Getting back in shape tends to be a popular resolution. This goes for the majority of people, not just moms. We feel that with a fresh year comes a fresh start, and that should include how you take care of yourself. But for some—new moms in particular—that can be a complicated and frustrating goal. Your body just went through something amazing, but it’s not really feeling like your body anymore. With that in mind, we wanted to provide some helpful tips and encouragement for those new mamas out there wanting to get back in the game. Our new mommy blogger has provided exactly that—allow us to introduce Morgan Palmer Bolton, new mom and fitness professional extraordinaire.
Hi Mama! (Cue Rolling Stones song.) As a pre-slash-post natal movement specialist, Pilates-slash-fitness instructor of 11 years, retired professional dancer, general body nerd and a new mom of a beautiful redheaded 1-year-old baby girl, I thought I had the tools to rehab my post pregnancy body. Man, I was shocked.
I never fully contemplated how it would feel in this new body of mine. After a pregnancy and an emergency cesarean birth after three and a half hours of pushing, my body was a wreck. Months later, I still felt like I was operating a foreign flesh vehicle, guessing at what lever to pull—like the little alien dude from Men in Black, you know the one with the cat?
But here’s the best news for your “2020 New Year, New You” plan: You inherently know the fundamentals. Watch or recall all the tummy time, crawling and bawling before baby gets upright—you learned all of these motor skills once. But baby steps take a lot of work. So here are my professional, and personal, encouragements to feel better in your mom bod, starting now.
6–8 weeks after birth
There are “movement” things that are not exactly “exercise” things that will make you feel better. You must move in life anyway, right? Stretch your arms out like a big yawn after you feed baby. Sit up straight often. Get better at using your non-dominant hand. Count the small things as tiny victories. This will help you build up positive momentum for when this phase is over.
Pro Tip: Try the wall exercise. Stand with your back against a wall, your feet 6–8 feet away from the baseboard. Draw your abs inwards and upwards to press your spine flush against the wall. Smoosh your lower back to the wall, and try and keep your shoulders and head on the wall too (you may have to bend your knees). Then, drop your head and roll down one bone at a time, continually engaging your abs. Then roll up one at a time, slowly with articulation. Joseph Pilates said if you could do one thing a day, do this for a healthy spine.
Once the doc has cleared you for exercise
Before attempting your “regularly scheduled fitness programming,” take your body out for a test drive. You need time to get out of your pregnancy posture. Doubly true if you had a challenging pregnancy and/or birth. Why? Nerves and muscles need time to regenerate and reorganize. Every month will feel better as time passes. It took me 10 months to feel proficient again, not great, just proficient. I still can’t do all the things I used to do now that I’m 13 months out. The cool part is, I can do other things with more strength and integration.
Choose your exercise modality wisely
Can you run a marathon or lift super heavy weights? Sure, women are amazing! Might there be a deficit (especially to your pelvic floor)? Probably. So take the beginner classes, or maybe find a trainer to help. Your ligaments and tendons are likely still affected by the relaxin hormone. Relaxin is intended to soften your pubic symphysis (the cartilage in your pubic bone) for labor and delivery. And remember, hormones are not snipers. They affect everything, and unfortunately not just the thing they are intended to change. All of you is less stable. Go easy on the heavy lifting and HIIT training until you are feeling agency over your whole body.
Go slow and low
Just like a good brisket, consistent effort for a long time changes muscle. We want muscle density and muscle maturity. Select workouts you can take a second or two to reorganize, and let them be low impact. Also, for the love of anything good, try to notice the black holes and voids before you kill yourself to get back to your pre-baby body. And I can’t stress this enough: Give yourself some grace, be nice to your bladder, buy a pair of pants a size (or two) up and remember there will be a time to turn it up a little further down the line.
To the nursing mamas: You will not lose the baby weight breastfeeding. This is a disappointing urban legend. Some women might lose weight, but for the majority, tone and definition will be harder to achieve at this time. Your body needs a certain cocktail of hormones to lactate. That relaxin hormone I mentioned before makes your ligaments and joints more unstable and your Diastasis Recti (the connective tissue in the middle of your six-pack muscles) harder to heal. All is not lost! Know a change will come when your hormones balance out.
Keep it moving
Any good mover will tell you the fundamentals are like a good book. Every time you revisit them, you should find something new. Forget where you were and remember what you know.
Commit to one non-negotiable exercise per week
Going from zero exercise to exercising four times a week is wonderful, if you can sustain it. But you’ll be less likely to give up if you are consistently adding to your routine, instead of subtracting.
Talk to your instructor
Tell your trainer about the state you are in, especially if you have never worked with them before. This goes for any injury or condition you are recovering from. Speak up! Good trainers should have suggestions and support for you. A simple, “I’m getting back on the horse after time away. I’m going to do what I can,” goes a long way for you.
When to push it and when to modify
Muscle failure and muscle fatigue are not the same. Execute the exercise you are trying to do as closely as you can, as long as you can. If you feel too vulnerable, unstable or crazy weak, make an edit. But, modifications should be temporary.
Back on the wagon
Motor learning requires new neural pathways to connect in your brain. Patterns must get etched in and become robust through repetition and failure. Look at how many times your kid tried to stand up before they were stable!
Remember to prioritize wellness above fitness
Swing the pendulum too far towards the fitness side of life, and you will have deficits in your overall wellness. You can have too much of a good thing. Also, unless you are a professional athlete or celebrity, you likely don’t have an army of people behind you supporting these deficits. Some days, sleep may be more important than an early morning sweat.
Involve your kids
Kids make great weights. They are wiggly, which means your core has to activate harder from that destabilizing force. See who can get down on the ground and stand up the fastest 10 times. (These are the fundamentals of a burpee!) How you handle that last rep will teach them plenty about perseverance. Do this three times a day—your whole family will be fit as a fiddle.
Have a dance party (my personal favorite). Turn on a song you love as a family and dance around the living room or kitchen. Hate dancing? Then march around your house. Hate music? You need help. Pick a few, long songs with a good beat. Singing and laughing while boppin’ around will challenge your cardiovascular system. Let good, fun movement count as fitness time.
Pro Tip: Track this on your wearable device. The Apple Watch has a dance workout category. Try it!
Remember to honor the only body you’ll ever have
As an instructor of women ages 10–83, let me tell you, your body will talk to you years down the line. It will be marked by how well you treat it, respect it and revere it. This is even more true after each pregnancy and child. Spend time on the fundamentals. Reinforce your foundation. Above all else, frame exercise as time for you to explore. You are different now—you are a mom. And that is a beautiful thing.
Morgan Palmer Bolton has taught Pilates and fitness since 2008 for major industry leaders in New York, London and Dallas, including Equinox, Flywheel Sports, Physique 57 and Barrecore in the UK. She holds a BFA in Dance Performance from Southern Methodist University and is a PMA-CPT certified Pilates instructor. She is currently teaching classical Pilates at Pilates Methodology in Uptown Dallas, and is also an adjunct lecturer for the Division of Dance at SMU. Morgan is currently in the process to become a Lead Trainer for the esteemed Real Pilates Teacher Training program created by Alycea Ungaro out of New York City. You can reach Morgan through her website www.abeautifulstep.com and Instagram @abeautifulstep and @iammorganpb.
Images courtesy of Phil Bolton.