Bernadette Dancy Phd, is a Health Coach and Personal Trainer with over 15 years’ experience working as a health and exercise specialist. She now works as a Full Time Mum (is there any other kind?!) and part time Health and Exercise Coach delivering Skype Coaching Programmes to people all over UK and Europe who want to improve their mental and physical health using a lifestyle approach. To find out more go to www.bernadettedancy.co.uk
I will always remember my first attempt at a run after the birth of my son. He came into the world via emergency caesarean section which meant I needed to take it slowly, allowing my scar to heal. After all, it was ‘major surgery’ AND I was exhausted, overwhelmed and just getting used to being larger in the breast department! So, I waited eight weeks before attempting a walk-jog, just to test myself. And wow was it memorable?! For perhaps the first time in my life, I felt parts of my body move during exercise that I hadn’t ever felt move before. My boobs, my hips, my bum…they all felt like they were reacting to gravity and not working FOR me. It felt like they had a mind of their own. I distinctively remember jogging along, coming to a high kerb, and where I might have jumped up quite easily before, I found myself leaning on my thigh to lever myself up. I was surprised, and I hated it. I hated feeling uncomfortable and hated the fact that I knew the only way to the other side was through the discomfort. You see, being a personal trainer and experienced long-distance runner, I fully understood that my body needed time to adapt. That in time, I would reconnect with exercise again. And I very much did. But it wasn’t immediate or easy. Maybe you can relate? If you’ve recently become a mum (maybe even for the second or third time!) who WANTS to exercise but just can’t find your mojo, or you’re just not feeling it, then here’s my top advice on how you CAN reconnect with it.
- Firstly…don’t wait to feel motivated. More often than not, motivation only shows up after we take action and we start seeing results. So my first piece of advice is, ‘take action’. Just start moving in some way, maybe a gentle walk, a few lunges, whatever you can do without much pressure or structure to it. It’s the best way to get started, because you have to START somewhere and waiting until you ‘feel’ like starting is a bit of a waste of time.
2. Take YOUR time. Take action only because YOU want to. Don’t be pressured into returning to structured exercise just because the other mums in your NCT class are! OR your social media feeds are making you feel you should be further along than you are. If you start too much too soon, you may get injured. Your body, your pace! When I had both my children, I was a Senior Lecturer in Health and Exercise at a University which meant standing in front of 18-20 year olds whose body’s were just that – 18- 20 years old! I could have put pressure on myself to get back to my ‘pre-baby’ body as quickly as I could but I decided that I would give myself 12-18 months to do it. And that’s exactly what I did. With a slow and steady approach, I was back in shape 14 months after having both of my children. Some of you might be aghast at this amount of time, but remember, I did it on my own time scale and that’s why it was successful for me. Looking after small babies (2 under 3 years old) meant my time was no longer indulgently spent enjoying long training sessions. Maybe it will be for you? My point is, just take your time.
3. Once you do start, take it slowly for the first couple of weeks back (or even months). Accept that your body has just done an AMAZING thing in carrying a small human for 9 months AND giving birth. It doesn’t all just bounce back immediately, it continues to do some amazing things to support you as you nurture and care for your baby. So your body may feel a bit different. It may respond more slowly to exercise. It may take longer to recover. To deal with this, my advice is to treat the early days as just ‘movement’. See it as training to train. What you are doing is important ground work that will get you ready for structured exercise a little further down the line. Be patient.
4. Join a class and be around other mums who you can relate to. The social support will be invaluable for maintaining motivation. BUT only if you stick to your own capabilities. Rest when you need to, and go at your own pace.
5. Monitor/record progress but don’t weigh yourself too often (or at all of I am honest). You are more likely to be motivated by progress you are making in terms of movement, than weight loss. After we have a baby weight loss can vary and is actually heavily influenced by hormones, energy intake and nutrition. So keep moving and stay focussed on feeling fitter by the week not what the scales say. Weight loss will come in good time with consistent effort and a good nutrition. Now isn’t the time to cut calories and diet. Eat well and move when you can.
6. Exercise with your baby if you want to. Everyone will tell you “you need a break”, “you should have time to yourself”, “use a Creche”. But if doing so means you feel more anxious or stressed out, then don’t do it. Yes it’s true exercise can help reduce anxiety and depression, but speaking from personal experience, I found leaving my baby so I could go to the gym, even more anxiety inducing. Whereas being close to my baby was beneficial to both of us. Both my sons suffered with terrible reflux and only slept when I held them. So perhaps exercise which allows you to be with your baby is what you need. Your baby will close and so you will benefit in body and mind (it’s such a shame CARiFit didn’t exist when I needed it!)
7. Lastly, less is more. As a Health and Exercise Coach, most of the clients I work with are Mums (and Dads) who have busy home and work lives. Even those on maternity leave seem to fill their time with appointments, classes, activities and then put added pressure on themselves to work out too. A quick, focussed, targeted workout, that lasts 20 minutes in the comfort of your own home, just once or twice a week is more likely to be achievable AND enjoyable than a hectic training programme. And anything that is achievable and enjoyable will be long lasting, meaning it will be more effective for you in the long run.
So in summary, I know slow and steady isn’t always what we want to hear when we want our old body’s back. BUT trust me…once you become a parent, a year isn’t that long. Time seems to speed up. Starting small now means that future you will be grateful with present you. Future you won’t look back in a year’s time and think “what if I’d stuck to it?” “Why did I give up?!” “If only I’d started sooner…”. Future you will have achieved all you set out to achieve. And maybe even more! Onwards! Bernie x