I lost 30 pounds, then I got pregnant; this is the irony that is my life. Since I was excruciatingly sick the first few months of my pregnancy, I didn't move around much. Once I felt better, though, I started reformer Pilates. I adjusted my workouts to my comfort level and exercised for much of the remainder of my pregnancy. Still, after the baby came I was floored at how weak my body felt. So when I went back to the gym postpartum, I concentrated on other things besides losing weight.
Obviously I had no clue about the toll pregnancy takes on one's body. I, like I'm sure every other new mom, was in total shock over the entire experience. From the morning sickness to the grueling labor and delivery to the emotionally unstable postpartum period, I was blindsided. In addition to all of these "wonderful" happenings, I gained a significant amount of weight. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was not happy, not only because of the aesthetics of it all, but with the fact that I no longer left like myself. As much as I wasn't thrilled with how I looked, I was more devastated over how I felt.
Going back to the gym was a real struggle. First, I had to heal, which wasn't easy with certain postpartum complications. Second, I had to mentally prepare myself for that journey. Finally, I had to find the time. Who has the time? Once I figured it all out, though, I went back and it felt fabulous. My first workout was the equivalent of the first postpartum shower: it was cathartic.
Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to lose the weight I gained. I felt awful physically and knew the added weight posed many other health risks. Additionally, I herniated my disc during pregnancy and the extra weight wasn't helping my back pain. However, losing weight became secondary to everything else I knew I had to focus on, including the following:
Strengthening Your Core
Pregnancy pulls a fast one on your core by stretching and weakening the abdominal muscles and widening the hips. Furthermore, some women also develop diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and pelvic floor dysfunction.
So strengthening your core is probably the first thing you should focus on postpartum. I would recommend speaking with a professional fitness instructor to figure out which exercises will help you with your posture and your core. I found that pelvic tilts and squats worked really well for me.
If your back aches after holding your newborn, your abs are shot and your back is working overtime to keep you upright. So, in addition to strengthening your core (which includes your back), you should also focus on building muscle. I mean all of your muscles.
Remember, muscles burn more energy at rest, so if your goal is to eventually lose the baby weight, building muscle will do much more good than simple cardio. Building muscle will also reshape your body and make you feel strong and unstoppable.
At the gym I look like someone ran over me with a semi. Why? Because I'm not there for anyone but myself. I'm not wearing a face full of makeup, my hair is in some sort of messy bun (and not the kind from an online tutorial, but the kind that happens when you miserably fail following said tutorial), and my gym clothes have seen better days. But, when I look at myself in the mirror all I see is someone who is doing her best. That, my friends, is called confidence. The more you look at yourself at the gym, and the kinder you are to yourself, the better you will feel.
Most people aren't getting enough water in a day. We need to be drinking a lot more water, and that is even more true when we are exercising. Drinking water flushes out toxins, increases energy, improves skin, boosts the immune system, and also helps with weight loss, among other things. Moreover, if you're breastfeeding, drinking water is imperative to your supply. So while you're concentrating on fostering that confidence, drink lots of water.
Your Mental Health
Pregnancy and postpartum wreak havoc on not only your body but on your mental and emotional health, too. Exercise is proven to improve memory and overall thinking skills, but most importantly exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness.
Let's be honest, we can all use some positive feelings after giving birth.
Finding Something That Works For You
You may realize you are no longer able to jump right back into dead lifts immediately postpartum, but don't let that discourage you. Find a workout that works for you, even if it's something you never thought you'd do, like running outside (*shudder*). There are so many different styles of working out these days, you're bound to find something you feel comfortable doing and something you actually enjoy.
Your Post Workout Meal
If you are thinking, "What will I eat when I get home?" at the gym, you've already gone astray. Working out without some meal planning is a recipe for failure. You must properly nourish your body if you're working it.
Once again, this isn't about weight loss (although all of these help), this is about getting yourself on track to being healthy and strong. You can hit the gym seven days a week, but until you eat well you will still feel like total crap. I know I do. I try to have some sort of snack on hand right after the gym, like nuts or raisins, because I tend to feel lightheaded if I don't eat right away. But maybe nuts and dried fruit aren't your thing. Find something that works for you and keep it on standby. Make sure to nourish your body, it's working really freaking hard.
Reducing Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety deteriorate the brain, but exercise produces neurohormones that improved cognitive function. Also, The American Psychological Association asserts that exercise improves the communication between the body's physiological systems, which are responsible for stress responses.
Basically, the more inactive we are, the less our body is able to deal with stress. Exercise jolts our system out of sedentary and increases its ability to efficiently deal with stress and anxiety.
Enjoying "You" Time
I can't tell you how imperative it is for a new mom to develop some boundaries and allot time for herself. "Me" time is crucial to our survival as mothers and as humans. Sure, you can spend your "me" time doing whatever it is that makes you happy, but exercising is one of those things that is actually proven to make you happy. So take advantage of "me" time and find something active that makes you feel good about yourself and about life in general.