A couple months after my first baby was born, I decided it was time to get back into shape.
My 30-day Bikram Yoga coupon was kind on my wallet, but a bitch to my ego. The giant mirror glaring back at my big ass, boobs, and belly didn’t help either. Scrawny vegan women (and men) calmly mastered the 26 grueling postures designed to tone, strengthen, and bring divine serenity.
Me? I just felt pissed off and ready to pass out.
I wasn’t a stranger to this 100-degree workout (I’d dabbled in it years ago and actually liked it), but my two-month postpartum, sleep-deprived body hated it now. There wasn’t a leaky-boob stained t-shirt in the house — this wasn’t my tribe.
And I never went back.
You see, half the battle of losing the weight is finding a workout that doesn’t suck the life out of you. In short, you have to find your new groove.
Read also: The Struggle of Post-Pregnancy Body Image
Time, money, nursing, sleep deprivation, and fussy babies will all play a role in working out as a new mom. So, if that literally means “tiny steps” (i.e., walking) or waiting until your lady parts stop hurting so darn much… then take all the time you need. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your skinny jeans aren’t going anywhere without spit up on them anyway.
Vanity aside, research shows that exercise helps reduce the risk of postpartum depression – and that was good enough reason for me (hello, Irish genes). And here’s more bright and shiny news: breastfeeding alone burns 600-800 calories a day. Thanks, Mother Nature, for that little gimme.
So, does this mean you can just kick back and watch the weight drop off? Uhhh, not exactly… we live in reality and not the land of impossible dream bodies of Hollywood new moms. Seriously, Lindsay Lohan, stop it… you’re really not helping the situation.
After giving birth, your body is working hard to repair itself. Going on a strict diet isn’t healthy, but cutting out empty calories like soda and french fries is just what the doctor ordered (fries are vegetables, right?).
A well-balanced diet will give you more energy to deal with the lack of sleep, brainpower, and, well, solitude in your new life. We all knew that when we signed the dotted line of motherhood.
Ok, so where do we start? Pull on those sexy maternity sweatpants and dusty sneakers — it’s time to get out the door!
According to postpartum fitness expert Renee M. Jeffreys, M.S., “Most women’s bodies aren’t ready for serious exercise until six weeks after giving birth — longer if they’ve had a Cesarean section.”
“Start by walking around the block,” Jeffreys says. “If it feels good and doesn’t cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther the next day.”
The great thing about walking is that you and baby can both get out of the house, allowing you to explore new territory together. And hey, you may even bump into some fellow new moms you can introduce yourself to, or at least swap stories to determine who’s more sleep deprived. (You.)
If you can, walk to the store and bring your stroller to carry some groceries home. Hey – feeling useful again does something good for the inner-you, too. You might even be inspired to go home and cook something yummy (okay, let’s not get TOO carried away).
Walk up the stairs. Walk in nature. Grab an umbrella, bundle up, and walk in the rain. Put one foot in front of the other… and just go.
If you’re a runner, this is a great way to ease back into it. Much to your dismay, you may need to wear a panty liner if your bladder is a little leaky, which is oh-so-common (less common for C-Section moms). In fact, most women experience some incontinence after a vaginal delivery, especially if you had a big baby. This is due to damage to your pelvic floor muscles and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The Buddy System
If you can and you’re comfortable with it, find a mom buddy to walk, hike, dance, stretch, and (hopefully) laugh the weight off with you (and the baby you’re wearing or pushing). DIT (doing it together) can be more fun than DIY (doing it yourself).
Being accountable to someone else’s schedule and time might force you to actually do the work. It’s easy for me to blow off myself (and my workout), but less so when someone else is depending on me. Remember also that moms can be the biggest flakes in the world (not on purpose, I swear!), so be understanding when that happens too.
Fitness Classes and Online Workouts
If you’re a loner (or you just prefer to exercise alone – or you have no choice in the matter HA) — be a buddy to yourself first. Find a way to work out that fits, challenges, and elevates you.
Some exercise programs even incorporate their wee ones into their routines (baby = barbell?). See also: Favorite At Home Exercise
Fitness videos can be an affordable way to kick your butt and take the weight off in the comfort of your own home, all while not requiring back-up childcare (who knew it would be so hard to get away?) or a ton of planning and scheduling. There is also an *incredible wealth of workouts available online now. (Sheesh you used to have buy DVDs for this kind of thing — imagine!)
Here are a few at-home courses recommended by our readers:
Note: If you have an abdominal separation, or diastasis recti, as a result of pregnancy and birth, please read up on the exercises that are no-nos (namely, crunches and such).
- Barre3 ($29/month or $99/year) — Barre is a very popular workout that combines Pilates, ballet, and yoga. B3 offers TONS of easy-to-modify videos and also has dedicated pre- and postnatal classes. It’s a great low-impact exercise method for improving strength and cardio, and also doesn’t take up a lot of space.
- Studio Bloom ($29/month or $240/year) — Bloom Method’s virtual on-demand fitness platform is made exclusively for women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or postpartum. It’s chock-full of classes focused on pelvic floor strength, core, cardio, yoga, postpartum rehabilitation, mobility, and also comes with access to in-house pelvic floor physical therapists and nutrition info for mom and baby.
- Fitness Blender (free/$7 per month for full access) — This husband/wife training team has more than 500 workout videos available to stream for free — the “plus” [paid] version includes even more. You can search by length (classes range from 5-90 min), type of exercise, body area focus, equipment, etc. The videos are excellent no-frills routines, and if you need more direction in terms of selecting workouts, you also have the option to purchase regimens that prescribe workouts for you. Highly recommended!
- Nike Training Club ($0) — This (free!) app has hundreds of different workouts ranging from yoga and boxing to HIIT and heavy lifting. You can select workouts on your own or sign up for different training plans that specify workouts for you. It’s definitely worth checking out.
- POPSUGAR Fitness ($0) — With an almost-overwhelming selection of classes ranging in length from a few minutes to longer-than-anyone-has-time-for, and exercise types spanning from ballet and barre to kickboxing, dance cardio, and HIIT/strength training, POPSUGAR’s fitness classes, many of which are led by peppy celebrity fitness instructors, are a fantastic option for busy moms. Plus, who doesn’t love options like the “lazy girl workout,” the “baby bulge be-gone workout,” or the “quiet at-home workout”?
- BodyFit by Amy ($0) — This mama of 2 and personal trainer offers free workout videos with a nice mix of cardio, weights, toning, etc. She has prenatal- and postnatal-specific classes, ALWAYS offers low-impact versions of every exercise, and also provides a free workout calendar if you sign up for her email at the beginning of the month. These classes are really nice because you can tailor them to where you at — you can make them as gentle or as intense as you want — and they are super reasonable time-wise.
Make me proud, ladies… I’m rooting you all on!
I was fortunate to have a knowledgeable yoga instructor who checked me for diastasis recti, commonly known as abdominal separation. A diastasis is defined as a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves.
I was fine with baby #1, then baby #2 decided to leave me with “mummy tummy,” as it’s not-so-affectionately called. You can get a diastasis from your first pregnancy, but it’s far more common with second and subsequent ones. It’s also quite common, just FYI — about a third of women experience it.
An umbilical hernia is a more severe form of diastasis and should also be treated with great care.
If you have a diastasis, modifications are required for your workout, lest you make the problem worse. You can learn how to check yourself for diastasis here.
With a diastasis, abdominal crunches are a no-no, as is being on all fours or any other position that puts forward or downward pressure on your rectus abdominis, where the delicate connective tissue has already been torn or damaged.
Again, you can diagnose yourself, but check with your doctor before taking on any core work.
Very recently, a joint pilot study conducted by an OB-GYN and a yoga instructor (!) found that 10 minutes a day of a specific exercise regimen designed to eliminate diastasis worked for all the women involved. Everyone — 100%! You can read about the research — and the exercise — here.
In conclusion [ahem], it can be hard to get back into an exercise routine after being mowed down by childbirth, but doing so will help you feel like your old self again. Although your body may never be exactly the same, you will be surprised how quickly you find your new self.
Working out will give you confidence, great endorphins.
I’m sorry you can’t get together in person because of this pandemic right now. It’s making everything 10x harder. But it won’t last forever. Promise <3.
Written by Karen Agresti
See also: Best Baby Hiking Carriers