The first few days postpartum was something I thought about (and worried about) a lot the last few weeks before baby girl arrived. I had no idea how I would feel and what I would want – both physically and emotionally – but I knew that as an introvert (def: recharging on your own, as opposed to recharging in the presence of others) I might struggle with some of the current societal norms. I spoke with a dear friend about this a lot, and she had some amazing advice (in hindsight), but at the time I felt like I simply couldn’t follow it. And holy moly I wish I had. So, as I do with all of my life experiences – I am learning and growing, I will make changes next time (if there is a next time), and I hope to share with others to help you on your own journeys.
On that note, the most important thought I can offer, based on my postpartum experience, is this: Immediately after the arrival of a baby…
Time & Space
The most important thing for recovery from labour, to encourage bonding, to establish breastfeeding and to protect against PPD is to spend the first few days in bed, with your baby, with constant skin-on-skin contact. It is incredibly unhelpful thing to feel the pressure to get out of bed and visit, especially if it means handing over your baby.
In my experience, I was in pain, bleeding, covered in other fluids (both from labour and from the baby), exhausted, worried, emotional and already on a super steep learning curve that did not include any sleep for mental or physical recovery. I needed more time.
Here is how you can help a new mom, by giving her the gift of time and space:
Avoid visiting in the first 24-48 hours. Even if you’re family. This might sound extreme, but I stand by it. I had my mom with me, and I would definitely do this again, but the reason for that is she was there 100% for me, not for my baby. She made me food, did laundry and only snuggled the baby to-and-from the change table, so I didn’t have to get out of bed. She was a godsend.
If you are anything outside of immediate family, consider waiting a few weeks to visit.
If you are family, limit the number of your visits. The big part of my physical recovery took about 3 weeks. So for those first 3 weeks, every day I needed to rest, most of the day. I also needed at least one nap every day, and – for my own sanity – I needed to try to do one thing like shower, or change my clothes, or even make a batch of muffins (which were critical for overnight breastfeeding sessions). A visit usually prevented me from doing both of those.
Limit the duration of your visit. I recommend 20-30 minutes max, those first few weeks. I could barely manage a 10 minute walk even at 3 weeks postpartum. Getting down the stairs week 1 was a trial – and I was lucky not to have a c-section or any stitches to recover from!
Please, do not expect to hold the baby. It might happen, but it might not. New mom instincts are powerful. There were many times that I cried when I got my baby back – out of sheer relief – which sounds silly, but it is what it is. Hormones are super intense, especially postpartum. The only time I felt right, was when I was holding my baby.
Be flexible and understanding. Breastfeeding sessions the first few weeks are SO long. Anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours. And you often only have an hour at most in between. This reinforces the importance of earlier points.
We needed help. I might have looked like I had my sh*t together (and in some ways I was fairly prepared) but oh boy I did not. I really needed help, in any way shape or form.
Here is how you can help a new mom, by giving her the gift ofhelp:
Bring nourishing food. (If the mom in question has dietary limitations, like me, just keep it simple – chicken and salad, roast potatoes, healthy muffins). I couldn’t get my brain to think about making food for weeks and weeks. Thank goodness my husband is not only great in the kitchen, but enjoys it.
Do the dishes or clear the dishwasher.
Throw on a load of laundry.
Pick up a few groceries.
Play with the other children (this is especially important if baby #2 has just arrived, since the firstborn will likely be feeling left out!).
Walk the dog. Even for 15 minutes.
Ask, really ask, what you can do to help. Most people will say “nothing”, so try offering a few suggestions.
Gentle reminder: holding the baby so a mom can do these things, is not very helpful during those first few weeks. However, it does become very helpful as time passes!
Every individual in unique, and depending on a mom’s tendency towards introversion or extroversion, as well as the nature of her birth and immediate postpartum experience, some of these recommendations might be too much, or actually might be not intense enough. My intention with this post is to plant some seeds, for both expectant mothers and those around them…
To helpnew moms know what they might need.
To help those around new moms, who love and support them, know how to do just that.
NOTE: Baby girl arrived on her due date, and I had assumed she would come late since the majority of first time pregnancies do, my plan was to leave this blogpost for the week after my due date when I had nothing to do. So, I wrote this 4 months postpartum, and did my best to remember everything!!
Welcome to the third and final (thank goodness) instalment of my personal experiences during my pregnancy. If you haven’t read the first 2 parts (and if you want to!) check them out here and here.
My third trimester was also pretty uneventful, aside from the fact that my stomach was small but I needed to eat a lot. I definitely felt pregnant, but was surprised by how much I was still able to do. Fatigue started to set in after 30 weeks, which was exacerbated by the hottest summer in 75 years. Thank goodness I had a job that allowed me to wear sundresses and flip-flops! My boss is the best. Ha! But seriously, I would have had to leave work much earlier if my dress code wasn’t flexible.
Major Trends / Lessons Learned in my 3rd Trimester
Calories – I found weeks 27-37 pretty tough for eating. Not because I was having any aversions, but because I had no space in my stomach! So as much as I don’t like the 5-6 small meals a day, that’s what I ended up doing. I ate protein & veg heavy meals (salads with meat, fish stirfry etc), with some fat of course. And in between my main 3 meals, I would have carbs & fat. Plantain chips, banana & PB, frozen cherries and coconut milk (one of my favourite treats ever). Ham sandwich. Oh how sick I was of ham sandwiches by the end of my pregnancy! The best part was when she dropped at 37 weeks and I suddenly had a ton of room! Bring on the gluten-free pizza!
Blood Sugar – I tested my morning blood sugars (I kept an eye on them off and on since about 25 weeks, especially since I opted out of the glucose testing) and they were really, really low! No wonder I was waking up so shaky. I started eating before bed again, like I did to prevent morning sickness in my first trimester. This made a huge difference for how I felt in the morning and also how I slept!
Crossfit – I really started to pull back. I even stopped 10 days before baby girl arrived (when I assumed I’d crossfit the day I went into labour, lol) to conserve my energy and strength for when labour started. See full details here. My whole goal at this stage was to maintain strength and keep moving my body. Crossfit kept me sane during the last few weeks where I felt like my body was not my own. Being able to lift weights made me feel pretty darn happy!
Sleep – I started having sleeping issues towards my final trimester. As someone who sleeps amazingly well (anywhere, everywhere, at the drop of a hat, lol) this was a new experience for me. And it wasn’t that I was uncomfortable. I’m a side sleeper, so the belly didn’t really impact that! So since that wasn’t the case, I couldn’t figure out what it was for a long time! I started implementing all of the usual tricks, which I pretty much do all the time already (always protecting my circadian rhythm!):
Epsom salt bath with lavender EO every single night. I made the water not too hot and only stayed in for 20 minutes.
Took magnesium before bed.
Started eating before bed! I randomly stumbled across an article on insomnia (that had nothing to do with pregnancy), which suggested that in some people who struggle with frequent night-wakings, it is actually a dip in blood sugar that causes the waking. I thought this was interesting and was suspicious of my blood sugar dropping, because (a) I wasn’t waking up to pee every time (although that did happen like clockwork between 2:57 and 3:06 every single night – weird), I was just, awake, and (b) with the amount of muscle I had, and the amount of activity and lifting I was still doing, I was craving carbs like crazy – and not cookies and sugar carbs – real, nutrient-dense carbs, so I knew I needed them. Ham and avocado sandwiches on GF bread immediately before bed happened every single night this trimester. If I skipped or tried something else, I didn’t sleep! Pregnancy is nuts, lol.
Sore Muscles – this was something I didn’t anticipate, but makes complete sense. My body was SO sore from lack of mobility. Specifically my back. I couldn’t do anything with my back except keep it in mostly one position. No bending forward, backwards, twisting…nothing. So all the muscles in my back were constantly aching from not doing anything! You know that feeling if you’ve been sick and in bed for days? Yeah, that was all of the time from about 32 weeks on. Crossfit helped a ton, as did epsom salt baths – I had one every single night during this trimester. But the best thing I did for myself was go for a massage every 2 weeks, the last 9 weeks of my pregnancy. Made all the difference in the world.
Ever since I was a (highly energetic) little girl, my parents knew that burning off that energy was key to my happiness, and team sports was the way to do it! I started playing soccer at age 5 and never looked back. My dad also wanted to make sure I could keep up with everyone in my class, so he made sure to teach me how to throw a baseball/football properly, and shoot a basketball/box out like one of the guys. This set the foundation for a serious love affair with activity, exercise, competitive sports and all things movement!
Skiing, snowboarding, wake boarding, biking, volleyball – I was up for anything! Once I left high school (which was the epitome of competitive sports for me), I naturally moved into the fitness realm. I had a trainer briefly, fell in love with group exercise classes for a while, ran a half marathon, had a mild-obsession with yoga for 2 years and then started to lift heavier and do high intensity training on my own at a gym. That eventually led me to Crossfit, which I quickly realized was a perfect fit for me. The community, the focus on PRs (never on weight or how you look), the competition, the doing things I didn’t think were possible (like walking into the gym, thinking “there’s no way I can do this WOD” and then just doing it!) – it was a match made in heaven. I’ve been Crossfitting for 2 years now, anywhere from 3-5 days a week, and I honestly can’t imagine any other style of working out! And then I got pregnant…
Pregnant and Crossfitting
So what? I was pregnant not injured! So there was no way I was stopping exercising. Here’s why:
I have always exercised so I’d lose my mind if I had to stop.
It is totally and completely safe to do what you’ve always done, during pregnancy (albeit with some modifications as things progress).
I couldn’t imagine better preparation for labour, than staying strong.
I’ve had a few questions about how I scaled/modified workouts to suit my changing body, and I also want to document for future pregnancies (or friends at the gym who decide to follow suit) so here is a breakdown/timeline of how I changed my workouts as I progressed throughout my pregnancy. At the end I have a quick summary of common Crossfit movements, and how you can scale them.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or medical professional. All exercise during pregnancy should be discussed with your health care provider. This is simply a documentation of what worked for me, my body and my pregnancy! Know yourself and be safe. Maintaining strength and mobility is important during pregnancy, but smashing PRs and going all-out simply isn’t. The priority is building a baby – which is a hell of a lot of work! Listen to your body and move it accordingly.
No More Inversions – as recommended by my functional chiropractor. Handstand push ups became dumbbell/barbell presses. Nose-to-wall holds became plank holds. Rationale: redirecting blood and lymphatic flow away from the uterus, which is in the delicate stage of creating a brand new placenta (read: a new organ), isn’t a great idea.
No Twisting – interestingly Crossfit doesn’t include a lot of work in the twisting plane, other than sort of twisting/countering a twist in rope climbs. This one wasn’t too hard. I just started working on strict pull ups instead of rope climbs. Rationale: limiting intrauterine constriction.
No sit ups – I subbed in plank work. For example, I would set up plank about a foot away from the rig. For every 1 sit up RXd, I would do 4 rig-touches (2 with each hand). As in, I would lift my left hand off the floor and touch the rig, quickly put it down, repeat on the right side. Or sometimes push ups, elevated push ups, KB swings or even air squats – depending on what made sense for the WOD. Rationale: limiting intrauterine constriction and preventing Diastasis Recti (permanent separation of abdominal muscles that doesn’t return to normal postpartum).
No Explosive Jumping – step ups instead of box jumps. Or 12″ box jumps instead of 20″.
No Getting Out of Breath – Rationale: if you’re panting, baby’s not getting oxygen. I started taking a few more breaks during the WODs. In many cases, I would go heavier with stricter movements. So instead of high volume, lower weight kipping pull ups / touch-n-go olympic lifts, I focused on strict pull ups (banded) and heavy cleans/snatches.
I told my Crossfit coaches I was pregnant very early (like 4 weeks early), so they would understand and help me scale appropriately. They’ve been awesome.
Still Worked Out Hard – in fact the Crossfit Open started when I was 12 weeks. I fully participated, RXing a few WODs and even getting my first chest-to-bar pull up!!
16 weeks – stopped kipping pull ups because I was starting to get a slight bump, and my abs were starting to change/separate. I did strict, banded pull ups when it made sense. For high volume, I did ring rows. Rationale: preventing Diastasis Recti.
16 weeks – burpees to plank position, instead of all the way to the ground (belly in the way)
19 weeks – step out burpees. With changing anatomy and achey hips, I was having a hard time jumping back in. So I started jumping out to plank, then stepping back in. Quickly moving to stepping out and back in.
20 weeks – stopped bench pressing. This was surprising, but I found that my abs were really kicking in, and it was super uncomfortable. Switched to slightly elevated push ups. Rationale: preventing Diastisis Recti.
21 weeks – I stopped running. The reasoning for this is I had 2 ultrasounds, a week apart, and the baby was in the exact same position. My functional chiropractor recommended stopping running to limit intrauterine constriction, which may have been impeding the baby’s ability to move around freely. This was a very conservative move, and lots of women run comfortably throughout their pregnancy. To be honest though, I quite enjoy running normally, but I really did not enjoy it with a belly – it was seriously uncomfortable! I substituted rowing for the remainder of this trimester – keeping the RX distances the same
22 weeks – no more olympic lifting. While many pregnant women continue doing snatches and cleans with a belly, it seemed very counterintuitive to me. The whole focus of olympic lifting is to keep the bar as close to your torso as possible, which takes so much practice. To change form for a few months, and have the bar go out and around the belly, not only increases risk of injury, but undoes all of the hard work on technique I’ve put in so far. So instead, I switched to dumbbell cleans/snatches, KB swings, or technique work on parts of the lifts (like pulls, jerks or snatch balances)
22 weeks – all WODS with squats/presses etc. from the floor, I started taking from the rack
24 weeks – elevated burpees. With the ever-growing belly, burpees are constantly changing! Haha. Now I put a barbell on the rig, about a few inches off the ground. Just to give me a bit of extra room to accommodate for the belly. I was able to switch to jumping out and in again by elevating them.
25 weeks – switched from double unders to singles.
26 weeks – easily tied my old back squat PR at 165#. To be fair, it was a year old and I had only been CFing for 6 months when I tested it. But still!
27 weeks – stopped rowing. My belly doesn’t let me anymore! Luckily it’s the summer, so running is the preferred form cardio…which I scaled to farmer’s carries (see below)
Front/Back squats – I took about 20# off my 1RM and used that for all RXs. So if the RX was to do 5+ at 85% of my front squat 1RM (which is 155#), I did 5+ at 85% of 135# (115#).
Strict/Push Press & Jerks – no change. In fact I PR’d my split jerk at 120# at 27 weeks!
Cardio (skipping, burpees, jumping jacks – anything except running) – step ups with a 16″ box, then a 12″ box. Scaling the number appropriately – so if the RX was 20 burpees, I would do 40 x 12″ step ups.
Opting Out – 500m row for time, 7 minutes max burpees, max height box jump… there was no point in scaling these! Instead I cheered on my buddies or did accessory work.
Deadlifts – from risers because I couldn’t bend over far enough! Also did sumo deadlifts to account for the belly.
Plate Snatches – for metcons (which I did slowly).
Pull Ups – I did exclusively ring rows at this point. Even strict, banded ring rows were hard because the band was pressing against my ever-expanding belly
28 weeks – running WODS modified to farmers carries (instead of rowing). A 400m run RX, would turn into 100m farmer’s carry with 2x 35# Kbs – one in each hand.
30 weeks – I decreased from 4 WODs/week to 3, to give me more time to recover, and another sleep in day (I normally go to the 7am class).
30 weeks – still squatting, all the way down. Don’t need lifters anymore because my belly keeps me in good alignment! Haha!
34 weeks – PRd my deadlift at 215#, although it was from risers AND in sumo stance, so range of motion significantly decreased
36 weeks – switched from barbell thrusters to dumbbell thrusters. I could still do barbell thrusters, but I found with the added weight out front (I’m all belly), my low back was really sore later in the day. Which is clearly not where you’re supposed to feel a thruster! Dumbbell thrusters allowed me to keep better form and not stress out my low back.
37 weeks – I was cruising along feeling great, until baby dropped at 37 weeks. Suddenly I was waddling and all movements became much more challenging. Cue air squats, walking, gentle step ups and pretty high ring rows!
38wks + 3 days – my last WOD. I fully planned on working out, lightly, until I went into labour. But that evening, I was quite achey from the WOD and I started thinking about what it would be like if I went into labour right then. Labour is a highly demanding WOD – lol – and I didn’t want to go in depleted. I made the decision then and there to stop CFing for the remainder of my pregnancy, build up my internal strength and walk like crazy! (Most days I did 2 x 30-45 minute walks with the dog – seeking out lots of hills. In August. During the hottest summer in 75 years.)
So I want to briefly address this. As a competitive, Type-A individual, I love pushing my body hard (within reason), seeing improvements, hitting new PRs and getting stronger. Which is why I love Crossfit so much. I’m going to be honest with you. Modifying things during the first trimester, when my body more or less looked exactly the same, was hard. I didn’t even feel pregnant and yet, my workouts were suffering. I was frustrated, there may have been some tears. But I knew it was for the best, so I checked my ego at the door (which is critical at Crossfit regardless, otherwise you’ll get injured), and just started following the recommendations I knew were best. Once I started actually showing, and my body started changing, it was WAY easier. Of course I felt slight pangs of jealousy as my friends were doing rope climbs and I was doing ring rows, but, I was also doing 20# weighted ring rows, and GROWING A BABY! I took pride in what I was able to do, while pregnant, instead of what I couldn’t do.
Summary of Modifications
Bench Press – elevated push ups.
Box Jumps – change to step ups. Reduce height as pregnancy progresses.
Burpees – burpees to plank, step outs to plank, slightly elevated burpees (using a box, or a bar on the rig), elevated burpee step outs.
Cleans – once belly is present, switch to dumbbell cleans or front squats.
Deadlift – maintain proper form. Decrease weight as necessary. Pull from risers. Adopt sumo stance if belly is in the way.
Double Unders – single unders, then step ups.
Handstand Push Ups – dumbbell/barbell press
KB Swings – maintain proper form. Decrease weight as necessary.
Muscle Ups – strict C2Bs + ring dips. Ring rows + supported ring dips.
Presses/Jerks – no changes necessary. Or switch from barbell to dumbbells if more comfortable.
Pull Ups – as belly starts to develop, eliminate kipping pull ups. Strict pull ups (banded if necessary) and ring rows for high volume.
Push Ups – elevated push ups. Ring push ups.
Ring Dips – maintain proper form. Stop kipping as belly develops. Floor/box supported dips. Bench dips.
Rope Climbs – strict pull ups. Ring rows.
Rowing – maintain good form. Decrease intensity as necessary. Shift to step ups or farmer’s carries (see running) if belly is in the way.
Running – maintain form, keep breath rate reasonable so you can have a conversation. Out of breath = baby has no oxygen. If you are uncomfortable running, switch to rowing or farmer’s carries. Row the same distance as the running RX. Do 25% the distance for farmer’s carry, with a dumbbell or KB in each hand.
Sit Ups / Toes to Bars – stop altogether, to prevent damaging your abs (Diastasis Recti). Sub plank variations, push ups, KB swings, air squats, GHD holds.
Snatches – once belly is present, switch to single-arm dumbbell snatch, plate snatches or OH squats. Or work on snatch balances.
Squats – maintain proper form. Decrease weight as necessary. Widen stance slightly. Take from rack if the RX is from the floor.
Sumo Deadlift High Pull – first modify to rowing or using a KB. Once belly starts getting too large, do high volume deadlifts, slightly higher weight than RXd for the SDHPs.
Thruster – maintain proper form. Decrease weight as necessary. Switch to dumbbells to maintain form if necessary.
Wallballs – maintain proper form. Decrease weight as necessary.