7 Quick Tips for Postpartum Exercise

I’ve run for almost as long as I can remember.  Most teenagers I knew back in the day turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with teenage challenges.  I turned to exercise.  For years it’s been my go-to coping mechanism of choice, so I had my heart set on running a half marathon when Elias turned six months old.  Much of my pregnancy was infused with well, sleep, so I knew I’d be ready to get back into the swing of things once Elias made his debut.  I told people while I was pregnant that I’d take 3 months to recover from the physical demands of giving birth, adjust to my new life as a mom, and then spend three months training for a 13.1 mile endurance run across the middle of Oregon.  This seemed realistic in my mind especially considering that while I was still pregnant I read about a woman who delivered her baby the same day she completed a marathon.  Fast forward 8 months.  Elias has been around since October of last year and I’ve spent roughly 17 minutes, total, running.  I missed that half marathon back in April.  Whoops!  It turns out I should’ve been a bit more conservative in my postpartum ambitions.    

Although my mind is ready, my body keeps saying STOP.  Like many of the physical effects of pregnancy that I wasn’t expecting, 9 months of puking my guts out for example, I wasn’t expecting the postpartum months to physically kick my butt.  Even though I’m lifting weights three times a week and incorporating core strength into my routine, my body still isn’t ready for the impact of running.  I’ve learned that the hormone relaxin, which loosens ligaments and prepares the body for birth, stays present in a woman’s body until she stops breastfeeding.  Some reading I’ve done would indicate that relaxin is present for up to six months after breastfeeding ceases.  Much of the fitness information for postpartum women doesn’t take this into account.  In fact the general recommendations now state that if you were active during your pregnancy you can begin a postpartum exercise routine right away if you feel ready.   The six to eight week wait window has been retired.  The problem with this recommendation however is that without the awkwardness of carrying the baby bump a woman may be tempted to jump into things more quickly than she should.  Breastfeeding women in particular should be cautious about the types of physical activity they incorporate.  Pay attention to the following tips when beginning an exercise program postpartum:

1)      Remember your mind may be ready before your body.  Evaluate how you feel each step of the way when you’re exercising and refrain from any activities that cause you pain or discomfort.

2)      Start with low-impact activities such as walking, biking, and swimming.  It may be months or even years before high impact activities feel good again. 

3)      Yoga is an excellent activity if you are doing a postpartum specific class.  Your main focus should be on increasing joint stability and increasing muscle strength, not on flexibility.

4)      Incorporate strength training as this too will help to increase stability in the joints. 

5)      Use a foam roller to gently massage the glutes, hamstrings, IT band, etc after workouts.

6)      Incorporate a stability ball into your workouts for the purpose of rebuilding core strength. 

7)      Exercise with your baby and other new moms to build or retain social connections in this transitional time. 

I’ve never met a woman postpartum who wasn’t ready to have her pre-pregnancy body back, but patience will insure that you avoid injury and frustration on the way back to your vibrant physical self.

My baby drinks wine

I feel bad.  My 8 month old has been drinking wine and I haven’t stopped him.  I mean I’m not filling his sippy cup with it, but because I’ve been drinking wine in the evenings and I’m still breastfeeding he’s drinking nonetheless.  I’m not a huge drinker normally.  In fact, I spent the better part of my twenties never partaking in the stuff.  For a year and a half during college, I lived in France, a country known for its exquisite wines, and never even tasted a Bordeaux.  Having grown up with a strong family history of alcoholism I wanted to do as much as I possibly could when I was younger to prevent myself from going down that same path.  My shot at prevention seems to have worked so far because for the most part I can’t drink more than two glasses of wine at a time.  I like being relaxed.  I like being tipsy.  I don’t like being drunk.  I don’t like the headachy feeling I get the morning after the nights I go too far and drink, heaven forbid, a third glass.  Beer disgusts me and liquor does the same.  A glass of red wine though while I slice, simmer, and serve up dinner is divine.  I didn’t think I’d drink much wine during the breastfeeding months, but after a pregnancy permeated with an aversion for almost all things food related I was ready for sipping and savoring almost as soon as Elias popped out.  As I’ve entered back into the working world I’m even more excited for a glass of wine at the end of a day.  I don’t partake every evening, but partaking at all usually means Elias partakes too.   

I’ve done the reading and research.  I know I could wait 90 minutes after the last sip of wine to feed my baby and he’d be safe from the very low possibility of ill effects.  I always aim to make that happen, but the timing never seems to work out.  Last night I waited to start drinking until he went to sleep and then as I swallowed the last sip of my second glass he woke up.  I was able to distract him for fifteen minutes before he would wait no more.  I figured a tipsy baby was better than a hungry one?

When I was pregnant I complained a lot about the lack of coping mechanisms I could turn to in my state.  I couldn’t meditate because I fell asleep.  I couldn’t exercise (at least the way I wanted to) because it hurt and I couldn’t drink wine, because well we all know the risks inherent in that.  I am reminded all too often that some things aren’t all that different now that the baby is on the outside.  I wanted so much to change after pregnancy and yet I still can’t meditate without falling asleep or exercise without pain.  The wine brings with it a healthy dose of guilt some nights, but for now it’s what I got.    

I’m sure I’m not the only breastfeeding mom out there who drinks a glass of wine on occasion.  Do you also feel guilty?  Do you sometimes feel fed up with how much of what you do to your own body continues to affect your little one?