A topic that many are interested in is how and when to get back to fitness after a pregnancy. Although getting back to fitness after each of my nine pregnancies was a priority for me, it changed as I had more children and as I got older. I talked to two women who both had a baby in the not-so-distant past and who are both already back to a full workout routine. I met Shannon at Pure Barre and was amazed as she continued to work out and look great throughout her pregnancy. Ashley is a friend who also exercised throughout her eighth pregnancy…doing mostly P90X at her house. I also weighed in on some of the questions…
1. How long ago did you give birth? Was it a C-section?
Ashley: My youngest is 4 months old. Not a C-section.
Shannon: I gave birth to my second son 14 weeks ago. I had a C-section due to complications from my first son’s delivery.
2. Did you exercise during your pregnancy? If so, did that help in terms of birth or recovery?
Ashley: Yes, 5-6 days a week up until the week she was born. It helped greatly in terms of energy during the pregnancy. My labors have started to slow down (she is my 8th). It’s hard to tell if it helped in terms of birth. It certainly helped in terms of my health. Her strip during labor was flawless … no way to know for sure if that is connected to a healthy mommy, but I have to think it factors in. My recovery was very easy. That is absolutely attributed to the exercise. I’ve had non-exercising pregnancies and the recovery period is much longer.
Shannon: Yes, I exercised right up to the day before my son was born. Yes, exercise helped me during birth and recovery. I was able to get back on my feet much sooner than planned. I was back running and taking Pure Barre classes 3 1/2 weeks after delivery.
Me: I exercised during all my pregnancies, however each one was a little different in terms of what I could tolerate. I usually ran throughout each one except for two, when for some reason my abdomen was painful if I ran. As I got older, I did weights more often because I didn’t want to lose muscle tone. It is interesting for me to see the difference between my first pregnancy and my last in terms of what was socially acceptable for exercising during pregnancy. When I had my first in 1989, I was one of only a few in my birth class who was running during my pregnancy. I even remember once, during my third pregnancy, when I was running in St. Louis where we lived, pushing two in the double jogger. I had to stop to wait for the light to turn, and a woman in her car beside me caught my eye. She actually started to shake her head at me when she saw my belly and the two in the jogger. Running the rest of the way home, I felt terrible…wondering if I was being totally selfish. When I asked my doctor about it, he said as long as I was feeling okay and the baby seemed fine, it was fine with him. By the time #9 came along in 2009, it was really common for women to workout throughout pregnancy.
3.What is the hardest thing about working out after the birth of a child?
Ashley: Timing … getting a work-out in while the baby is full, happy, and hopefully asleep!
Shannon: The hardest thing is managing the demands of a newborn and finding the energy and motivation to exercise.
Me: I would have to say I found the hardest thing was to balance much needed sleep with exercise. Knowing when to say no to a workout because of fatigue was important. I wasn’t so good at that when I first started having children…however I always chose sleep over a workout as I got older.
4. How often a week do you work out?
Ashley: It’s been more like a 4x a week average since homeschooling started back in August, although I really have the itch to get back to 6x a week. I was doing 6x a week right after the baby was born up until the start of the school year.
Shannon: 5 days a week
5. What is your main/favorite type of exercise? Why? Ashley: P90X. I have to workout at home while the kids are napping or working on other things. The hardest thing is managing the demands of a newborn and finding the energy and motivation to exercise.e on my own schedule. My oldest child is 10, so I can’t leave the kiddos at home while I exercise. I have to use an at home program. I like P90X because it’s a total body workout. It both burns calories and builds muscle.
Shannon :Running is my favorite type of exercise. I love the intensity that comes with it and the feeling of euphoria after a tough run. I also love the convenience of running plus I can bring my baby with me. Running is social for me as I’ve met wonderful friends that keep me motivated.
6. I know that you both have other children, has it been easier or harder to keep up with fitness since having more children? Ashley: EASIER!!! I think the hardest time to fit in a workout for me was when my 5th was born, my oldest was 5, and I was homeschooling for the first year. Now I have extra sets of eyes / hands to help out with the little ones if needed (although I typically exercise during nap time while my older ones complete school work, read a book, or play outside). I’m definitely busier than I used to be, but I have gotten some time management practice under my belt too 🙂
Shannon: Having another child does make it harder to keep up fitness, it’s now all about their schedule so I have to adjust mine to fit it in.
Me: I think it is harder when you have children who are all under the age of 5 or 6. It is high maintenance and you have not a lot of help from an older child. However, I found that, like Ashley, it actually became easier when the other children were older…even when I had a lot of kids at home. I had more hands to help with little ones and I would steal 30 minutes here or there just to fit something in.
7. How do you make time to fit in exercise?
Ashley: It’s just a priority. I am a happier wife, mother, and teacher when I am working out. You know the old saying … “when mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” … well, the inverse is also true. When mommy’s happy, the whole family is happier. Exercise plays a large role in my energy level which means I have more of it to devout to my family!
Shannon: I go early in the morning before the kids are up.
Me: Early is the best option for me as well. Occasionally I find an hour at mid-day or in the late afternoon. Coaching cross country in the fall gave me a good opportunity to run in the early evening and still bring the kids along. I think we have to always be seeking those opportunities and then take full advantage of them while they are there! Cross country is over now and I find that I am back to mostly exercising before dawn! But I am tired.
8. Do you have any tips for other moms trying to get in shape after a baby?
Ashley: Eat a balanced diet and exercise. Do whatever form of exercise you are motivated to do. If you aren’t motivated, you aren’t going to stick to it. Find something you like and that works for you. Also, get as much sleep as you can at night. My little one still has me up 2-3 times a night nursing. The little darling just doesn’t want to start solids yet, so I’m sort-of stuck. I try to get to bed early so that when 6 am rolls around and my other guys are getting out of bed, I’m not having to drag myself to the coffee pot, eyes half shut! (Although, truth be told, my first stop is ALWAYS the coffee pot). Maybe not the healthiest choice, but it’s one of those guilty pleasures I’m unwilling to part with 🙂
Shannon: From my experience, this is what works for me.
1. Secure a time commitment from your hubby to watch the kids
2. Get up early in the morning
3. Increase your schedule gradually (i.e. exercise 3 days/week for the first two weeks, exercise 4 days/week from the third week…and so on)
4. Be flexible with your schedule.
5. Use the YMCA (they have a child care program while you workout)
6. Set expectations: It is difficult to begin an exercise program, and even more difficult to start with a new born. But don’t give up. The benefits are great.
Me: I love those answers. Balance is key, I believe. Coffee is another key! Finding out what works and then sticking with it…until it no longer works…then finding the next thing… Being flexible and not allowing yourself to feel guilty when you just can’t do it all!
Ashley: Absolutely CRITICAL!!! Here’s the thing for me: If I am working out, I’m motivated to eat well, if I eat well, I’m more motivated to work out and I have more energy to use up in a work out. For me, it all starts with exercise. If I fall of the exercise wagon, I fall off the eating well wagon. Before you know it, I’m broken down on the side of the road 🙂 Another bonus with nutrition is that when I am eating a really balanced diet, my whole family is eating well. I am purchasing and making healthy food for my entire family because it’s what I want to eat for myself. I am nursing which means I eat more calories than I would not nursing. I make sure I drink a TON of water. I calorie count if I’m trying to loose weight, but not when I’m just wanting to maintain. I LOVE the My Daily Plate app for the iphone. You can also use the on-line version. It lets you track everything you eat and how much water you’ve had in a day. It allows you to set goals for weight … such as maintain weight, loose 1 or 2 pounds per week. The only thing it doesn’t do is allow you to allot extra calories for pregnancy and nursing. I just go in and manually adjust by 200 – 300 calories to compensate for my need for added caloric intake. I find that if I have to log what is going into my mouth, I’m more likely to make good CONSCIOUS choices (without the log, I fall pray to the nibble here, nibble there … okay, really it’s graze ALL DAY LONG … trap).
Shannon: Nutrition is very important as the right balance of foods will accelerate your road to being fit. I try limit fast food and eat 3-4 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Occasionally, I treat myself to a Chic Fil a milk shake, as a reward for being disciplined.
Me: The Rule of 70 is important to remember when it comes to nutrition. Maintaining (or even losing) weight is about 70 percent nutrition and 30 percent exercise. Whether we are like Ashley who says it starts with exercise and then nutrition follows, or whether we believe it starts with good nutrition and then we “feel” well and can exercise, the nutrition component is the bigger factor in terms of actually mainaining proper weight. See my post on the Rule of 70 for more on this topic.
There are as many ways to get back to fitness after pregnancy as there are women trying to get back to it. The most important thing to remember is to listen to your own body…, if you feel exhausted, if you have pain or discomfort, or if you are just stressed about trying to fit it into a new demanding schedule…then getting back to an exercise routine may have to wait a little while. I have had pregnancies when I returned to fitness very quickly (within a few weeks) after a baby, and I have had other pregnancies when it took me a lot longer. Almost everytime, however, there was a point when I felt frustrated with how things were going. It is easy for me to see now how impatient I was, yet in the moment I just felt frustrated. A good article to read for balanced approach to coming back to fitness after pregnancy is the following from babycare.com Let us know how you have dealt with coming back to fitness after the birth of a child…