical as that. As if pregnancy and birth weren’t amazing enough, now that my baby boy is in my world, my body creates and gives him everything he needs for survival – comfort, warmth, nutrition, movement and love {with countless other things left unmentioned}.

My old self didn’t have {even close-to} the huge responsibility of caring for an entirely separate human being. Pre-Will, I spent hours on my own self-care. With Will, I spend quadruple those hours on his care. My life has never been so full. My body has never been so drained. I have never EVER been so freaking tired or had so much “to do”. Never felt so out of balance and disconnected from who I “knew” as myself, yet somehow closer to connection than I’ve ever been.  I’ve never enjoyed waking up to a face this much. The amount of time I have for my self-care has never been so low. The amount that I smile, laugh and am filled with joy every day has never been so great. Has my life changed? Oh boy! How hasn’t it? Everything’s different and nothing’s the same – including my body. Somehow, life is better. My heart is fuller. I have more love to give and more gratitude than ever. It’s also a daily work-in-progress to figure out how to manage my time, reserve space for myself and be a mom, wife and entrepreneur.

So to ask my body – this new body, this “baby body” to morph back into my old pre-baby body is preposterous {in my humble personal + professional opinion}. I’ve outgrown that skin – physically, emotionally, physiologically and in every possible way I can think of. I’m no longer the same person. To go backwards means a life without Will; or rather a body that didn’t create my amazing Will. To go backwards means grasping for a space in time that’s past and no longer exists. It leaves most of us mamas searching, frustrated and in a constant state of self-deprecation, beating ourselves up for not being the same as we once were physically.

Working Out + Losing WeightAnd here’s the whole truth about “working out”, coming from an Integrative Nutrition certified Health Coach and fitness professional who helps people move as part of my living. Although fitness and movement are without-a-doubt important for overall health, it doesn’t really help you lose weight {postpartum or not}. It can support weight loss, helping to create the momentum and energy to motivate healthier choices in your life, but it alone will not make you lose weight. #truth. And postpartum, certain exercise modalities are actually counter-productive to losing weight and instead drain needed energy, can affect our milk supply, cause excess bleeding, leave us with plaguing injuries [knee, shoulder, hip and low back] and the overall feeling of a body that’s unable to support us.

Contrary to popular belief – the only REAL path to natural, lasting weight loss is proper nutrition and addressing lifestyle factors that REALLY influence our choices and time (including sleep, stress, work – and how we’re adjusting to all the shifts in those arenas, self-care, + meditation/stillness, to name a few). Focusing on eating high-quality, whole and real foods will go so much further than fitness ever could. Plus, eating is something you already do every day – so it’s nothing extra you have to worry about “adding in”, you have to do it anyway.

Below are four pictures – me at 41 weeks + 2 days (photo cred: Sarah Heitman), then 6 months, 8 and 10 months postpartum. During my pregnancy, I gained almost 40 lbs. onto my previously 138 lbs. body – while eating well and engaging in a two-fold “exercise” approach of both moving and napping. 🙂

PP Blog Collage
At 6 months, I had been walking, resting and doing my physical therapy exercises 2-3x per week. I’d worked out a total of 5 times, doing some light strength training, nothing high impact. Each of these 5 times were a “check-in”, to see how my body was feeling and how it responded to various exercises. Each time – I learned {again} that my body wasn’t yet ready for that type of movement. At 8 months, I was two weeks into a “routine” of low-impact strength training 2x/week and doing 1-2 yoga classes each week.

And today, at 10 months postpartum, that’s what I’m still doing – and even that doesn’t happen every week. I have, however, since Postpartum Day #1 insisted on fueling my body with good, real + healthy food – no deprivation, no diet, no counting calories or even entertaining ideas of eating to lose weight – simply eating whole foods that made me feel good. Since the beginning, I’ve also made {some form of} self-care a daily top priority. I’ve had more massage {abdominal + regular}, acupuncture, physical therapy and chiropractic sessions in the last 10 months then in my entire 30 years prior. I’ve also taken more baths, gone on more walks and put in some serious nap time [like serious].

The reason I wanted to show you these photos was so you could know what’s possible when you love up on your body [versus hate on it], listen to its needs and trust that with time, it will heal and naturally shed weight. Doing so with less effort, less pressure and less stress – without the need to engage in any vigorous exercise and without needing to push or force what doesn’t feel good or what our body isn’t ready for.

Baby Will PP BlogBecause with the gift of holding our babies comes some unavoidable challenges – interrupted sleep, stress and a whole lot less time. So, with less time, less energy and higher stress levels {remember what my last blog post said about high stress levels?}, we should be engaging in practices (fitness and otherwise) that maximize our time and efforts to feel good on a daily basis, ones that build UP our energy stores versus deplete them. And you may have guessed by now that this does not include hard workouts and killing yourself at the gym. And personally, even if I’d had the desire to do more vigorous or more consistent exercise before 10 months, I don’t think I could have. I had a hard enough time mustering up the energy to be a new “mom”, let alone expending more energy to engage in exercise that depleted my body. And that’s the key – because if something {like exercise} isn’t supporting your body, it’s depleting it. Postpartum, if we really tune IN to our bodies, instead of making the decision to push through because we “have to” and feel anxious to get the weight off, working out {especially at high intensities, doing high impact movements or lifting heavy weights} doesn’t actually really FEEL good – and there are real, physical reasons for that.

The common recommendation by doctors and most literature is that mamas can return to exercise 6-8 weeks postpartum (of course, with the caution of asking your healthcare professional first). However, in reality, your body is not physically ready to support the load of heavy weights, high impact or high-stress workouts. To explain why, I turned to April Bolding, a foremost expert on woman’s health, local West Seattleite, doula, birth educator, mother of 2 sweet girls and {my} physical therapist. She explains:

This 6-8 weeks is a guideline that we quote and re-quote.  I think it has set women up to think: ‘After two months, I can start running or (insert vigorous exercise here) again.’ The fact of the matter is that a woman’s body is still healing and her ligaments are still loose at 8 weeks postpartum.”

April BoldingApril further explained that to accommodate the exponential growth of the uterus + baby, the ligaments that support the uterus and surround the pelvis stretch during pregnancy. When we are post-birth, it takes time {months!} for those uterine ligaments to shorten and firm up enough to support the uterus again like it did before pregnancy – even longer for women who have hypermobile joints to begin with. Your ligaments strengthen as your menstrual cycle returns, then more when you eventually ween from breastfeeding. So when we begin vigorous exercise that involves running, jumping and lifting heavy loads, this can cause the uterus or bladder to move downward with this force. Combine that with the constant force of gravity and perhaps a pelvic floor that is not adequately supporting the pelvic organs from below, you can cause a uterine or bladder prolapse (where these organs descend into the vaginal canal).

Weak pelvic floor muscles + vigorous exercises can also cause stress incontinence (the inability to stop the flow of urine.). This means peeing [even leaking a little pee] when we exercise, run, dance, walk, sneeze, cough or go about our lives. If you talk to your peers or most women who have children, incontinence is super common. However, I think it’s super important for us {women} to understand that while it’s common, we need to reject the idea that it’s normal. It’s a sign of pelvic floor weakness and/or dysfunction that needs to be addressed in order to have a body that’s balanced, strong and functions at its optimal level from the inside out. In terms of our “core”, the pelvic floor is like the foundation of a house – and if that foundation is weak or leaks, we know that’s a serious problem. It’s no different with the pelvic floor. It’s something we need to address now to help avoid chronic injuries, pain or accidental peeing moving forward. A lot of the same principles hold true for diastasis recti (abdominal separation); while common in pregnancy and early postpartum, it’s important to make sure that you’re able to maintain tension in the linea alba (connective tissue that runs between the two sides of the Rectus Abdominis) and that your Transverse Abdominis is firing properly – both of which I encourage you get assessed by a women’s health PT!

Lastly, during pregnancy, the spine and pelvis shift to make space for the baby – this shift creates an exaggerated arch in the low back and forward tilt of the pelvis, while moving our center of gravity forward. This results in the stretching of ligaments, the tightening of the hamstrings and other muscles, thus leaving us with a body that quite literally “out of balance” after we give birth. This is also a primary reason for not returning to vigorous exercise before the body is back into balance, as we can not only exacerbate the imbalances, but also sustain unneeded injuries in the process.

Given adequate time to heal and the right supportive exercises, a good majority of these adaptations our bodies made in pregnancy can shift back post-birth. The key is TIME. Combine that with sleep + rest {naps!!!}, consistent healthy eating habits and dedicated self-care and you’ll be setting your body up to innately heal. I definitely recommend adding in specialized women’s health physical therapy {starting at 6 weeks postpartum}, bodywork and some gentle, stress-free exercises prescribed specifically for your healing to just keep feeling better and better without added stress.

April concluded by telling me that over time, you can progress your exercise from gentle and intermittent to gentle and regular. Then into more moderate exercise. Tami Lynn Kent, Women’s Health PT in Oregon and author of Wild Feminine, recommends not returning to running until a year post-birth. That’s hard for a lot of women to hear. There are many reasons for it beyond prolapse and it’s a sensible recommendation. However, that’s one recommendation. We each are responsible for knowing our body best. No health care practitioner or doctor of physical therapy can trump your knowing of your own body. We (physical therapists) are just here as a resource for you. Listen to how your body responds and reacts to what exercise you try and it’s up to you to have the courage to back off of an activity if it could push you into injury. Think long-term pelvic bowl and joint health instead of trying to fit into your old jeans. After giving birth, we’ve grown out of our old skin and our former selves for that matter. We are certainly worthy of some new jeans and new way of working with our bodies.

Right? Gosh I love her. Like I said earlier, we know. We know, IF we listen. If we give ourselves the grace and permission to listen. IMG_20151212_141734428The permission to let that silly and unrealistic “ideal” go that we must “get our body back”. It doesn’t mean that we can’t move towards creating a body that (realistically) looks the way we desire, but I think it’s important we know it will never be the same body – just as you’re not the same person. What if we allowed ourselves time to just figure out this mama thing? Because it’s the freaking hardest {and most rewarding} thing on Earth. And to give ourselves the space to not just survive mommyhood, but learn to thrive again. If you happened to take a different postpartum fitness path, know that this blog post is in no way meant to shame you, I celebrate and appreciate your own journey. And you DO know your body best. So, in conclusion, my hope is that this post can support you in that knowing, while giving you some information as to why you know what you know. Why you feel what you feel. Why, if you’re like me and you think that the concept of “getting your body back” is not only silly, but insulting for your new amazing body, that you can stand in your power and do what IS best for you. Whatever that looks like and however it manifests itself. It’s a journey, and one that I’m STILL on. And finally, my hope is that instead of loathing your new body, you can learn to love it and to honor it. Because it is freaking amazing. And so are you, mama. xoxo – Whitney

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For reading this post, I thank you. It took me {literally} 14 months to write – as I planned it’s creation even before Will was born, knowing my postpartum intention to love my body and let it heal on its own time. If you like this post, please share! If you can relate to it or have a comment/question, I’d love to hear from you! Together mama’s, we are stronger. So much love to you, all my readers!

{For more information on women’s health or to schedule an appointment with April, visit her website: www.birthportal.com}. She’s one of the most empowering + inspiring women I’ve ever met. Her teachings + love have been a priceless resource for me.

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About Whitney Mack of Macks Mo

Whitney Mack is a holistic nutrition health coach, fitness + movement specialist, feel good fanatic and founder of Macks Mo - a healthy living business that empowers busy women and mommas to connect to their desires and they want to feel daily in order to macks-imize joy, freedom, vibrancy, energy and ease. Through her programs + services, she uses real food, movement and signature health coaching strategies to guide clients in creating a more meaningful and fulfilled life (soulful, joyful, healthful) through nourishment and love. And turns out, as their love grows (for their life, themselves, their spirit), their body intuitively sheds the mental + physical weight holding them back from a life and body they're excited about.

6 responses to “Getting Your Pre-Baby Body “Back””

  1. Whtiney S says :

    I have been wondering if you were going to write a post baby body article. And it’s even better than I could imagine. You are awesome and I’m going to share this. 🙂 Thank you!

  2. Abigail Garrison says :

    Thank you so much for writing this. I will share it! Well done. My second baby is 9 months. I’ve lost most of my pregnancy weight without effort. Walking feels great and really helps though. This makes so much sense because my knee hurt when I did a few squats with 45 lb a couple months back. I will share this informationn/expectations when my patients ask about working out postpartum (im a post partum RN). Wish my belly would be less flabby but oh well!

    • Whitney Mack of Macks Mo says :

      Thanks so much Abigail! I love that you can share this information with your patients too. In regards to belly fat – or body composition in general, I can tell you that it’s 90% what you’re putting in food-wise, combined with the lifestyle habits that drive your food choices as well. Making preparing + eating good food a non-negotiable habit will go much farther in the long run for any weight loss you wish to incur, along with increased energy, mood, mental clarity and so much more!

  3. Megan LaTorre says :

    Oh wow I needed this post. At 3 months postpartum (c-section) this week, I am so struggling with the notion that I NEED to be back at the gym, but my body just doesn’t feel there yet. Everything’s different! Factor in the breastfeeding and trying maintain supply while returning to work, and it’s hard enough just to make it through the day. Thank you for this great post.

    • Whitney Mack of Macks Mo says :

      Hey Megan! I’m so glad that the post resonated with you. C-sections can be an even harder/longer recovery time than vaginal births because our core was cut in half. In order for it to be able to activate full again, it’s important to let that heal completely! If possible, I’d 100% recommend working with a women’s health physical therapist in your area. Their information is invaluable and they can help guide you to where you want to go in a gentle + constructive way! And you’re spot on with the breastfeeding + pumping, oy! Good food, rest + love will be the best medicine me thinks! 🙂 xoxo, thanks for sharing lady!

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