Lieke Lekkas shared her training-while-pregnant experiences with us here. Now, an update on what she’s doing as a new mother — and of course, she keeps it real. (On labour: “It was a bit like squatting heavy with a really bad case of constipation.”)
The benefits of training during pregnancy are clear and have been researched, but how about the help that exercise can give you while giving birth… and afterwards?
I know that exercising all those months during my pregnancy helped enormously to maintain my health, which includes body awareness and hormones.
During labour, the benefits were also very apparent, especially when pushing, and overall recovery afterwards. I didn’t really need to push full force and I could control my breath as well as my contractions just fine. It was a bit like squatting heavy with a really bad case of constipation. I didn’t even feel the need to abuse my hubby or anyone else, and no need for medication (too late anyway, since it all took about 19 minutes).
Recovery felt much more rapid than I had expected. And Little Sprout had a 9/10 APGAR score, slept well from the start (anywhere), grows well and is rarely sick.
After 3 weeks I got bored of staying at home all the time and went to my gym for my first training. It felt great. And then I crashed completely for the next 2 months. Oops.
Nutritionwise, I had a complete blackout. I could take the easy way out and blame it on hormones but frankly, it was my own stupid fault, since I didn’t have enough milk to breastfeed and in my panic thought that by eating seven kinds of crap, milk would come too. Milk didn’t come; pounds came instead and piled up everywhere. DAMN.
Now, thankfully, 6 months out I’m back on track, I eat healthy portions and healthy food again, I’m back to training 4-5 times a week, and my extra weight is slowly decreasing into the “green zone”.
Starting up your training again after giving birth is tougher than I thought it would be. Even if you have had a good active pregnancy and have the perfect baby (and let’s be honest, the chance of that is about 1:1.000.000), that baby suddenly takes up vast amounts of time that used to be yours to spend. You start from scratch while being sore overall and you go without sleep for what seems like two hundred years at a time. Your partner is cranky.
And everybody who bothered you with “good advice” during your pregnancy is coming back at you with a vengeance now you’re down and out, with advice on how to raise your newborn cute little purple-faced, snub-nosed turbo poo-machine that apparently only sleeps when you don’t.
So how the hell do you fit your training into that crazy schedule as well?
When and where do you start?
And how long should it take to feel strong again and shrink into your usual shape?
Good news: it is possible and even fun to train with a baby around… it just takes some extra organizing.
get going again
According to your level of fitness and strength and how you feel after giving birth, you could give yourself a training break (not counting short walks with the baby) of at least about 2 weeks.
Start with longer walks with the baby outside when you feel like it. I started with 30 minute walks, 10 days after giving birth, plus some short sets of light squats and careful stretching.
After that: slowly build up your stamina and physical condition.
Take the baby with you whenever you can. They love going places. And they’re asleep most of the time anyway during the first few months when they’re not drinking milk or crapping their pants. My gym let me stash the pram within sight in the kitchen area and my little monster loves participating so I sometimes just hang her in her baby carrier and start training with her hanging on at the front.
in the gym
I found that I could easily do these exercises in the gym and it’s actually most of the stuff I used to do before.
- Farmers walks (Go light! Your abs are still stretched out and they need time to recover.)
- Squats (I could do these with stitches, but you might want to skip these at the start)
- Cross trainer (heaviest setting)
- Shoulder press
- (Modified) light Turkish get-ups
No gym? No excuse: go do some exercise in the park.
Make your initial walks longer as the days go by to increase your stamina. Babies love being outside, and it’s good for them too.
Have fun: find a fallen tree trunk and try log walking for balance, log squatting, backflips (haha)… all fun. As an added bonus, this stuff will make you feel like you’re 10 again.
- Pram lunges (or just lunges)
- Step-ups on a handy park bench or stable non-slippery log
- Interval short pram sprints (preferably without launching your baby)
- Squats (using pram for assistance if necessary)
- Park bench push-ups
- Park bench dips
- Park bench plank
- Stretches (careful)
- Etc etc. — use your imagination and go by how you feel (Here are some more ideas, from a couple of new mothers at Precision Nutrition.)
Most of the above indoor and outdoor exercises, and many more, are possible with a baby in a pram or baby belly carrier, but be a Good Mommy and please avoid anything that involves lifting heavy stuff that you wouldn’t want to squash your little sprout with if you let go of it. These include dumbbell presses, barbell shoulder presses, overhead squats. Or exercises that involve sprinting or jumping. Duh.
the basics of getting back into shape
- Never ever neglect your nutrition for a longer period of time, especially if you have a permanent tendency for Mediterranean curves (like me).
- Take your time to start up: pushing the limit is fine, but crossing it might mean crashing. QED.
- Ask for professional help if you have to: there is no shame in that. It’s really difficult to keep yourself on the right track day in, day out. This can be anyone from a counsellor to a physiotherapist who specializes in post-pregnancy rehab.
- Try something new you always wanted to try but never got around to like dancing, powerlifting or yoga. I started kick-ass street defense classes.
PS: I forgot just how good exercise is for fertility too. Number two is on its way.