Monday, August 18, 2014

3 Ways to Strengthen & Energize Your Post-Partum Body {Motivate MeMonday Vol. 8}

Hey there! Imagine me, smiling the biggest smile right now as I write this, because I am SO HAPPY to be back to blogging life after a week long writing slump. It wasn't that I didn't want to stay connected with all of you, it's just that the lines between us were down - literally.  We had zero internet connection for an entire week, and I don't have the luxury of popping into a Starbucks for some java and free wi-fi to write while my children sit quietly and keep their hands, well all their limbs, really, to themselves.  And, I don't posses the gift of phone blogging.  I'm too impatient to peck out every little letter and my eye-balls just can't focus on that teenie-weenie screen for the time it would take to write anything worthwhile.

There.  There's my list of excuses.

Oh, did I mention my kids were all sick last week? So, there was that....

Well, now that all seven of you (spammers included) have my delinquency report, we can now get down to bizness!!

I've pretty much been ignoring the "Health & Fitness" portion of this blog, because, hello, a summer split between pregnancy and having a newborn doesn't exactly make for the most inspirational writing situation. But, I'm finally starting to feel like myself again and so am inspired to write another post for the Motivate Me Monday series.
(Stretching out on the balcony overlooking the Plaza after a beautiful run!)
Last week, on our never-should-have-left-home weekend vaca to Kansas City (love that city!), I stole away from the hotel wreckage for a quick jog around the beautiful Country Club Plaza and found myself happily soaking in the fresh view of my surroundings.  All of the beauty was just the distraction I needed from the physical discomfort and awkward feelings I often experience during the first few weeks when I try to start running again after having a baby.

This all-to-brief running venture left me thinking about how to encourage those of you who are pregnant, or who have just had a baby, to embrace a habit of exercise postpartum, even though it may seem overwhelming or even impossible.
(Thinking about running races again helps me stay motivated!)
Even though I'm able to exercise throughout my pregnancies, to begin running again means starting back at square one.  While the first few weeks of walking and then slow jogging are difficult, I try to remember how good it feels to finally get in shape, to run in really fun races and to be able to keep up with the boys without being tired.

You guys know that I am NOT a personal trainer or a health expert of any kind, so really the sharing of my own personal experiences is meant to be encouraging, not prescriptive.  I've been running for almost 20 years, and even after six pregnancies have always come back to the sport, loving it even more as I get older.

No matter what form of exercise you choose to take on after having a baby, the benefits will truly outweigh the efforts.  I have written quite a bit about the importance of exercise for women (see list below) - NOT for the sake of fitting in to a specific dress size (though, that's a nice benefit!), but primarily for the sake of balancing our emotions, boosting energy levels and staying physically fit so as to better manage the demands of daily family/work life.
After having a baby, there are three things that every woman can do to regain physical strength and to prepare her body for her routine exercise of choice:
1. Walk
2. Stretch
3. Strengthen the Core
(*If you delivered your baby via C-Section please follow your doctor's orders for when to resume any activity, and be sure to consult him/her on which abdominal/core movements are safe for you to perform.)

Whether you exercised throughout your pregnancy or are just thinking about becoming more active, these simple exercises are a great way to gently guide your body into a state that will be prepped for whatever type of exercise you want to try.

Remember to listen to your body.  Your adrenals are really taxed for the first few months after having a baby, especially if you are not sleeping much and are nursing and caring for other children. I pushed myself too quickly after giving birth to my fourth child, and paid the price of exhausted adrenals for the first year after he was born.  Slow and steady wins the race - go gradual!

Walking is the perfect postpartum exercise.  You can really begin walking, with your doctor's permission, as soon as you come home from the hospital. A good way to measure if you are walking too fast or too far is is if your bleeding increases after walking or, if you feel exhausted instead of refreshed, scale your intensity and distance back.  I try to walk the same distance/pace for one full week before increasing intensity.  This is really hard, because I miss running so much and want to just get up and go! But, even if you've run in the past, easing back into running through walking will help you avoid injury and adrenal burn-out.

For the first 4 weeks after giving birth, try to walk for 20-30 minutes at slow pace. If this is too much (bleeding/fatigue increases) reduce the time/pace.  Remember, at this stage, weight loss and marathons should not be on your radar, but regaining a sense of energy, focus and emotional balance is key.

If you are runner, and want a specific walk-to-run schedule, I really like this one from Runner's World, and also the suggestions that are outlined in the book Fit and Healthy Pregnancy.

If you have never run, but would like to get started, there are hundreds of programs out there to guide you into a schedule of running (check online or with your local running club).  I have a friend who is doing the Couch to 5K program and is doing great!

I've got to be honest, I really hate to stretch.  But, as I've gotten older, postpartum stretching has become more important than ever when it comes to my daily comfort levels.  Nursing and holding a baby all day can be quite taxing to the body.  Gentle stretching not only helps keep mamas limber, but it also reduces stress and keeps the spine in alignment, which is important for immune health and overall mobility.

(If you can practice these stretches after walking or a short warm up, they will be much more comfortable and safe to perform.)

My favorite go-to stretches that I do every day for the first 6 months postpartum are:
Hip Flexor Stretch (Use a chair for support if you need to!)
Hamstring Stretches (Eases lower back pain!)
Child's Pose (Helps relieve stress. A great bedtime stretch!)
Chest Stretches (Great for nursing moms!)

I wish I would have understood in the first few years of motherhood that core strength and abdominal strength are not the same thing.  I would do dozens and dozens of crunches after having babies and still not feel as though I had regained much strength in my core.  That awkward, unstable feeling we often experience in our mid-section after having a baby can be uncomfortable and even frustrating, because many of the tasks we take on every day require a great amount of core strength.  When our core is weak and taxed, it can take a toll on our overall posture, and poor posture leads to back and neck pain.

My favorite and most effective core exercises to begin practicing around 4 weeks postpartum (except pelvic tilt, which you can do from day 1) are:
Pelvic Tilt (day 1 post birth)
Bridge (great for runners!)
Plank (4-6 weeks, depending on fitness level during pregnancy)
Side Plank (4 -6 weeks, depending on fitness level during pregnancy)

While it is a challenge to find time to exercise with little ones at home, I hope that you feel encouraged to try to make it a part of your daily routine!  For more encouragement, see:


  1. Oh - I spent a week on the Plaza earlier this summer with my sister in law - we loved running at a park that was close to our hotel!
    Great tips on getting back into shape after a baby - all remember is that it was harder than I thought it would be:)

  2. Hi, Susan. I have a question about running if you may be pregnant. I'm just getting around to running again post-partum, and I may be pregnant again. It's too early to test, but I just have this feeling. Is it dangerous for me to continue training towards a race this fall? Thanks for writing, I really enjoy your blog! -lily

  3. I took about oh....4 years off from running once I started having kids and totally neglected my core. Guess what,I'm paying for it BIG time now. It is a constant battle and one that I don't think will ever go away after having kids. It will ALWAYS be a struggle for me. Welcome back to the running world!!! So excited for you!


If you are having trouble leaving a comment, please feel free to send me an e-mail or leave a response on my Facebook page. Thanks!