Postpartum Fitness

If you asked me during my pregnancy, when I would be back to the gym after having a baby, I would have said “6 weeks, maybe 2 months”.

Oh how naive I was…

Aside from the fact that (unknowingly going in) I was a full-on attachment parent, or that our baby girl nursed every 20-90 minutes (but I never knew when it would be 20 vs. 90), the pounding your body takes in the early weeks of having a baby is like nothing I have ever experienced. Here’s how it went down for me:

  1. 14 hour labour – which isn’t too long in the grand scheme of things. But it was like a constant workout, and I stopped eating about 30 minutes after labour actually started. So I did a 13.5 hour workout without eating more than a few grapes and a glass of juice.
  2. 2.5+ hours pushing – yeah so that was intense. Especially since it was unmedicated. It was like doing a max-effort workout for an entire minute. Every 3-4 minutes, for over 2.5 hours. Again, on no food. And one hell of a workout for my pelvic floor muscles.
  3. 24 hours awake – from when my water broke to when baby girl arrived, on very little food, with adrenaline going like crazy. Oh and labour. 
  4. 4 hours sleep – she arrived at 3am, we fell asleep by 6am, and woke up around 9:30am for our first day with our baby girl.
  5. Up 2-3 times/night for 45-90 minutes for 6 weeks – so after that marathon and a half, what would have been amazing, was a goodnight sleep to recover. But nope! 
  6. Creating milk to sustain another human – on little sleep, struggling to eat enough and full of stress hormones (amongst other hormones).

Soooo, now that I’ve painted a beautiful picture of having a baby – haha! I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, I promise. In fact, writing that makes me proud about what a freakin’ badass I am. Women are strong. Shockingly strong. But I digress…

By the time I hit 6 weeks postpartum, I was pretty darn depleted. As someone who historically didn’t let themselves workout on less than 7 hours of sleep, due to a history of adrenal fatigue, I was feeling super torn. I wanted to go back to the gym SO badly, but I couldn’t knowingly put my body through that, on top of what I was already demanding of it. Also, I was pretty sure that the almost 3 hours of pushing likely resulted in some muscular damage/imbalances. So here’s what I did:

1. Embraced this season of life.

This took a lot of introspection and mental work on my part. Never in my life have I taken a significant time off from being active. The most was 5 or 6 weeks with minor injuries, but I often figured out how to work around it, like participating in basketball practice while my hand was in a cast (smart Amanda, real smart). Being active, and more recently, being a Crossfitter, is actually a major part of how I self-identify. So on top of the massive identity shift that happens when you just, become a mom, I was also no longer working on our business (which is also one of my life’s passions) and I was very quickly losing strength, mobility and the mental clarity that comes with exercise.

A few quotations that helped me embrace this season of life were:

“Don’t treat a gift as a burden.”

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

“This is the longest, shortest time.”

I didn’t want to look back on this incredibly short time (although it seems sooooo long when you’re in it) and wish I had snuggled my baby more. So I put going back to the gym out of my mind entirely. I was unknowingly putting pressure on myself to get back, so I just stopped. I took it off the table, knowing that the time would come when it would seem very manageable to get back.

2. Saw a pelvic floor physiotherapist.

 There is more and more discussion on how this should be part of standard postpartum care, and in some areas of the world it is. And I can’t recommend it enough. I am strong, I had no obvious damage (no tearing, no stitches), I wasn’t experiencing any incontinence and I wasn’t in much pain. But when I was assessed by my pelvic floor physio at 7 weeks postpartum, she gave me a 1/5. I have never received 20% on anything in my life – LOL – so this was a major blow. Haha! But I did a few weeks of prescribed exercises and jumped to a 3/5. At which point I was discharged, especially because I was asymptomatic, and was sent away with a handful of exercises to continue doing. I credit this step with now being able to do everything I was able to do before, like box jumps and skipping/double unders, without peeing! Unfortunately it is now considered normal to pee when jumping or running, after having a baby…to that I say, just because it is common, does not make it normal. See a pelvic floor physio if you’re experiencing unwanted voiding!

3. Yoga

At 4 months PP the kiddo started having slightly more predictable naps. I was also sleeping quite a bit more at night, so I didn’t need to nap when she napped anymore. My husband and I started trying to strategize about getting me back to the gym for the morning class, but I decided it wasn’t the right time yet. She routinely slept in til 8-8:30ish, which I embraced and slept in with her. I knew that would come to an end soon, so I took those sleep-ins as a gift and an opportunity to continue to recover. Especially since I was experiencing some pretty gnarly arthritis as the hormone relaxin left my body. So instead, I found a wonderful series of yoga videos on youtube, that were 25-30 minutes in length – perfect for nap time, which at this point was rarely longer than 40 minutes. About 5 or so years ago I went through a period of major yoga love. It was right after training for a half marathon (which killed my love of running for a significant while). Yoga felt like I was taking care of my body, after the beating I had just put it through, and was a wonderfully healing experience then, so I hoped to have the same response now. Boy did it do the trick! It felt so wonderful to move my body, work on mobility, engage my muscles and start building up some strength again – in a gentle way, without causing too much depletion. I even (for a split second) considered going back to yoga as my primary exercise instead of Crossfit (it was a short second, I swear, lol!). But if I’m honest, after about 6 weeks of yoga, I started making reasons to skip it. I was getting a bit bored – not because of the yoga, which was still a wonderful program – but because I was used to working out hard, in a group environment, where we all cheered each other on! I really missed Crossfit.

4. Back to Crossfit!

The combination of taking time off, rehabbing my body properly and introducing movement back to my life with yoga in a way that built up my strength, rather than depleting it, set me up perfectly for getting back to the gym by 6 months postpartum. It was a little humbling realizing how much strength I lost, but I reframed it by thinking of how I, you know, grew another human being! After being back for a few weeks, I’m actually more proud of myself than I was before. I can’t believe what I can do, after having a baby and taking 6+ months off! It’s exciting to see my skills come back, muscles starting to show a bit and slowly but surely, feeling my strength come back! 

 

As is always important with Crossfit, I had to check my ego at the door. When you start Crossfit, you are simultaneously learning new skills and developing strength. I was in an interesting position of having the skills, but not having the strength, or the lungs. So I had to be extra careful not to overdo it an injure myself. I scaled every WOD, and then scaled a bit more. I took epsom salt baths, supplemented, ate really well, foam-rolled and did mobility work at night, and even managed to go for a massage!

To Sum Up…

While it took a while for me to get there mentally, I couldn’t be happier with how I approached my return to exercising during the postpartum period. While many figure out how to get back 6 weeks PP, I truly feel that going back to the gym earlier was not the right decision for me, or my family for that matter. Instead, by being gentle with my body, rehabbing properly and slowly reintroducing fitness, I set my body up for success with Crossfit going forward. And more importantly, I’ve set my body up the best I can, to be able to handle another pregnancy (should we decide to go that route), hopefully as well as it handled this one!

Fermented Carrots

Fermented foods are a staple in every single traditional culture, and their absence in the typical North American Diet, is likely a major contributor to poor health. I’ve written about gut heath and fermented foods many times on this blog already, so feel free to check out those posts:

Sauerkraut

Kombucha

Coconut Yogurt

Leaky Gut

What Causes Leaky Gut

Healing Leaky Gut 

Sauerkraut was my introduction to fermented foods, and for a lot of people this is an easy add-in to their diet – especially if you like sauerkraut, pickles and olives. However, the combination of fermentation and cabbage can be a little too much for the fermented food rookie. And if you are interested in making your own fermented foods (which I highly recommend for 2 reasons, [1] it becomes inoculated with microbes from your environment and [2] it is a fraction of the price), sauerkraut has a fairly long fermentation period – 3-4 weeks. So instead, I recommend Fermented Carrots.

These are my favourite way to introduce fermented foods to kids and adults alike. A little sweeter for the rookie-palate, and with a 4-7 day fermentation period, they are a great intro to home-fermenting. 

Fermented Carrots

(Option: Garlic Dulse Fermented Carrots)

Ingredients & Equipment

  • 2 lbs carrots
  • 4 tsp fine-ground sea salt, or garlic sea salt (my preference!)
  • OPTIONAL: 1 heaping tbsp dulse 
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 more heaping tsp sea salt, or garlic sea salt
  • jars
  • silicone muffin liners (my preference, but you can get creative)

 

Directions

1. Slice carrots as thinly as possible. I recommend using the slicer attachment on your food processor. (Note: save your carrot tops for making broth!)

2. Add to a bowl, and toss with sea salt, or garlic-sea salt.

3. Optional – add a heaping tbsp of dulse for extra minerals and thyroid support!

4. Toss well. Spoon into jars, packing carrots down as tightly as you can. 

5. Create a brine by mixing 1 tsp salt (garlic salt) with 1 cup of water, and adding to the jars of carrots. Add enough brine to cover carrots completely.

6. Use something to hold the carrots under the water. I like to use my silicone muffin liners!

7. Place in a cool, dark corner of the room, out of direct sunlight. But don’t put them in a closet or cupboard where you can forget about them (learned this one the hard way!). Check on them every day to make sure the carrots are still below the water. If not, add a bit more brine, or push down the muffin liner. Let ferment for 4-7 days. Start checking at 4 days to see if you like the tangy flavour. I usually ferment for 5 days.

 

I love adding a spoonful to salads, or just on the side of a meal. When I was breastfeeding, my favourite snack was to toast 2 pieces of GF bread, spread half an avocado on each piece and top with these bad boys. Delish!

 

 

What’s your favourite fermented food? Have you tried making it yourself? Share in the comments below!

How to Help a New Mom

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… 

 

How To Help A New Mom | AmandaNaturally.com

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. If you are anything outside of immediate family, consider waiting a few weeks to visit.
  3. 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.
  4. 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! 
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 

Help

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 of help:

  1. 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. 
  2. Do the dishes or clear the dishwasher.
  3. Throw on a load of laundry.
  4. Pick up a few groceries.
  5. Play with the other children (this is especially important if baby #2 has just arrived, since the firstborn will likely be feeling left out!).
  6. Walk the dog. Even for 15 minutes.
  7. 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!

 

Take Aways

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 help new moms know what they might need.

To help those around new moms, who love and support them, know how to do just that.

 

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