I am 39 weeks pregnant with my first child, and I'm in that planning-for-after-delivery stage of the pregnancy--particularly around meals, sleep, and exercise. I'm a pretty fit person. Up until 34 weeks, I walked at least 5 miles per day. I had to stop because there weren't public restrooms available as I walked through residential areas and a cemetery on my way to/from work. My husband and I are hikers and campers, and we also climb (more indoors than outdoors lately due to currently living in the Midwest). I also quite enjoy yoga routines and TRX when time allows. Important to note is that I have spent most of my life very aware of my family history regarding obesity and the resulting spiral of inactivity/increased obesity (leading to a lot of joint replacements and loss of mobility). I have never, and will never, be able to not watch my diet.
I realize that the first few weeks of my daughter's life are going to be more about breastfeeding, changing diapers, and trying to sleep more than anything else. But with the family history, I would feel much better having a plan (understanding that it'll be modified to the realities of infant schedules and my healing) to get back into shape. "Weight loss" is less of a concern of mine (though I've read in a number of medical journals that of those that do not lose pregnancy weight by 6 months, 75% will not return to pre-pregnancy weight). What I'm really concerned about is making sure that I do what I can to maintain a strong body so that I can do all of the outdoor things that I love with my husband and daughter. I also want to be able to be a model for my daughter a healthy balance for promoting strong bodies. I never had that model growing up, and it was really difficult to find a healthy and fit path on my own.
Suggestions for a post-pregnancy exercise plan? If walking and hiking can be part of that plan, I'd be ever so happy.
There is no reason that you cannot continue on maintaining your healthy lifestyle that you are already living, but you might need to make a few modifications. Your first step is to make sure your body is healthy, because you have no idea what is going to happen on the day of delivery and what sort of toll it is going to take on your body. You could tear, you could have a caesarian section or you could experience other postpartum complications that are 100% out of your control. Please give yourself at least 3 weeks, if not more, to heal. To rest. To sleep. To eat. To adjust to the fact that your life has completely changed. Don’t even think about exercise, not for one second.
Once the fog clears, and your body is starting to feel somewhat back to normal (most of my friends who have had complication-free births usually feel this way about 2 or 3 weeks post-delivery), you will need to work on rebuilding your foundation. Things have shifted inside you, and although you may not necessarily be able to feel it, your body’s foundation has crumbled. Click here for a refresher on postpartum pelvic floor strengthening and also make sure you are cleared by your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you have pains that don’t feel normal to you, it would be a wise idea to address them with a physiotherapist that specializes in postpartum health.
A good estimate in when your body should be healed, and you should be ready to step back into your old fitness routine, is about 6 weeks postpartum. However, it is important to recognize that you have taken quite a bit of time off from your usual routine, including the last few weeks of your pregnancy as well as the first 6 weeks of motherhood. Because of this, you are going to be weaker. A lot weaker. So you need to make sure that you start out slow. Put the baby in the stroller and get out for walks. Start small and then work your way up to an hour or more. Stopping along the way to do some squats, lunges and push-ups is a great way to rebuild your strength. If you are feeling good at an hour then you can strap your baby to you and get out and hike. Please don’t carry your baby on long hikes right away as if you don’t have the strength built up for it yet, you are going to notice that it won’t feel good in your pelvis or your lower back. The beautiful thing about hiking is that you do not need to worry about childcare as you can bring the munchkin with you. In the winter months, snowshoeing is a great option and there are plenty of warm outer layers that you can bundle your daughter in so she won’t get cold.
If you want to be a good role model for your daughter then it is really important that you lead by example and take care of yourself. Do an at home workout routine while she plays beside you or as she gets bigger, don’t be afraid to take to her workout classes that offer childcare. Show her that you are taking time for yourself so you can get stronger. Also, playing with her in the outdoors is so important. When she is old enough to walk then let her walk on your hikes. I know it will take away from the workout for you but having her learn to love being active is such an incredible gift you can give her. Play with her in the playgrounds, rather than just watching. Do the monkey bars, go down the slides. Show her how fun it can be to be strong.
And strong is the key word here. Teach your daughter the benefits of exercise which have nothing to do with how we look. And teach her how to make the right choices when it comes to food. Telling her something is bad for her may not be the best approach. Instead, educate on how delicious healthy foods can be while at the same time allowing her to have her treats.
You need to take care of yourself so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to leave her with someone while you go exercise and as she gets older, don’t be afraid to have her do it with you. Just have fun with it and understand that life as a mother is going to be a little different than it was before. You need to plan but you also need to make sure you are not putting too much pressure on yourself. Be kind and give it time until this new normal becomes your normal.