Morning Yoga for inner strength and mindfulness

Being a mom can take a lot of your energy – both mentally and physically. Heck, sometimes just being a fully functioning adult (without a baby) in today’s world can be completely draining. That’s why I turned to yoga back in 2012 at a particularly stressful time in my life, when I was working in a very intense job with long hours. In particular, I turned to morning yoga. I strongly believe the way we start our day sets the precedent for the hours to come. That’s why it is so important to dedicate the time after we wake up to mindful and positive activities and thoughts to guide us through. That includes the first thoughts that come to mind, the breakfast we choose and, of course, the first things you do after waking up.

If you think: “I would love to do yoga, but I just done have the time in the morning”, think again. Your ideal yoga session takes a minimum of 20 minutes and doesn’t have to be longer (unless you really want it to be) to have a positive effect on you, I am sure, that even if you need to head out to work really early, you might be able to find those 20 minutes. You will be highly rewarded, as you will start your day so much more refreshed. I always did my sessions using the DVD, “Rodney Yee’s A.M. yoga” by GAIAM. It includes five different 20 minute yoga workout sessions for each workday of the week. It certainly helped me preserve my stamina and thus enabled me to keep my cool, even on very stressful days. I strongly recommend using a DVD (or YouTube) so you can ensure you get the postures right.

 

This became even handier to me when I got pregnant. This is such a complete game-changer in any person’s life. Being a first-time parent can be terrifying. ‘Will I do everything right?’ ‘Will I be a good mom?’ ‘I’m scared of labor and the birth process’. All those thoughts are perfectly natural. Fundamentally though, this is precisely the time in your life when you SHOULD do yoga, even if you have never done it before and only start with it now. Don’t forget: you are “just” pregnant, not ill. So exercise is important – for your body AND (maybe even more important) for your mind. It helps strengthen your pelvic muscles (which you need for giving birth and a lot of other body functions in general), it supports the stability of your back (which also traverses our pelvic muscles, as they are connected to your back), it enhances your flexibility (and boy do we need that), it helps you focus on the moment and MOST IMPORTANTLY for pregnant women: It is a great resource for getting into a healthy breathing routine. This routine can help you during labor and contractions. For me, yoga was one of my key pillars of inner and outer strength during the pregnancy, besides my partner. Also, it enables you to keep a better posture. As the belly grows (and mine got really huuuuuuge, I looked like a baby elephant), it is more crucial than ever to maintain a good posture. Your back will thank you.

I started getting back into my morning yoga routine after my daughter was three weeks old and ever since then have used this as one of my resources for inner strength, rebuilding my postpartum body and being mindful. Check in with your midwife or doctor and get their okay prior to commencing any exercise regime, getting back into yoga or even starting from scratch. Don’t forget: you are not participating in a race as part of an unofficial fit mom challenge. Take your time to get into a yoga routine that works for you and allow your body to rebuild slowly. If that means that you focus more on the mindfulness aspects, that’s just as fine as going straight back to rebuilding your core strength. Every mom is different, that’s what makes us so wonderful, because we are all unique and powerful in our own right.

For moms who want to get back into yoga, I can whole heartedly recommend Sarah Beth Yoga. Her mama yoga videos are truly wonderful. I restarted with this video of hers, which I did when my baby took her morning nap.

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Oh baby, baby: 10 steps for taking the perfect biometrical passport picture for your baby

One of the beautiful things of being a parent is the ability to discover the world anew through the eyes of your little baby. This includes taking your baby on trips abroad and introducing them to travelling. Granted, they might not be fully able to indulge in the experience when they are very young, but I believe in the mantra “Happy and relaxed parents equal a happy and relaxed baby”. One thing that is not contributing to a relaxed state of mind however is the question how to get your baby to pose without movement or giggles for a biometrical passport picture to enable your traveling. While some countries are fine issuing travel documents without pictures, the US at least requires a biometrical picture for baby passports as well. This natural makes you ask yourself how to approach this. To spare other parents the photo booth experiments gone wrong journey we took at first, I wanted to share our solution for this challenge, which is also recommended by the US State Department aka acceptable for the task at hand.

You need

  • A white or light cream colored blanket or bed sheet without pattern
  • A rattle or a set of keys
  • A smartphone
  • Patience
  • A baby

Step by step

  1. Dress your baby so that the neck area is free and the full face is visible on the picture later
  2. Lay the blanket or bed sheet on a flat surface. I recommend using your bed as the head of your baby will ever so slightly sink into the mattress which enhances the chances of him/her looking straight up into the camera
  3. Check your phone camera settings to ensure the pictures are all in high resolution (min 300 dpi)
  4. Place your baby in the middle of the blanket and make sure there is plenty of blanket space around the baby to allow for an all-white background
  5. Place yourself with the camera directly above the baby
  6. Make sure you hold your smartphone in a straight angle from above and that part of your babies shoulder area is in the picture
  7. Use the a rattle of a set of keys at hand to grab the baby’s attention
  8. Fire away with your smartphone, take at least 10 pictures in rectangular and horizontal, so you get at least one or two useable pictures out of the session and don’t have to redo it
  9. Upload the picture to a passport photo website like this one – this page offers a free service as well as a paid one and allows you to rotate the pictures ever so slightly until the eyes of your baby are perfectly aligned with the edges of the photo and to zoom in and out until the head fills the picture in the required proportion. Make sure to preselect the right size and format required in your case
  10. Either send the digital photo to the passport issuing authority for your country or print it at home or in a store

Oh baby, baby: Reclaiming your body postpartum

Everybody and every body is different, and so is the time it takes to recover from giving birth and shedding the weight we put on during the pregnancy. I had gained a whopping 21 kilograms/46 pounds, which meant that I added one third of my original weight to the scale. And while I lost most of his extra weight within the first 3 months after the birth, it is still a long journey to bring the body back to its initial, pre-preggo state.

 

One of the most effective and time-saving ways of redefining your waistline is hula hoop. And not the simple hoop we used as kids, but a weighted fitness hula hoop. The most amazing thing about it: 15 minutes per day is enough. The second most amazing thing: it strengthens and trains your inner abdominal muscles and works on the exact part of your body that has been most affected by the pregnancy. The hoop exercise works on your inner core and thus gifts you with a nicely trained middle. After all, fit is the new skinny! I already worked with a fitness hoop 2-3 times a week before the pregnancy, in addition to my gym workouts, and I can only wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone and every mom as an awesome way to trim your core to get that hourglass figure. This is the one I am using. It comes in 3 different weight options. Besides the added weight, it also has a wave design, so while spinning the ring also massages the love handles in your middle to trigger fat-burning in that area. However, only start this workout if your doctor gives you the okay to work on your abs again, otherwise you could do yourself more harm than good.

Do not get disheartened if it takes you a few attempts to get the hang of how to keep the hoop up. It’s not that you forgot all your skills from childhood (assuming you learned) or that your hips are too stiff, but merely that the added weight of the hoop requires a tad bit more training and muscle work to make it work. Click here for a great tutorial video.

P.S. Not its original purpose, but moms usually tend to get neck and shoulder pain from constantly lifting, shifting and holding a growing and not very cooperative baby. One way to help you loosen up those stiff muscles and ease the pain is to hold the hula hoop in front of you like a giant steering wheel and twist and turn it for a couple of minutes as if you have to swiftly maneuver a large, heavy semi-truck through an obstacle course.

Disclaimer: Before starting any type of postpartum workout ask your midwife or ob-gyn if it’s safe for you to start exercising or if there are any restrictions in your case. They need to check if there is any diastasis recti. This is vitally important, otherwise any exercise you engage in is actually doing your body more harm than good, especially in the long run and sometimes many years down the road. Basically it is all about making sure that the two abdominal muscles are reconnected. Do not do any ab training before this split that’s created during pregnancy is closed. This can take anything between a couple of weeks or several month depending on your body – so there is no rule of thumb on how fast yours abdominal integration will happen. Give it the time it needs. Just because a friend of yours took 5 month to recover, it might be still fine for you to restart after 3 weeks. Again every body is different, so check what applies in your case.


Oh baby, baby: What do you NOT need for your newborn

Since most checklists focus on all the stuff you supposedly need for your baby, I want to focus here on some stuff you do NOT need – at least as far as our experience goes. Although granted, the judgement of what’s overrated, in the end, always down to the individual, I nevertheless wanted to share our experiences, as some of these can be found on baby or parenting checklists and we found them to be non-essential at best and recommend that you save your money and rather invest it elsewhere, like in diapers for example. Every family is different, so take this post as our experience that might be helpful for you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that some of this wouldn’t work for you nonetheless.

What you don’t need (as far as I am concerned), although it is often suggested, is a white noise machine to help calm your baby. If you’ve got a laptop or smartphone, YouTube is full of white noise videos that can be multiple hours in length of things like a vacuum cleaner sound aka white noise. White noise is soothing for babies since they were exposed to constant “noise” in the womb, like your heartbeat and the pulsating of the umbilical cord.

Pacifiers would also fall into the no-need-to-buy category. You seem to get a ton of these as presents for your newborn, and so it is quite unlikely you will end up without a pacifier or two in your household. However, who is to say you will actually need them? For most babies, this is an acquired habit that you later need to train them to drop. So why not simply make do with the pacifiers you get from friends and family along the way, without investing in a pacifier collection yourself? Plus, some breastfed babies could get confused when confronted with a pacifier, due to the different sensations from similar motions. Our baby refuses pacifiers flat out. At first I was a little sad, as babies do look quite cute sucking on them but, well, she looks incredibly cute anyway (I know, parental bias), so that’s okay.

Maybe this one is debatable, but I do not think it necessary to invest in specific nursing pajamas when you are breastfeeding. Like any maternity-related clothing, the price is jacked up compared to normal night gowns or PJs and if you think about it: in what way is a nursing pajama set superior to a normal, loose-fit T-shirt? The truth is, it isn’t. It’s not like you need to ensure minimal boob exposure when you are at home, feeding your baby in your own bed. The only time when there might be a slight justification would be in the hospital, but even then, if you simply wear a large, loosely-fitting shirt, you will barely show anything and you anyhow have a baby covering you up. Plus, you will most likely only be there for a couple of nights.

You also do NOT need baby shoes. I’d list this under gadgets, despite them being a clothing item, as they are really just an aesthetic gadget if your baby can’t walk, BUT you will get bombarded with cute tiny shoes as soon as you enter any baby-themed store. Let’s get real though: your baby is not walking, not crawling and otherwise not doing anything that would remotely require shoes, so why bother him or her with the restriction they impose on the feet? Let the toes wiggle freely! Not even going on a stroller walk or car ride will require shoes, as your baby will have a blanket or socks to keep it warm and to be honest, we grown-ups merely got used to wearing shoes, but being without them is definitely the more comfortable choice for your little one. If you can’t resist the urge to buy a pair for your munchkin, get some that s/he can also use when old enough to walk. Although when they learn to walk, they should do so at home and without shoes, as they will get a more natural feel for it and it is better for their feet.

Lastly, I wanted to mention stuffed toys: while you no doubt want your kid to have stuffed animals, there is actually no need for you to buy them for your baby. Why? Because you can more or less count on friends and family doing this job for you. People love buying those cute, fluffy kiddy companions and it is not like a baby needs a million of those anyways, so I recommend holding off with buying them and simply sit back and relax, as your nursery will soon fill up with them, without any action on your part.

While you certainly will find it helpful to have a great information resource around to quickly inquire about “Why is my baby always crying for 2 hours every evening without being hungry” or “is it normal, if…” and “when do babies start…”, most likely your go-to source will not be a book about baby development. At least I find myself consulting the wonderful Ovia app and sometimes google. While just trusting random google sources might indeed not the best mode to sail the sea of parenthood, there are great websites and apps out there that do indeed provide valuable information that can support you along the way. Don’t get me wrong, there are truly wonderfully written books out there that explain everything you could possibly want to know about your baby’s development, but 9 times out of 10, your first thought will probably be “I will google this real quick”. Just make sure to check an actually credible sources.

Honorary mention: The wipe warmer was already mentioned in my baby care post, but I wanted to repeat it here, because it is really not necessary to have one. I mean, how cold can wipes get in a normal household?! Same goes for a baby bath tub thermometer. The uselessness of this reveals itself when you think about how often you use a bath tub thermometer in your own bubble bath. Since the answer is probably “never”, this also answers how often you will use it to check the temperature of the baby bath with it.

 


Oh baby, baby: Useful support, a.k.a. life-savers for moms (to be)

While there are many tips on stuff to get for mom during and after the pregnancy, such as a nursing pillow or nursing bras and shirts, I wanted to share my list of things that are not on the traditional must-have lists, but that I found particularly useful and/or fun (because being pregnant and being a new mom is meant to be fun and exciting).

During the pregnancy

yoga.jpgYoga cushions are a great support in the later stages of pregnancy, as they are wonderful for taking pressure off your pelvic muscles as these grow ever more sensitive and soft as the pregnancy progresses. Plus, you can use it for meditating or mindfulness exercises, both of which I found to be extremely helpful to mentally prepare for the birth.

Get yourself a good pregnancy body oil. I magically got through the pregnancy tiger stripe-free and only had a few of them post-partum. I put this down to using bio-oil –since the start of the second trimester and applying it twice a day to keep the skin smooth. This was of vital importance in my case, as my belly looked like I was carrying twins. And this product is honestly truly amazing. I also continued with this habit post-partum to help my skin cope with the deflation process and so far it is working wonders.

No, this does not make you look eye-wateringly gorgeous, but it will be your new best friend in the later stages of pregnancy when the belly gets really huge. I am talking about a pregnancy belt. It says “I got your back, girl” and it does really mean it. Although it can’t save you from getting back pain, it certainly reduces it and allows you to handle walking longer distances and be more mobile. Because no matter how many workout sessions you dedicate to strengthening your lower back, it will never be quite enough as soon as your pregnancy reaches the home stretch. There are different types of belts and I tried several styles. The only one that gives you the feeling of actual support and isn’t merely a tight ring around your ever rounder waist is this system.

Delivery

I rarely see this one on any of the hospital bag checklists, but I do highly recommend it: get yourself wet toilet wipes, not only for when you are home again, but bring them to the hospital with you, as they won’t provide them there. Everyone tells you how excruciating and frankly a bit traumatizing the first bathroom visit after birth will be – and that’s true – however, wet toilet wipes can help you with this a little bit, as normal toilet paper will feel painful.

Back home

mugholder.jpgOne of my dearest possessions with regard to all the baby stuff is my coffee mug holder (click here) for the stroller. Make sure it fits the width of the handlebar of your stroller. Mine was a present from my wonderful partner, as he knows how much I love going out while sipping on my coffee (always with a straw!). Since the caffeine would go straight through to my baby, it is mostly decaf, but I still enjoy it while on our daily 1-2 hour walks. Speaking of walks, they are a great way to support you in getting back into an exercise mindset before your doctor gives you the green light for it. Simply try to maintain a brisk walking speed and it is almost a mini-workout. P.S. the first walks will anyhow feel very much like a workout for your sour body.

Another wonderful item for the stroller is the mommy hook (e.g. this one) with which you can hang a shopping bag or a gym water bottle there or for your portable diaper changing station.