Body After Baby (aka "Mom Bod")
Ask anyone who has had a baby if she has had any issues with postpartum self-image. If she tells you she hasn't, she's lying. There’s a deep, dark voice in all of us, and some have a quieter one than others have. But it’s there, telling you that your body will never be the same again and that that’s a bad thing. For some, that voice is a motivator that lights a fire and whips them into shape as fast as possible. For others it can become a degrading nag when they put themselves in front of a mirror or on a scale, making them feel defeated.
There is a lot of information about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, for reducing the risk of C-section and high birth weight, reducing recovery time, and so on. I stayed fit during my pregnancy by eating healthy foods, exercising as much as I could, and taking the stairs at work until the very end. I truly believe that taking care of yourself before and during pregnancy leads to easier labor and delivery, giving you stamina and the ability to pull extra strength from places you've tapped into by pushing yourself during a workout. Obviously, pregnancy workouts don’t involve intense physical torture for fitness glory, but you know what your body can handle.
As you may know, immediately after you have a baby, and for a time after, you look like you're still 6 months pregnant. It takes a while for your uterus to return to its pre-baby position. It should come as no surprise that, after slowly enlarging and stretching for nine months, it doesn’t shrink back down overnight. One of the things that helps it return is breastfeeding. I remember seeing my stomach shrink down daily until it looked like I was closer to three months pregnant. Another thing that apparently helps, but that I did not use, is a belly band. One of my friends used one for the first six weeks after she had her baby and she said it "worked like magic." In any case, while breastfeeding helps your uterus shrink back to normal, since you’re burning extra calories and your little babe is sucking out all your nutrients (literally), it also makes you SUPER hungry. Not only do you eat more because you are hungrier, but you also eat more (or at least I did) because you want to make sure the milk you're producing is fatty and filling for your baby. There were days I hardly ate because I just couldn't put her down and the day somehow got away from me. And occasionally I only managed one giant meal, which I inhaled as quickly as possible. Those days made me nervous because I felt like they would affect my milk production/quality by not eating enough or just not having enough balance in my day . Those worries were probably unfounded but I was worried nonetheless.
Since the basic formula for losing weight is burn more calories than you're taking in, it makes perfect sense to me why I would gain weight in the months following the birth of my child. I was really hungry and eating all the time but I wasn't exercising. Sure, breastfeeding burns a good amount of calories and all that, and carrying/wearing my baby around the house surely helped a little, too, but those two things alone obviously couldn't result in calories burned > calories consumed. There are plenty of women who are blessed with the kind of body that snaps right back into place shortly after giving birth, and so many factors contribute to that. Like whether the woman was physically fit before she got pregnant and whether she remained physically fit during pregnancy. Additionally, many women are fortunate enough to either have enough help so they can sneak away for a workout or to just find time when baby is sleeping to bang out a quick workout. I had neither, even though I do home workouts when I do have time. (I love workout programs like BeachBody and Bodyrock.) By the same token, I’m not the kind of person who feels comfortable doing a home workout if anyone is watching, and it was hard to find windows of true solitude to do them. In reality, that's an excuse. If I really wanted to work out, I wouldn't care if my husband was there. I tried a couple of times to go on walks with my baby during my maternity leave, but it was either too hot/humid or too cold/windy. Because of that, the only real exercise I was getting during my maternity leave was carrying around my ever-growing baby (you might recall that there was a period of time where she napped pretty exclusively in my arms). Which is something, but not enough for someone like me. who needs some sort of moderate exercise to maintain sanity. Alas, I had to accept that this was my new life, at least for now, and I would just have to find time to exercise whenever I could. As I mentioned in this post about finding time for yourself, this was one thing I had to sacrifice when she was eating so frequently. Other things, like personal hygiene and feeding myself, took top priority when I had a few minutes to myself. I ate a lot of quick meals with one hand because it was all I could do. My “go to” snacks and meals were hummus and pita and veggie wraps. Somehow I managed to prepare and eat everything with one hand. It's amazing how quickly you get used to, and get good at, making meals and eating with one hand. I knew it was important to eat healthy but finding time to meal prep or prepare anything that took more than a minute was a challenge. To keep myself at least somewhat active, I'd do squats or lunges while I brushed my teeth, or I'd find a squat challenge online (I just completed this one). I just had to do SOMETHING.
If this is you, too, then you, just like I, need to acknowledge that it might suck that your body won't ever be the same, but it's in your hands to get back to wherever you want to be. Stop making excuses. If you have a job, like I do in the off season, where you sit for HOURS on end, get up and take a walk. Forgo the elevator for the stairs. Park far away. Maybe do a squat or push-up challenge. At the very least, eat well. For me, that means eating whole food, plant-based (WFPB). I have been guilty of making excuses for why I can't,
Thankfully, busy season at work keeps me moderately active because I work in a huge building and I refuse to take the elevator. So I'm constantly running up and down four flights of stairs and walking around the massive building for various meetings. And if you've ever seen me walk, you know it looks like I'm participating in some power-walking race. That's a little exaggerated, but I really do walk REALLY fast. I always have, and at least I have that going for me. I work with what I have! I just make sure I keep moving. For now, that will be my exercise and I have accepted it. (Occasionally, when the stars are aligned just right, I'm able to get in a BeachBody workout, but that's pretty seldom at this point.) Just like I have to accept that my hair will have little sprigs and frizzies for a while (kind of like my baby does!) because of postpartum hair loss (though that issue skipped me for the most part; small victories!), or that my skin just isn't as taut because I grew the most wonderful human being in my body. It's a fact of life and, though it’s hard to get out of my own head sometimes, I try to focus on how amazing my body was for what it went through, and I look at the reward I earned from it. I grew a human. A tiny person. How incredible is that?! What others would consider “battle scars,” I think of as my trophies. :)
Next week, read about my concern sending my baby to a daycare where she will most likely be the only vegan. How will I handle it when she's with her teachers and classmates more than she is at home and she watches other kids eat animals.