Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reclaim Your Postpartum Body!


The ability to create, grow, and birth a baby is one of life's most spectacular blessings. The journey to motherhood changes your heart, soul, mind, and -- of course -- your body. The above photographs document my second pregnancy and fourth trimester. That special three-month-period in which your new baby learns how to transition from life in the womb to life on land, and when your body begins the transition back to some semblance of normalcy. The "after" photos were taken at six, nine, twelve, and fifteen weeks postpartum.

I gained fifty pounds with my first pregnancy; four months of bed rest were not kind to my mind or body. The first time around, I gave myself much grace and figured my body would get back to it's old self whenever it was ready. In the meantime, I ate whatever I wanted, did minimal exercise, and focused on taking care of my sweet son. It took me fourteen months to fit back into my pre-pregnancy clothes. Looking back, I now realize that I gave myself a bit too much grace in that endeavor!

This time around, things were different. I had an extremely healthy pregnancy, gained only thirty-five pounds, and breastfeeding was off to a fabulous start -- the complete opposite experience of my first pregnancy. I credit clean eating and exercise to getting me this far this early. At this point, I'm not quite back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, but I am strong and healthy.

Here are the two-ish steps I followed to better health...


1. Eat Clean.
When my first son was a year old, I gave up gluten. It took me about three months to fully wean myself to a 100% gluten-free diet. The health benefits were immediate, and I lost about ten pounds in a one-month period. Along with the gluten transition, I began eating whole foods. Grass-fed beef, hormone-free chicken, and organic vegetables became part of my family's everyday diet. We all experienced better health. Once I got pregnant with my second baby, I didn't need to completely overhaul my diet...I just needed to set boundaries with ice cream and chocolate. (Easier said than done.) Going gluten-free isn't essential for everyone, but it was for me.

So, if you're looking to get pregnant, change your diet now. Get rid of processed foods; don't buy them anymore. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store and check out farmers' markets. Bananas are cheaper than Blue Bell, so I couldn't use money as an excuse. Any vegetable (organic or not) is better than a box of cereal. If you already are pregnant, change your diet now. Every extra pound you gain due to poor nutrition makes it harder for your body to recover...and unhealthy food choices do affect your baby, no matter what your OBGYN says. Trust me.

After having my second baby, I followed the advice of Kris Moulton, owner of Moulton Kettlebell. I took his thirty day challenge, The Forge, in order to jump-start my journey. His beautiful wife had a baby the same month I did, so he's very familiar with postpartum challenges. Through daily nutritional logs (kept via My Fitness Pal), he helped me course-correct my diet. I was averaging eighty grams of sugar a day, and he helped me reign it in to approximately thirty grams. Chocolate covered almonds were (and are) my Kryptonite. My protein intake was much too low, so he stayed on me to increase my protein. Chasing after a two year old and taking care of a newborn kept me busy...so I didn't always eat enough calories. On the days I didn't eat enough calories (or too much sugar, or not enough protein), you better believe Kris called me out on it. I needed his constant encouragement because I was too exhausted from 'round-the-clock-nursing and keeping up with a toddler to police my own diet. I lost four pounds the first week of The Forge program, and I never once had to leave my house.

2. Move Your Body.
At five weeks postpartum I joined Camp Gladiator, a boot-camp style group workout that meets at 5:15am a few miles from my house. I loved it. I've always responded to group workouts with an encouraging trainer much better than wandering around the gym solo. I'm a military girl, after all. These workouts are designed to allow everyone at all fitness levels to succeed. The trainers encourage everyone to take the workouts at their own pace, and are quick to offer success options (modifications) to meet each individual need. However, five weeks postpartum was a bit too early for my body to engage in such high-impact exercise. I injured my knees two weeks into the program, and it took me about six weeks to recover.

Remember: Your body is full of the relaxin hormone, which allowed your body to stretch and accommodate your growing baby. That hormone hangs around in your body for many months after birth. I ignored that important fact, and hyperextended my knees with a relatively simple exercise. My body just wasn't ready for that type of workout. (Yet!)

During my recovery phase, I woke up before my toddler and new baby to do at-home workouts. Winsor Pilates 20 Minute Workout was perfect for my early postpartum days -- I could lay on the ground with my eyes closed to perform the workout, which was exactly what I needed after all-night nurse-a-thons!
 
Once my knees were back to normal, I knew it was time to step it up. I transitioned from Pilates every day to kettlebell workouts two or three days a week, with Pilates on alternating days. Kris Moulton hooked me up with personalized kettlebell workouts through The Forge program, and they greatly increased my strength. Lifting heavy things is essential to weight loss, health, and fitness. Jillian Michaels has a good kettlebell workout, and if you're an Amazon Prime customer, you have access to it for free!

When the baby was three months old, my body was strong enough to handle Camp Gladiator. I learned my lesson and eased back into the program. Two days a week the first couple of weeks, then up to three days. My eventual goal is five days a week, but I will allow myself much grace in reaching that goal. I'm not quite there yet!

Postpartum Progress:
Next week, my son will be four months old, and I'm so proud of the progress I've made! It took me over a year to get this far with my first son. This time around, I knew my weaknesses, identified my obstacles, and made daily decisions to overcome them. My body will never look like it did when I was twenty-two, and I'm perfectly fine with that. My thirty-one year old body has birthed two beautiful babies (without any pain meds, I might add), nursed the first one for almost two years, and will nurse the second one for about the same length of time. I still don't fit in my pre-baby clothes, and I probably won't until the baby weans (many, many months from now). As far as I'm concerned, healthy is the new skinny. I will continue to focus on clean eating and moving my body. Small, smart choices over time add up to BIG results!

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