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. Just like pregnancy is a journey that progresses slowly, so is shedding the weight we put on during that process and regaining physical strength.

I had gained a whopping 21 kilograms/46 pounds, which meant that I added one third of my original weight to the scale. While I lost most of this extra weight within the first 3 months after the birth, it was still a long journey to bring my body back to its initial, pre-preggo state. Extra kilos might be one side of the equation, the other is the simple loss of strength in core muscle groups. As I am not a huge advocate on dieting in general (as I think it is much more sustainable to change your default eating habits ), I won’t focus on that with regards to reclaiming your body after giving birth as this should anyhow not be a focus point at this moment in your life. Let it be a by-product of regaining strength and focus on being as strong of a mom as you can be (literally).

The core facilitator, excuse the pun, for a strong body is a strong core. Sadly it’s the muscles in that area that have been challenged the most in the 40 weeks of growing a tiny human. Now, most mothers neither have the time or energy to subscribe themselves to an extensive training program in a gym, nor do most new moms have the ability to commit to a specific time slot in the day to dedicate it specifically to a workout as your latest family addition really couldn’t care less about schedules when they are hungry NOW, need a diaper change NOW or cuddle time NOW. This is precisely the challenge why typically workouts don’t work out (haha) for new moms, they are building each element on top of each other. As in, first you do leg raises with your right leg, then the left leg etc. While that is all fine and well at any other given time of your life, it’s not so practical for mothers of newborns. That’s why I love hula hoop. It’s fun, it doesn’t require any complicated equipement other than the hoop, it can fit into your day as you see fit. Make sure however that you only start this, if your doctor gives you the okay to work on your abs again, otherwise you could do yourself more harm than good.

Mom's health: Reclaiming your body postpartum after birth
The day our daughter was born vs. 12 weeks after

Secretly train your body while having fun

Hula hoop is one of the most effective and fun ways of redefining your waistline. Not the simple hoops we used as kids, but a weighted fitness hula hoop. The amazing thing about it: 10-15 minutes per day is enough to achieve tangible results. So no matter how stressful life with a newborn gets, you will most likely be able to find some time for it. Moreover, it doesn’t matter if you get interrupted 6 minutes in by the mini-me, as you can just pick it up right after you tended to your little one.

The best benefit of hula hooping is the effect it has on strengthening and training your pelvic muscles. Not just the pelvic floor (which most people focus on if they pay attention to excersising that part of their body), but the entire pelvic muscle area, which is actually a quite large muscle influencing almost all parts of our lower upper body, such as our back, our organs, digestion, etc. This part of your body that has been experiencing the most stress, stretching, tearing and overall pressure of all muscles during pregnancy. Yet, a strong pelvic area is quintessential to so many aspects of our well being. For example, lower back pain can actually be due to weak pelvic muscles, so can incontinence.

A lot of people find it challenging to consciously activate this area and particularily the pelvic floor muscle. This is why hula hooping is so great, because you subconsciously tighten and activate the entire pelvic area in order to move the hoop around your waist. Thereby you tense those muscles naturally and thus strengthen them over time. Because this is a muscle that is so hard to flex at will for so many, but yet so important to do to rebuild after pregnancy and birth, you will already feel the physical effect from hula hooping by just doing it for 10-15 minutes in the beginning.

Mom's health: Reclaiming your body postpartum after birth

The second great benefit: 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! Besides and actually more important than being skinny, is being strong.

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 strengthen and trim your core. This is the fitness hula hoop that I am using. It comes with 3 different weight options.

Besides the added weight, these fitness hoops 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, by increasing the blood flow. Now, sadly it is impossible to target a specific area of your body for weight loss through excersise. Your body will not discriminate between fat cells in your body and equally “consume” them from anywhere, as soon as you create a calory deficit. You will create the calory deficit, if you limit your diet and/or increase the amount of muscle mass in your body (as stronger muscles need more calories to be maintained) or if you exhaust your body through cardio (which I wouldn’t recommend to moms of newborn). The biggest muscle groups in our body are the leg muscles. What the massaging of the waisteline with the wave hoop however does though, it makes sure that it increases the blood flow and since our blood is the cargo line of our body for anything that needs to be transported from A to B (be it nutrients of any toxins that need to be cleared out via our liver or kidneys), this means the cell renewal in this area is enhanced. This in turn, helps your postpartum recovery journey.

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 hula hoop tutorial video.

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. This is another great 5 minute excercise to release shoulder and neck tension.

Secretly train your pelvic muscles on a stroller walk

As hula hooping already suggest, I am a great advocate for secret workouts for new moms aka excersises that help you train your body to regain strength, but that don’t require much equipment or effort to execute. Therefore also check out the article below on an amazing way to train your pelvic muscle while being out and about on a stroller walk with your newborn.

Regaining strength with postpartum yoga

Yoga is another great way to get back into shape and regain muscle strength after birth. Besides it’s a wonderful routine to add to your postpartum journey as soon as you got to know the life routine of your mini-me a little bit and learn their sleep schedule. So if you know your baby tends to have a longer nap in the morning, why not roll out your yoga mat and channel your inner yogi. Even if you are tired from sleep deprivation, this is actually a great way to reenergize as it’s a calm act of mindfulness amist the baby chaos and you can even do it next to your baby, if you use wireless headphones.

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. Likewise: just because that one girl you know starting an ambitious workout regime two weeks after her baby was born and ran a marathon half a year later, doesn’t mean that you should or could. Focus on yourself and what feels and is best for you, you alone. Again every body is different, so check what applies in your case.

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