Now that I am 6+ months postpartum with baby number two, I want to give you a glimpse into my postpartum journey. I will admit up front that though the journey to feeling fit the second time around was different. I think the biggest difference was that I had more wisdom during and after pregnancy, which meant I did less damage to my body. My postpartum journey is one of feeling human again (comfortable in my skin, with some energy), with two kids, while maintaining my milk supply. I realize the last part of that sentence may be out of left field, but the first question women almost always ask me is how they can lose the baby weight without risking their milk supply. It is a fantastic & important question.
This post is a few tips I learned from my second postpartum journey. I tracked my whole pregnancy, so you can find a weekly blow-by-blow for each pregnancy on my blog. Here is my quick postpartum journey overview in numbers: I hit my pre-pregnancy weight around 4 months postpartum, and my pre-pregnancy fitness around 6 months postpartum. Does this mean it is what you should do or what is normal for you? Absolutely not! I have researched this subject ad nauseam, so I had the tools to reach my goals safely and quickly. Do not put the pressure on yourself to hit a specific weight in a short amount of time. In fact, many people advocate 9-12 months. Further, those last few pounds can be tricky (but not impossible) to shake while breastfeeding. This would require a post on hormones, for another day, but if you find you fall into that category, do not despair. It is common.
- Be patient and honor your body – I realize that with social media and all of the general expectations that comes with being a mom (external or internal), the whole concept of being patient feels outrageous. It is important though, because if you rush things, you will ultimately end up injuring yourself which will set you back further. Injuries can include something minor like a pulled muscle (due to the relaxin still coursing through your body) to something more serious like prolapse or a hernia.
- Protect your core/pelvic during pregnancy, and work to repair it postpartum – Many women have no idea what diastasis recti is, or how it can impact your body. Furthermore, Drs notoriously do not mention it, nor do they comment on it much beyond “do your kegels” if you bring it up. During pregnancy, working on that pelvic floor/core can help you to properly push when it’s time for baby’s arrival. Postpartum, this is the area that determines if you will pee yourself (it is not normal to pee yourself, even if it is common), pass gas uncontrollably, have a heavy sensation like you always have to pee, develop prolapse, develop a hernia, and more. I eliminated all crunch movements by about 13 or 14 weeks pregnant, and began doing elevated planks as I felt more pressure on my midline (linea alba), until I eliminated planks altogether. Postpartum, I began with simple movements to engage my core (such as core contractions, bridges, & heel slides), before working my way into elevated planks, and eventually standard planks. I took my time with these (see above) and worked hard during pregnancy to push myself in my workouts without risking damage to this area. I also eliminated high impact movements such as jumping movements, sprints, standard burpees, etc. While it is safe for baby to do these movements, it weakens the pelvic floor, which means more complications post-birth and/or more time to heal.
- Use weights – Using weights during my postpartum journey helped me to reshape my body while losing fat. While cardio can help you burn a lot of calories in one go, after you are done with your cardio workout, you are done with your extra calorie burning. Additionally, long duration, steady state cardio, over long periods of time can be taxing on your hormones, cause burn out, and cause weight loss plateaus. Additionally, your body adapts to your exercise, so if you are hitting that elliptical for an hour each day, your body is not working as hard as it did originally, because it has adapted to your workout. On the other hand, building muscle through lifting weights can increase that BMR because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. You have probably heard this before, but maybe you are afraid to bulk. Did you know that it is actually extremely difficult for women to bulk? Men have up to 10x more testosterone than women, which is why men lose weight so fast and bulk up so quickly. As women, weights are one of our best tools for fat loss because they increase our BMR and help us to shape our body. Furthermore, weight bearing exercises are great for increasing bone density, which is something childbearing women lose over time. Working out with weights can be very efficient, which means more time with baby.
- Focus on fiber & protein, and don’t be afraid of quality fats – When I first had my baby, I was crushing some avocado to ensure I had the fats my body needed to make milk. If I was not supplying it, my body would have stored fat (making it more difficult to burn off) in order to have what my baby needed. The body is built for survival – it does not care what size you want it to be. Fiber is a great way to signal to your body that it is full, as is protein. Both of these work together to help your body feel full so you aren’t reaching for the chocolate while you’re on a three day nursing bender.
- Hydrate – Focusing on hydration was another way to ensure I was not eating junk food, since sometimes thirst can be confused with hunger. If you have a baby that’s more than 24 hours old, you probably know how parched you get when you are nursing. By drinking enough water, it really helped me to flush out some of the normal water retention from the end of pregnancy. You know that postpartum period where you sweat through three shirts and three sets of sheets in one night? I felt like it passed quicker once I focused on my hydration!
- Rest – Here’s a nice laugh for your day. I know it’s so hard after you have a baby, to rest. Try it anyway. With my first, I definitely slept when the baby slept, and if anyone visiting offered to take the baby so I could take a nap, I took them up on it. Being up every 1.5-2 hours is DRAINING. Add on recovering from giving birth and your body is taxed. It’s nice to have a clean house, and get dinner going, but sometimes that sleep is more important. In fact, after I had my youngest, I felt like I was recovering well, and pushed myself too hard too fast by trying to do more around the house than I needed to. As a result, I got sick. If I had just rested some more and left things a mess, I probably would have been sick less and recovered quicker. The more you allow yourself to rest, the more your body can recover, which in turn will mean less total recovery time (see tip 1).
These are my tips, but what exactly was I doing for my workouts after baby? I began simply by walking. We would get the boys in the stroller and take a walk around the neighborhood or down by the water. I started off just by walking down the hall in the hospital to grab a coffee. I graduated to walking to my mailbox. After I felt comfortable enough, I began my doing some very basic core work (mentioned above). I was very intentional and slow about this work. As I felt more able bodied, and felt my core strengthening a little, I began to incorporate low impact, weighted workouts to my routine. Moves as basic as a bicep curl and a weighted squat. I started with low weights, and worked my way up to more challenging weights, to continue to ensure proper core function.
From there, I began adding in hybrid movements, like those we do in our Fitness With Kristen workouts. I continued doing low impact exercises for several more weeks. Eventually, I slowly added back running (because I love it, not because it is necessary for fat loss). Once my pelvic floor was strong enough, I added in sprints and other higher impact movements. At this point, I am back to my regular Fitness With Kristen workout schedule. Additionally, I continue to do some of those more basic core exercises, to ensure I am activating my Transverse Abdominal (TVA) muscles and keeping my pelvic floor strong.
While this is a really basic overview of my postpartum journey with baby number two, it gives you a good place to start if you are newly postpartum.