Get Your Groove Back: Eating and Exercise


Some call it the 90-day haze—those first three months of broken sleep, frantic googling, and trying to figure out why your clothes always smell like spit up. As your newborn transitions into an infant and you begin to emerge from the haze, you’ll start getting back into your rhythms. Sure, life won’t be exactly like it was before (after all, you have a kid now!), but a new normal will evolve. You’ll go on date nights again. You’ll go to the gym again. You’ll wear skinny jeans again. You can do this, mama. Those first few months with a baby are rough, but they don’t last forever. Here’s your go-to guide for feeling like yourself again.

easing back into exercise
Squats and push-ups paired with dirty diapers, late-night feedings, and limited sleep? Even if you’re the fitness guru who swore a speedy comeback, chances are throwing on spandex and hitting up a Zumba class will not be the first thing on your mind after giving birth. But once you’ve established your new “normal,” you may find yourself itching for some feel-good exercise endorphins. All women should take advantage of the postpartum period to bond with their baby and recover from birth. And easing back into exercise will look different for each woman and largely depend on your prior level of fitness and type of delivery.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

That said, there are some general rules for returning to exercise. First, take it easy the first six to eight weeks, and wait until bleeding has stopped: If activity increases bleeding or causes dizziness, you’ve most likely over-strained yourself. Begin with exercises that focus on strengthening pelvic floor (i.e., kegels and pelvic tilts); stretches for your neck and back, which may be tight from holding baby or breastfeeding; and walking.

If you are experiencing urinary incontinence or pain and weakness in the pelvis or back, consider scheduling an appointment with a local physical therapist who specializes in women’s health before returning to exercising.

Lastly, avoid running, jumping, and high-intensity exercises until you’ve established a good foundation. Above all, respect the fact you just participated in the Marathon of Birth; it took nine months to grow a human, so allow yourself an adequate amount of time to return to your previous level of fitness.

Fuel your body
As a newfound citizen in the Land of Motherhood, there are a few rules you must recognize to ensure survival. You are now subject to a small prince or princess who will dictate your every move, and nutrition is king. While the first is unfortunately out of your control, the latter should be used to your advantage.

Crown Jewels
1. Salmon: Bursting with DHA that aids in the growth of your baby’s nervous system, a few servings per week may also improve your mood, fending off postpartum depression.

2. Oatmeal: Aside from lowering cholesterol and maintaining healthy blood pressure, oatmeal will keep you feeling full and is recommended to boost milk supply.

3. Spinach: A good source of calcium, iron, Vitamins K, A, and folate. This super food is fantastic for everyone, but especially breastfeeding moms.

4. Bone broth: It’s packed full of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron, which are vital for recovery, as well as collagen, elastin, gelatin, and hyaluronic acid to help strengthen your joints.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

5. Cultured foods: Real yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kefir, and pickled vegetables provide healthy bacteria that can benefit digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and mood.

Proceed With Caution
1. Sugar: Foods high in protein and fat will keep you feeling full and energized, while sugar does the exact opposite. In addition to roller-coaster energy levels, a diet high in sugar inhibits weight loss and can disrupt precious sleep.

2. Caffeine: While you don’t need to eliminate it entirely, more than two or three cups of coffee may over-stimulate breastfed babies.

3. Alcohol: Even if you “pump and dump,” alcohol can lead to bloating and poor sleep, and can negatively affect your already unpredictable emotions.

is this normal?
Pelvic health physical therapist Stacey Hendricks answers your most uncomfortable questions about “down there” for the weeks following delivery.

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway

Will I ever stop peeing myself when I sneeze? After having a baby, some urine leakage is common. However, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s something you should just put up with. Fortunately, it’s something that is treatable conservatively by doing pelvic floor exercises to retrain those muscles. My personal opinion is that if you still have leakage by your six-week follow-up appointment, you should have that assessed.

I’m having a hard time controlling bowel movements. Is that normal? That is absolutely not normal and much less common than having urine leakage. See a provider, because the prognosis for that improving is pretty poor if left untreated.

What kind of provider should I seek for urinary or fecal incontinence? The first place to start is with your OB or primary care doctor. Physical therapy is the best first-line treatment for either urinary or fecal incontinence, and in the state of Ohio you actually don’t even need a physician referral to go to physical therapy.

Is it normal for sex to be uncomfortable after having a baby? It’s very common for women to have painful intercourse after having a baby. One of the major causes is that if a woman is breastfeeding, she will have decreased estrogen and that can make the mucosal tissue in the vagina drier. Women will often describe it as a sandpaper or scratching sensation with intercourse. If you’re having discomfort after the first time you try to have sex, you should follow up with your gynecologist to make sure you don’t have an infection or an incision that hasn’t properly healed.

It feels like there’s a bulge in my vagina or that something is going to fall out. What’s going on? Prolapse is when the wall of the vagina or the uterus has dropped into the vaginal space due to increased laxity of the connective tissue. The good news is that for women with less severe grades of prolapse, quite often they can improve the symptoms by doing pelvic floor muscle and core retraining. If they do not respond significantly enough to the pelvic floor retraining, there are surgical options.

Mom Hack: Keep forgetting those all-important kegel exercises? Do a few reps every time you feed your baby. You’re already seated, so you might as well be squeezing!

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