What Do Her Abs Have To Do With Your Post Baby Body?

November 4, 2014

Nada. I wasn’t intending to make my recent breastfeeding and postpartum baby body posts a 3 parter, but then this happened: My friend, Jen, from Mama Lion Strong, relayed this story on Facebook (edited a bit for brevity): “The other day a woman I know (with no children of her own yet) texted me a photo of her friend with the caption “isn’t this amazing?” At one week postpartum her friend was lifting up her shirt for a quick selfie, to show that she has a flat stomach with visible abs. I replied, “Why is that amazing?” The only thing that picture indicates is what her friend’s stomach looks like, which doesn’t make her any better or worse than any other woman. It doesn’t matter if you are the fittest pregnant woman out there, how your body responds to pregnancy is different for each and every person. A few years ago that picture would have made me feel rotten and ashamed. I would have wondered why my body had looked so different to her body a week after having a baby. I would have told myself I didn’t exercise enough; I didn’t eat as well as I should have. It would have driven me to extremes no new Mom should feel she must go to. But by my third baby my self-worth and value as a mother weren’t tied to how fit or lean I was. Chasing the “perfect” body actually made me feel pretty miserable and when I was doing it, I actually physically damaged my body, which put me in rehab for months. This is what should be considered amazing after a woman has a baby: She feels loved, supported and honored for the life she has just brought into this world. Having friends, family and neighbors dropping by with meals telling her to rest up and don’t lift a finger. Spending all day in bed, without a care in the world except sleeping, eating, showering, and nourishing her baby. What should make a woman feel good is that nobody cares about her abs after she has a baby. They should care how she feels. They should care that she is recovering from childbirth and that she is happy. Nobody should care about abs, period. What would have made me feel good about that photo is if your friend lowered her shirt, had her baby snuggled in her arms and was smiling with all the happiness and tenderness in the world because having a new baby in your arms is the next best thing to heaven. The end.” I love this. I’m in the “be a gentle with yourself after you have a baby no one’s expecting a 6 pack just yet” camp. I’m there because I think it’s an unreasonable and even dangerous pressure to put on a new mom who is already exhausted, anxious and wondering how she’ll ever pull off the incredibly important job of caring for her little bundle. And I’m not just talking about the new baby phase, I worry about how I’ll guide my daughters through puberty and college experiences and how I’ll help her cope with being a grown woman someday. I’ve worried about that stuff since I was pregnant as I was struck since the moment I saw that plus sign on the stick that I would need to have my A game going if I was to help my daughters grow into confident, strong, capable women that love themselves. So with all THAT anxiety, we’ve also got the “lose the baby weight” anxiety.  And while I totally get that it’s hard to cope with a new body that’s at times unrecognizable to your former one, it’s time we stop giving into the idea that getting in shape is the top priority those first few months. Jen hits the nail on the head above I think. The priorities are sleep, being happy and enjoying that special time. Ok, maybe a shower or two as well. Does exercise and good food help us feel happy and have more energy? Yes absolutely. But the problem arises when we twist nurturing activities like exercise and food into more pressure to lose weight.  The focus, most definitely a week out (sheesh!) but for most women even 3-6 months out, needs to be on nourishment.  If it’s not, you’ll run the risk of doing at least 3 things wrong (I know because I did them all the first time around): *Making drastic nutrition decisions that will have your mood and cravings all over the map. I’ve written about a low carb diet helping with fat loss while breastfeeding (due to low estrogen), but a no carb diet will be a disaster for most women – especially those first couple months.  Likely you’ll be trying your best to avoid carbs only to end up bingeing on sugar. Instead, try a bit of higher fiber carbs like squashes or sweet potato at your meals will help with the weight loss but isn’t so drastic you’ll be off the rails with cravings and energy. And of course, plenty of veggie fiber and lots of protein. And please don’t go there with the cutting calories. I have worked with women eating as little as 800 calories while breastfeeding in order to lose weight. This misstep launched them into metabolic damage including hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue that they are still not recovered from years later. *Working out before you’re ready. After I had my first, I was fixated on a picture of a woman in my circle of fitness professionals that was deadlifting 3 days after her baby was born. (I had to do a Kegel just to write that sentence. Yikes.) The image was burned in my brain and to me it meant, that’s what you do if you’re committed.  I had to keep up right? So I went back to lifting and sprinting without giving a second thought to my weak core and pelvic floor. Old injuries flared every time I worked out and I gave myself a couple new ones as well.  The more sane voice in my head told me I needed to focus on some rehab and hold off on things like sprinting until I was ready. But all I could think was, “doing some bird dogs and breathing exercises will not get me in shape again.” I kept pushing until things really broke. It was a dumb decision and all driven by wanting to keep up with someone else rather than honor my unique postpartum body. I let comparison (one of the 5 Fattitudes) get the best of me and I paid the price as 2 years later I was still dealing with a weak core that made my 2nd pregnancy much tougher. *The third mistake, and let me be clear that I regret this one the most, was that I missed out on enjoying my beautiful little baby because I was so worried about being fat. There are few pictures of me and Lola as a tiny baby because I was exhausted, rarely put together (there were a lot of ponytails and very little make up) and worried about how I looked. I missed the joy of simply being there snuggling her as she slept in my arms, rubbing her soft cheeks and smelling her baby hair because I’d better put her down and try to workout before she wakes up right? It breaks my heart that instead of enjoying those first few months I was in a constant state of feeling like crap about my body, worried what people would think if it took me too long to get in shape and in general, making being very mean to myself. I will never get those months back.

If a new mama is reading this, I hope I can save you from making the same mistakes I did. Now, I know there’s the flipside here as well: if I don’t worry about getting in shape again, won’t I come to when my kid is 4 and I’ve never lost those 15 pounds? Sure, maybe. But here’s the reframe: just because you aren’t putting pressure on yourself to exercise and eat for fat loss, doesn’t mean you can’t. Let me explain: you can get appropriate exercise during your post-partum time that heals you and of course, burns a few calories. You can eat well and avoid eating a lot of garbage. You can do all these things with an attitude of nourishment instead of being fueled by pressure to lose weight. Without that pressure those things will be more effortless and more sane – that’s what a new mama needs. Without pressure you won’t exercise beyond your capabilities and without pressure you’ll find a sane nutrition plan that helps you feel full of energy and let your body start slowly letting go of some weight. And most importantly, the conversation in your head will be how can I eat and exercise that will allow me to be happy and enjoy to the fullest this rare moment in time with my tiny little baby instead of, “What’s the fastest way to a 6 pack?” So eat a salad and go for a walk because it gives you more energy to enjoy these days with your new baby, because it nourishes you and your baby. Because when you feel good you’ll be a better mom. Do not eat a salad and workout because of pressure to lose weight. And by all means, don’t compare yourself to another woman with more abs than you. And don’t compare yourself to a new mom that was leaner than you BEFORE you got pregnant, apples to oranges. Prioritize sleep, healthy food and being kind to yourself during this insanely intense time. And when you’re ready, get some smart movement in. Like I say, “do as much as you can as often as you can.” But let the rest go….

This has been my approach this time and it’s been heavenly. Surprisingly I’m stronger, working out more frequently and eating better overall – without a second thought of a six pack. Now….what if you really want that 6 pack? There’s nothing wrong with that either! Just give yourself some time and go about it in a smart, sane way. If that’s your goal, I’m rooting for you! Every woman has her own goals and no one should judge her for them. It’s all good. So Mamas, here’s what I want you to take away from this post: Love your body and enjoy your baby! This has been my two cents and Jen’s perspective, and tomorrow I’ll bring you some other fit mommy advice from some of my favorite healthy mamas in the fitness world. Stay tuned.

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