Here’s something I don’t easily admit, especially not to thousands of newspaper readers. A few weeks after giving birth to my second child, I found myself walking down Chestnut Street in faded sweatpants, with bags under my eyes, pushing a stroller that felt like a clumsy new appendage, and doubting that I would ever again look anything like the shapely, stylish women strutting alongside me on the sidewalk. Sure, I was now the mom of two beautiful little people whose presence in my life made me wildly happy. But there was a part of me that, between wrestling with a mechanical breast pump in the middle of the night and requiring a shoe horn to zip my jeans in the morning, longed for the day when I would once again feel rested, energetic and fit.
Pregnancy and childbirth are a marathon, and the first year with a new baby is a joyous yet trying time for many moms. Sleep is in short supply, the newborn’s schedule is demanding, and all the physical and emotional changes you are undergoing are draining. You have enough to worry about without stressing over the fact that nothing in your closet fits and that many of your body parts have become unrecognizable. Though it seems like you’ll never feel like your old self again, rest assured you will. Here are some strategies to help you elevate your mood and take steps toward getting your mojo back.
Be kind to yourself. You’ve heard about movie stars who are down to size two just a few weeks after giving birth, so it’s no wonder you’re obsessed with losing the baby weight. But according to Judy DiFiore, author of The Complete Guide to Postnatal Fitness, you shouldn’t focus on the numbers on the scale. “It’s important to give yourself a break,” she says. “It took nine months to make your baby, so give yourself at least that long to get back in shape.” Because every woman’s body is different, resist the urge to compare yourself to anyone else, especially celebrities, who have personal trainers and chefs and, ahem, all sorts of other assistance getting back into their former shape. In the first days and weeks after giving birth, get plenty of rest to help your body recuperate from the trauma of delivery. And, says certified trainer Jackie Katz, who owns the Baby Boot Camp postnatal fitness franchise in the Marina (www.babybootcamp.com), be patient with yourself. “It’s not realistic to think you’ll lose the weight in two days like Heidi Klum,” she says. “But with the proper nutrition and a workout plan, you will get your prebaby bod back.”
Get moving. Unless you’ve had a complicated birth, get outside — either with or without your baby — for a brisk stroll, which can do wonders for both your circulation and psyche. At your postpartum checkup, ask your doctor when it will be safe to ease into a slightly more vigorous fitness routine. Usually women will get the go-ahead around six weeks, but those who have had a C-section may have to wait longer. You may be told to avoid crunches, as well as high-impact activities like running, until your abdominal and pelvic-floor muscles have strengthened. Low-impact cardiovascular activities such as swimming and power walking will keep your heart healthy and burn fat, while Pilates and yoga can improve strength and flexibility. Check your local gym or Y for low-impact postnatal exercise classes, some of which even use your newborn as a free weight! Child-friendly, mom-centered programs like Baby Boot Camp, which incorporates both cardio and strength training, make the most of your time by allowing you to train outdoors while your baby relaxes in a nearby stroller. Working out with other new mothers can be motivating and make the time pass more quickly. If you prefer to exercise at home, try a postnatal fitness CD; your baby can sit nearby in a bouncy seat or swing while you sweat. Whatever activity you choose, start off slowly and call your doctor if you experience any pain or discomfort. Above all, have fun, and cherish the time you are dedicating to yourself.
Focus on eating healthfully. While experts advise against dieting right after giving birth, healthful eating is a must, especially if you are breastfeeding. Do your best to avoid empty calories, processed foods and refined sugars. Watch your portions and fat intake, and be sure to get your daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, calcium, and iron. Ask your doctor if you should consider any vitamin supplements, and how many more calories you need to consume while nursing. And don’t be hard on yourself for splurging on that chocolate dessert or bagel once in a while.
Above all, accept the fact that though you may eventually achieve that magic number on the scale, you may never look exactly the same as you did before pregnancy. Embrace your new body, curves and all, and be grateful for the amazing bundle of joy it produced.