Thursday, September 28, 2017

17 Postpartum fitness tips for every (fit or unfit) mama:

Hi Mamas,

Ever since I was hospitalised in May and was diagnosed with chronic migraines (the medicines made me wean my daughter overnight which many may have read in my post on the ways to wean), something that has been trigged by interrupted sleep of all things. I realised that I can no longer go on ignoring myself and my own needs endlessly. This has not changed the way I parent in any way, I am just as hands-on, working as many hours (maybe more, thanks to Instagram's stories feature that requires more content from my end, and some more exciting surprises that I have in store for all my regular social media followers), but I've learned a lot about my limits too, and I've learned to prioritise myself a little more.

One of the things I decided to prioritize on the journey to getting healthier was my fitness. In order to feel better I knew that I needed to work on my self-esteem to and the weight I was at, was not working for me. Whether it looked like that to the outside world or not, it bothered me on some level. So I spent, May and June, in New York with my mom and my kids on holiday (as many know as I came back filled with tips on keeping sane while traveling with two) which of course kept me on my feet and how! And since I got home in July, I have incorporated health and fitness into my daily routine in a big way. As the progress is now visible, I have been getting several questions about my routine which I am happy to discuss, but I do want to make this more relevant to you - not just to me - so let's talk about some postpartum fitness concerns, and then ways to get fit!

Just for reference - I put on 18 kgs (40 lbs), in my first pregnancy, and then without losing all of it - I lost some of it but was about 10 kgs (22 lbs) above my pre baby weight - I got pregnant again. I put on only 6 kgs (13-14 lbs) the second time, as I was unwell through most of my pregnancy. So, as you can imagine, I had a long way to go to lose my first baby's weight.

17 postpartum fitness tips for every (fit or unfit) mama: 

 PostPartum concerns: 

1. Post delivery recovery: When has your body recovered enough to go back to the gym (or first enter the gym, if you, like me were a novice) is not as cut and dry as it seems. While for most women who have a "natural" (I really hate that term since there is really nothing that feels natural about labor) labor the recovery is 6 weeks, and those who have a C-section the recovery is 8 weeks. However, there are other factors to consider like whether your stitches have fully healed, how bad your tearing was (if any), and if there were any further tearing or infection after the fact. These are questions only your provider can answer so do make sure to check with your doctor at your 6-8 week check. (For more tips on postpartum recovery, click here).

2. Diastasis Recti: Another thing your provider can tell you (or you can check for it yourself) is if your abdominal muscles have separated during pregnancy or childbirth and resulted in a condition known as diastasis recti. During pregnancy the abdominal muscles do separate and the connective tissue between them gets stretched out to make way for the baby and for your uterus to expand. However, when your uterus begins to contract and go back to shape (which happens with the oxytocin release during nursing), and your hormone levels go back down, the connective tissue between the muscles is not always able to go back into shape after being stretched out and can leave you looking pregnant with a little belly sticking out, for months after you have delivered, even if you have been working on losing weight. Some studies have shown that even 6 months after delivery, 40 percent of women have diastis recti.
       You can check for it yourself by lying down with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Then place your hand palm down over your belly, with your fingers pointing toward your toes. Press your fingers gently into your navel area then slowly lift your head, drawing your chin to your chest. This will cause your rectus abdominis (muscles) to contract. If you feel a gap of at least two finger widths between the muscles as they contract, you have a diastasis. A gap as wide as four or five fingers is considered severe. Repeat the procedure below and above your belly button because the separation may be wider in different places. (I personally couldn't figure this out though so if you are not sure, check with your doctor!)
        If you do have it, there are core strengthening and physical therapy exercises that you can do to fix it. There's a very avoidable surgical option as well for extreme cases. However, physical exercise and strengthening your core well help you here (abdominal crunches will be painful and difficult though and should be avoided - they are bad for your back anyway, you're a mom now!) 

 3. Nursing: I would be lying if I told you that working out doesn't affect your milk supply (that doesn't mean all or nothing though). While I stayed away from the gym for almost a year the entire year, post my first baby, and then worked out for a couple months with a trainer to shed a little bit of the baby weight (about 10 lbs), I really did this after I stopped nursing, as I was alone with my son in New York and used every excuse in the book not to get around too it. Plus, I really was alone with him in New York, and post moving back I was busy, settling, him, me, the house (and then I was busy coming up with excuses not to work out). I did make it back to the gym for a few months just before I got pregnant again - with medical planning this time. However, I found that with polycystic ovarian syndrome had gotten worse not better  - my periods were more irregular, acne was worse than before (and why shouldn't it be - I was also heavier that ever and PCOS is a lifestyle disease. Moreover, Fat secretes hormones that makes your whole system more haywire). 
      I was determined the second time not to make the same mistakes and made it into the gym as soon as I was able - at the two month mark. Sleep deprived and nursing, I would wake up and make it at my favorite trainer's convenience as I wanted to shed that baby weight way faster than it came on. Within a week - not only was I pumping less but my daughter was shrieking by night because she just wasn't getting enough milk. So while you should prioritise yourself - priorities also mean ensuring that you get enough water, enough sleep, and then make time for the gym. There is such a thing as going back to the gym too soon, you need to make sure that your milk supply is well established when you start working out again and that the exercises that you do are mild and do not affect your milk supply. You also need to make sure that you are extremely well hydrated and not sweated a great deal so pilates, yoga and core exercises are great options while running, jogging and callisthenics may not work as well for your milk supply (tight sports bras can also affect your milk supply so keep this in mind when you do go back to the gym.) I ended up having to take a few more months off, sleeping as much as I could and then went back to work out post the 6 month mark (which was when I felt well rested enough), and  I worked out in nursing bras and only did pilates while I was nursing. When you feel ready is a personal decision but make sure that you choose exercises that are conducive to you and your baby and that you stay hydrated! 

Exercise versus Diet:

4. Diet: When trying to lose weight, it's not one or the other that works. It's a combination. While there are a million types of diets that you could follow from paleo, keto, atkins, no carbs, no gluten, all carbs, and the like - my advice to you and to anyone frankly is to follow a plan that is sustainable. Because otherwise you will end up yo yo dieting and yo yo-ing with your weight as well. While crash diets may crash your weight, they can also have a harmful effect on your gall bladder and other organs, and end up being unsustainable as that weight tends to rebound right back (some of it is often water retention that we lose first). What has worked for me is cutting sugar (I have never been one to drink any form of caffeine except the occasional soda but love desserts), and junk food down to once a week. Literally, that's my entire diet plan. I eat home more often - no particular meal plan, just more home cooked food and no sugar except on my weekly cheat day when I can eat whatever I want. I have lost 6 kilos in 2 months with this combination along with my workout plan, so don't mock it till you try it! That for me is sustainable - more or less - I can perhaps live without dessert 5 days a week, in the long run.

The hard-core stuff (core workouts): 

A great way to work out to lose weight is to combine a core workout with cardiovascular exercises. However, if you are getting back into the gym or just starting up it is best to start with one and then build up to a point where you can add in the second. Trainers often recommend starting with weights or strength training first particularly if you are heavy so that your muscles are able to sustain your weight before you start a cardiovascular workout (there is less chance of hurting your knees or straining your joints that way).
if only.....

5. Pilates: I tried out a few pilates classes when I finally decided to try and lose my son's post baby weight, I found it to be challenging and yet could feel my strength building up even in a month. I had to stop soon after as I got pregnant (ideally, you can continue if your doctor gives you the go ahead and if you are someone who is used to working out, atleast after the first trimester). However, post my second pregnancy, I was determined to shed the baby weight and began pilates at 5 months postpartum (and until 10 months postpartum my twice weekly pilates was the only workout I was doing). Pilates is incredible for helping you tone up your muscles, building your core strength, and seriously dropping inches. While it won't miraculously help you lose weight on the scale, you can see a difference in your waist line if done regularly and I strongly recommend doing pilates with a certified trainer (not just someone who has learned the routine from a certified trainer but someone who is able to adjust the routine to your fitness level, your body type and even the aches and pains you may have post baby). There are two types of pilates - reformer which is on the machine and mat pilates, on the floor, I prefer the reformer, as there are resistance weights that are used and it really tests your strength and capability at an increasing rate. Also, this needs to be done with a trainer who can give you focused attention (mat pilates is also very challenging and helpful and can be done in a class setting). Pilates is safe to do while nursing and will not affect your milk supply, as long as you stay hydrated and make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest!

6. Strength training: Another great way to lose weight and get your body stronger is strength training. To really shed inches this needs to be a combination of weight training and calisthenics. CrossFit - which is all the rage nowadays is a more intense version of this, however, if you have never been a workout junkie, or are someone who is building up their strength, or do not have a one-on-one trainer watching you while you are doing CrossFit, particularly as someone who has just had a baby - I would stay away from that, it makes you rather prone to injuries (my husband, who is a workout junkie, is a living example of CrossFit injuries and has had a bad shoulder injury from overdoing CrossFit classes). Instead, go for a combination of weight training and calisthetics (workouts where you use your own body weight to strengthen your muscles and work on your core which includes squats, planks, lunges, push-ups, burpees, etc). Again, a great way to shed inches with regular workouts combined with smart sustainable food choices. This was my go-to pre-pilates and schedule permitting (post my mother-toddler program ending I plan to add it back into my schedule a couple days a week).

The intense stuff (cardiovascular workouts): 

While strength training and pilates will help you shed inches, it's diet and cardiovascular exercises that help you shed weight. So your workouts for the week should include a combination of core workouts and cardio vascular workouts to really see the impact of your hard work.

7. Treadmill:  The best way to start if you have been out of the gym long and are not used to the burn of cardio (you will soon see what I mean) is to start walking on the treadmill. For the first 2 weeks, allow yourself to walk at whatever pace you are comfortable (and for as long as you can manage without getting too breathless or uncomfortable, 30 minutes is a great goal, but if it's a stretch for you do not worry). Eventually start to push yourself to increase the time and the speed, a little by little. I have now (2 months later), worked up to being able to walk for an hour at a much higher speed than I could before. Still ensure that you warm up and cool down adequately (and stretch well after) and have either some super music or something fun to watch and keep you distracted. Keeping an eye on your heart rate (once in a while not compulsively though) helps, however if you have to pant then slow down have a couple sips of water and then start speeding up again slowly. Remember that while a slight burn (and even next day muscular soreness is a good sign), any kind of pain is not, so do not push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of. Fitbits, Apple watches, or any kind of step counters are super motivational tools!

Strolling while slowing down.....

8. HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training sounds painful but can be made entertaining too. On the treadmill, (or any other machine really), it involves fluctuating the intensity (the speed) of your workout and increasing it for a short duration of time, then reducing it for a few minutes and then increasing it again. Pros, often run for a couple minutes slow down for a few and walk and then run again. I am not close to a pro and have never been a runner but I am trying to build my stamina and burn calories and HIIT is the very best way, so I recently thought of a way to make this fun for myself. Okay fine - fun didn't happen, but I did make it bearable. I put on one of my favorite musical movies and ran for 60-90 seconds of each song (I find it so much easier to run to music), then walked at a speed slightly lower than my normal (I usually walk at 6.7km/hr, but was walking at 6 instead to recover), until the next song. The movie I watched - Mamma Mia, had way to many songs, so in an hour, I must have done 8 or 9 sprints. However, I burned 437 calories on the treadmill - the highest I had ever burned before was about 340 calories. Those who are able to jog or longer, can reduce their total workout duration, but I am building up to a marathon (surprise: did I not mention that yet?) and wanted to push myself. Movies, and music keep you distracted by the goal should be fluctuating your speed and even if you do not run, you can do this while you are walking, and it is a great way to work on your stamina and weight loss!!
Post HIIT, though counting steps all day keeps me motivated

9. Other cardio equipment (Elliptical/Stepper/ Cycle):
These have a much more intense burn and work out and are also likely to keep your heart rate higher than the treadmill (not the cycle as you are seated though it can be as exhausting as the elliptical and stepper if you are loading on enough resistance as it is tiring on your glutes and legs. It is important to move machines once you are comfortable in the gym to keep your body from getting too used to your routine, and also to challenge and increase your stamina and endurance.

10. Swimming: Swimming is one of the best ways to lose weight, particularly if you are able to swim laps. Nursing safe, comparatively injury free, trainer free (if you know how to swim) and joint safe, the only thing this is really hazardous for is your hair! Seriously, if you have hair like mine you risk looking like the lion king all week, and also have to keep up with your hair removal up keep, unless you have a private pool or don't care who is at the pool - I haven't found one what allows yoga pants in yet. Nonetheless, it is an amazing form of cardio and a great way to lose weight.

11. Other ways to do cardio: Dance fitness and Zumba, are amazing ways to keep your heart rate up and get back into shape, that too to music. However, it is not very kind on your joints or your back so beware of sudden jerks, jumps and pivots, and you should be good to go. Also, if you have any injuries or sensitive areas, tell your teacher about it and if you feel any kind of pain, stop! I always had trouble finding a class that fit my schedule (and also I had weak knees - no longer thanks to all the cardio that has strengthened my thighs enough for me to just run, but I used to have weak knees).

The fun stuff:

Moms often ask if it's necessary to have to add one more thing to their day in addition to having to nurse, chase their kids and do everything else that comes with being a mom. It's hard to be motivated to do more when we already do everything! So yes, there is a way to combine them, it's not easy but there is.

12. Getting fit with your kids:
If your kids love being outdoors, you have toddlers, your welcome to run around with them but just make sure that you have a structure and routine in mind as well. Incorporate some squats, planks into it, run a few races with them, or take them for swimming lessons and walk laps of the pool (that's an amazing work out but you have to walk a lot of laps and do this regularly). Have a set plan, and you can do this with your kids around. There are also several work out apps that you can download that will give you simple home exercise routines like squats, planks, wall sits, etc, that you can do in the house and around the house. The motivation, on the other hand, has to come from within.

The how to's:

13. Distract yourself: The key to cardio is great distraction. I have been working late at nights - I do not get enough hours in the office to handle my work in healthcare, and my blog, and ofcourse, all the lovely social media comments, messages and emails,  in the few hours I am in the office, in addition to writing. So I am often up at night working late, and had the entire last season of several TV shows backed up. As of this week, I am caught up. Just in time for my favorites to come back on! (Grey's anatomy is my all time favorite, though I had to catch up on Modern family, Big bang theory and all the quicker sitcoms that I have now done in the gym).

14. Focus on the goal: Weigh yourself. It's not so terrifying. Infact, if you have a higher weight to start with - great. You can graph it every week and watch it go down!! It may even motivate you a bit more, so don't be afraid to step on the scale but don't just go by the scale because you have to remember that not all workouts work on your weight some only affect your waist line so you can take inch measurements too. Have a target weight in mind to work towards, or a target dress size (I have a whole closet of clothes that did not fit me when I started - most of them have very expensive labels on them - I bought them around my wedding time and kept saving them fort the right occasion which didn't come - and I am slowly working my way into them).
      Goals beyond your weight are amazing too - I am working towards a marathon. Yes, I am the same person who said I have never run beyond my refrigerator before. And yet, I signed up for a marathon. It's more of a mini marathon but it's to keep myself motivated to keep going and give myself a goal - and this one is to run to support breast cancer (my mom is one of the many survivors in my family and was diagnosed at 37 years of age, she is fine, and one of the many things she does is run an amazing non-profit organisation, so I plan to run the marathon in January in support of her organisation). That's the goal I have given myself.
This may work as a kick starter, but won't keep you going for long if you lose sleep over it..

15. When to start working out: You don't need to wait for a sign from somewhere of for all your motivation to come in. Just for enough to come in that you make it to the gym for a week, the rest will come when you start seeing results, or feeling a little stronger and better (which usually doesn't take long). Exercise gives out endorphins which make you feel great - more energetic immediately, so it doesn't take long to get you to feel good about it, even if it does add to your day and exhaustion at first.
     However, do make sure you are getting enough sleep, and that you choose a workout that is conducive to your nursing and postpartum recovery status.

16. When to fit it in: Choose a time of day that suits you. If you have to skip meetings for it, if it's in the way of your mother toddler, if it's forcing you to wake up too early and making you crabby and more tired (which can make you sick and make you miss more gym days in the long run), these are all things that will not be easy for you to maintain. I chose alternate mornings when I do not have mother toddler for pilates and the other evenings for my cardio (when my kids play in the garden).

17.  Zip up sensibly: Again, you can choose any diet you choose but sustainability is the key. You have had babies mama, your body has been through enough. Why yo-yo your way through anything anymore? Look for options you can sustain over time and make choices that you can live with in the long run.

I always love to hear your comments, and feedback so feel free to get in touch and ofcourse to follow along on instagram, and facebook!
More to come!xx

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