Ange’s Postpartum Journey: 5 Months Postpartum, Rehab, Rebuild and Weight Loss
The road ‘back’ postpartum can be a daunting one.
It is too common for women to compare themselves to other mums who appear to have ‘it all together’, with high expectations to get their bodies back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible.
The last 5 months, for me, have been a rollercoaster and a hot mess in parts. I honestly never thought it was possible to function on such little sleep, yet here I am.
In this blog I want to share my postpartum journey so far, discussing important aspect of my rehabilitation, rebuilding strength and my approach to weight loss.
Taking care of others and taking care of me
Self-care looks different for everyone. But if you’re reading this blog, exercise probably ranks pretty high on your list too. From two weeks postpartum, I planned and started my return to exercise. Many women are aware of the 6-week rule, but there is a lot that can be done within this time frame, without jeopardising your recovery.
For me, this included daily morning walks (no matter how tired I felt), diaphragmatic breathing and 10 minutes of daily light mobility stretches, pelvic floor exercises and progressive core activation.
Some of my go-to mobility exercises included posterior rocking and side lying T-spine spirals, thread the needle, cat/ camel, seated piriformis stretch, 90/90 flossing, knee rolls, hip flexor lunge and half splits.
As I was recovering from a c-section more core and pelvic stability exercises involved standing/ kneeling T-Zone activation, lift foot, foot slides, bent knee fallouts, pelvic tilts, glute bridges, modified bird/dog and falloff press variations. I also started C-section massage from around 5 weeks. This is a great video that explains how to massage your scar.
Many women experience a huge loss of confidence in their body postpartum and are fearful to return back to exercise in case they expose themselves to further damage. But I urge women to start small. During the first 0-6 week my focus was on rehabilitation and retraining. If you need help on where to start head to these great two articles: Finding your Pelvic Floor Postpartum and So You Have Had a Baby: Steps From 0-6 Weeks Postpartum
Returning Back to The Gym
When I returned back to the gym, I started with 15-20-minute full body workouts that moved me through basic movement patterns of a squat, hinge, push and pull and slowly progressed in time and intensity.
If exercise is something that makes you feel ‘whole’, make sure you protect this time and space. It is important to have open and honest conversations with your support person or partner to articulate and verbalise your needs and the importance of this time as your ‘self-care time’.
Getting back into Pilates has been pivotal in helping to rebuild a solid foundation postpartum. Pilates is a super gentle and low impact way to engage deep level muscles that you ordinarily would not engage when performing more traditional resistance exercises. I have loved leading our 23W community through a series of online Pilates workouts which I have done weekly for the last few months.
If you are looking for some simple, short and effective pre or postpartum Pilates workouts, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Nutrition, Breastfeeding and Sleep Postpartum
The worst thing new mums can do in the first 12 weeks postpartum is to focus too heavily on weight loss. With the extreme changes in hormones, sleep deprivation and adjusting to a new routine, you have enough on your plate without worrying about tracking calories, being in an energy deficit or feeling defeated because you cannot stay on low calories.
Further, some women think that the weight will simply ‘fall off’. I certainly experienced some weight loss in the first few months, but my weight stabilised around 72kg for almost 2-3 months.
It is true that breastfeeding will drive up your calorie expenditure by around 400-500 calories per day, however I would caution women not to compensate for this. If you are breastfeeding, chances are you are also highly sedentary at numerous points of the day, which will down regulate energy expenditure coming from NEAT. The same breastfeeding hormones may also be telling your body to store or retain energy in reserve. Further, sleep deprivation will be placing your body in a constant state of stress and hormone turmoil.
Trust me, it is not your fault if you are craving more food or high sugar foods. When we are sleep deprived, the regulation of your hormones responsible for feeling full (leptin) and hormone responsible for feeling hungry (ghrelin) will be all over the place.
Want to know more about these hormones? Check out – Do You Trust Your Body?
Focus on Rebuilding and Behavioural Habits
Instead of focusing on weight loss, my focus has been ‘rebuilding’ my body’s strength and metabolism. To build muscle mass, you need three basic things; a calorie surplus, to be exercising regularly enough to force muscular adaptation and recovery.
Interestingly, eating around my maintenance has still led to positive changes in my body composition (drop in body fat and increase in muscle mass).
The Bigger Picture
I was really conscious of my bigger health and fitness goals… to regain my strength, feel more energised, look after my thyroid health and overall wellbeing. For me, heading into a caloric deficit or ‘diet’ when I was already feeling depleted in energy, would have been a recipe for disaster as it would have compromised possible strength gains, my immune system, my basal metabolic rate and reduce the number of good nutrients able to come in.
But the exhaustion and hormone-induced cravings are real! And I want to be honest, I AM NOT PERFECT WITH MY DIET. But I do always look for simple and effective ways to make good food choices, to minimise the instance of ordering uber eats or reaching for calorie dense options because there is nothing else is available.
Here are some simple tips that helped me get through the last 5 months and enabled me be to enjoy a well-balanced, nutritionally rich diet instead:
- Freezing a range of pre-made meals before giving birth. This included stir fry meals, curries and tray bakes.
- Ordering food online to keep the fridge well stocked.
- Using baby nap times to bulk prepare lunches and dinners.
- Have a list of easy to eat snacks on hand (popcorn, tuna, cheese, hummus, boiled eggs and smoothie bags).
- Eat well balanced meals that are both filling and satiating. This means they have a good balance of carbs, protein, fibre and healthy fats.
- Always carry around a water bottle (I seriously think Sky thinks the water bottle is his mum).
- Keep high calorie dense/ low nutrient value foods out of the house and shopping basket (if I know it is there, it will get eaten)!
A Typical Day of Eating
Is it just me or do you also love knowing what someone typically eats in a day? I am definitely a creature of habit when it comes to food and will generally eat the same foods on most days.
7:30am Breakfast:2 Runny poached eggs and 1 x sourdough toast (sometimes 2 if I am super hungry) and a coffee.
10:30am Post Workout Snack: 200g Greek Yogurt + scoop of protein powder (either Macro Mike or Gold Standard Whey) + 2 tsp cacao powder + 1/2 cup frozen blueberries.
1pm Lunch: Poached chicken or BBQ shredded beef and salad wrap or beef cottage pie.
4PM Snack: A homemade muffin, energy ball or rice cakes with cottage or low-fat cheese and a piece of fruit.
7pm Dinner: Oven roasted chips and salmon with green veggies or an easy one pan burrito bake.
After Dinner: Hot chocolate, scoop of Fropro or black bean brownie.
Now that Sky has moved through his ‘four-month regression’, I am hoping to move into a more focused fat loss phase while continuing to prioritise strength progression. I am a big advocate for a flexible dieting approach to weight loss and will start on a small calorie deficit with a few diet break weeks to boost compliance and avoid metabolic adaptation.
But most importantly, I know that I am not in any rush either. It took 9 months for Sky to make his way into our lives, so I will give myself and my body this time and more to get back there.
Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.
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