I know how unbelievably hard it is to get back to being healthy once you stop. It’s 20 times harder when you’ve had a baby and nothing feels as though it works properly, your stomach has quite literally split in two, you’re breastfeeding, craving Victoria sponge, have put on weight, are more tired than you’ve ever been and have no time to even go to the loo let alone do a set of burpees.
With my second child, Oscar, it took me three years to get back into some sort of regime. This time I didn’t want to lose the fitness levels I’d built up pre-baby, so I slowly rebuilt my strength post-birth (see my previous Postnatal Diary 4 ), before heading back to the gym at about 12 weeks. I’m fortunate that my husband will quite literally ‘hold the baby’ while I go off to a class or a run, but I know that not everyone has help at hand or classes nearby.
Many personal trainers suggest exercising when your baby sleeps, but we mums know all too well that it takes a whole lot of willpower to pull your yoga mat out when you have 100 minutes to yourself and all you want to do is have a cup of tea and a chunk of Dairy Milky (and there’s the washing to do). Having said that, for many of us the intention is there – we desperately want to be healthier – but we struggle to summon up the motivation.
Below are some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned that have got me going through tough times, plus I asked health and fitness expert and mother-of-three Louise Parker for her advice. She has been helping me get back on track post-birth. Instead of feeling like it’s all too hard to be healthier as a new mum, she suggests looking at it in a different light, “New mums may be at an advantage where they can create new habits. This is a wonderful window of opportunity where they can start doing something different; life for new mums is usually the start of a new journey.”
How to find your post-baby health and fitness mojo
1. Start slowly
It is totally impossible and absolute madness to go straight back into hardcore exercise immediately after you've had a baby, as I explained in the last instalment of my postnatal diary about exercise . However, as Pilates instructor Chloe Hodgson told me, we can do very gentle exercises that start to heal the body from within straightaway.
Louise Parker suggests trying “simple postpartum exercises that help strengthen major muscle groups, including abdominal and back muscles and also the pelvic floor” before returning to proper exercise. If we go too hard or fast, we will risk injury and will hate the experience so much we may not want to go back to exercise at all, EVER.
2. Put your gym kit on at the beginning of the day
This is my secret trick. Now that Willow is eight months old and the fog is beginning to lift, I put my gym kit on before the school run in the morning. Why? Firstly to minimize changing time throughout the day – I can do a workout at home without having to faff or go upstairs to change beforehand. Secondly, it reminds me throughout the day that I’m meant to be moving at some point and if I get to the end of the day and haven’t then it makes me feel guilty. It also means I could bust out a few burpees whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. Has this actually happened yet? Er, no of course not.
3. Don’t buy the sweet stuff
I know what it’s like – you can feel so hungry you could devour an M&S Colin the Caterpillar in minutes, and to be honest when you’re breastfeeding you do need extra calories (maybe not a whole Colin though…). Each time I’ve stopped breastfeeding I’ve noticed my appetite drop back, but it’s then that I have struggled to break the sugar cycle. The only route that has worked for me is to remove sweet things from the house altogether. Hiding them in the garage won’t suffice as you’ll sniff them out late one evening. Once they are gone, you will be forced to find a healthier snack in the house instead.
4. Make healthier snacks a habit
Try telling a postnatal woman not to snack and I’ll show you a woman that can bounce on a trampoline after three children. Louise Parker has been helping me get back into shape (see below for the latest installment) and one of the snacks she recommends once you have finished breastfeeding is an apple and a dessert spoon of nut butter, which for me hits the sweet spot mid-afternoon when you are craving a piece of chocolate.
5. Use your baby as a weight
If you’re after a bit of fun and a half-hearted workout then you can use your baby as a weight - if they aren’t too heavy, that is. If you are a member of the gym, take a note of the weights you can lift and make sure you don't lift your child if they are heavier than that. Sometimes I hold Willow and do squats, sometimes I do overhead presses, other times I lie on my back with knees bent and place her on my tummy before doing hip raises. It really makes her giggle. Louise Parker also suggests placing your baby in the baby carrier; this way, you can go for a walk or even do some weighted squats. They may be light to start with but the weight starts to build up.
6. Don’t let your mind sabotage your fitness plans
It’s a strange fact of life that you can have every intention of doing a workout but your mind can talk you out of it in five minutes. My trick is to use mindfulness in this situation and observe what your mind is doing. It might be telling you that you are too tired, that you don’t have time, that you need new trainers first, that you just fancy a cuppa instead. Put it down to your mind playing tricks on you, override it with the phrase "you never regret a workout" and remember how happy you will feel when you’ve exercised.
Louise Parker says, “When you are tired, being active may seem like the last thing you need, but regular activity can relax you, keep you fit and help you feel more energetic.” If you are feeling daunted by the prospect of exercising she says that it doesn’t have to be long or structured. "Small bursts a few times in the day are a great start.”
7. Work out when your baby sleeps
Every personal trainer says we should do this but it isn’t as easy as it sounds because when your baby is sleeping you need to prepare food for when they wake, cram in an online supermarket shop, put washing on, tidy the house before your husband thinks you’ve been burgled. Not to mention sleeping – if you have been up all night with a baby, this should definitely take priority. However, if you have slept then I say cram in a quick workout depending on how you are feeling. I have been known to do a quick HIIT session for 15 minutes if I have the energy or an online yoga session when I feel the need to move and stretch.
Two great yoga guides online are movementformodernlife.com which has a wealth of expert yoga teachers to guide you through sessions and Yoga with Adriene on YouTube who does simple, easy-to-follow yoga for all levels.
8. Just do it…
…as Nike would say. There is a brilliant book by Ruth Field called Run Fat Bitch Run that years ago helped me get into exercise. One of the things she recommends to get us outside is to put your trainers on, go outside and close the door behind you. You will feel too ridiculous, she says, to open the door and go back in. She then suggests going for a walk, and if you’re walking you might as well try a few minutes running…
9. Nutrition or exercise? Which comes first?
When you’re a new mother and overwhelmed by life in general, changing your eating habits and exercising can seem like a huge step. So which comes first? Louise Parker says, “Whatever you do will be a step in the right direction. Getting the nutrition right will help increase energy levels and allow you to work out better. Moving more will help you feel more energized, improve sleep and give you that feel good boost. You want to bring in some consistency in both eventually.”
10. New activewear, new you
It’s been proven many times that if you get gym kit that flatters and fits well then you will feel better about yourself and be more likely to work out. The body areas we need the most help with post-birth are the stomach (obviously), taming of the muffin top area and supporting the breasts especially when breastfeeding. Here's the kit that has helped me along my journey:
Susannah's best postnatal workout gear for support and motivation
Gibson Girl activewear
The before and after legging
The Lucas Hugh 7/8 leggings, £80 are black, high-waisted leggings that have seen me through from 10 weeks pregnant to hospital wear post-birth and I’m still wearing them. They have no seams but manage to hug the body securely. After birth, they held in my wobbly tummy and still hold me in eight months later. Wouldn’t expect anything less from this amazing brand.
The new brands
I’m always on the lookout for new fitness wear brands and www.Gibsongirl.co.uk has caught my eye recently. They use highly technical sweat-wicking fabrics and I particularly like the sports bra , £39 as it's supportive without the mono-boob effect (and good for breastfeeding mums). I also love the Sweatproof Physical Vest, £45 which is airy, sweat-wicking, not too tight (thankfully) and I love the geometric print.
Another brand I love is Dot Dash Activewear who do great printed leggings which are sweat-wicking, have a four-way stretch to give support without feeling like everything is squishing out over the top. With a high waist and an airy feel (you feel like your legs can breathe), you can tell they are created by a trainer and new mother Nicole Dash who obviously understands where we might need some help post-birth.
Dot Dash Activewear leggings
The loose-fitting vest
One of my favourite tops of all time is one from H&M which is a slim vest (not too tight to the body but still flattering) with an elasticated bottom. This sort of top is essential for new mums who don’t want to show our stomach or midriff when in downward dog. Unfortunately, they don’t make it anymore but the Seamless Double Time Vest, £60 from Sweaty Betty does a great job too.
The sports bras that grow with you
It’s not just the bump that surprises you with its astronomical growth in pregnancy – it’s the breasts. Not all breasts grow a huge amount but mine went from a size B to a G when breastfeeding and are back to a C currently.
I didn’t want to fork out for a new sports bra every time I changed in size, but I found a few miraculous ones what expanded and deflated with my lady lumps. First up is the Rosie Huntington Whiteley for Autograph by M&S sports bra that wasn’t too low cut (important to keep my decency in yoga I felt), and provided incredible support whilst having bra-type expandable straps. Sadly however it seems to have been taken out of production (boo), but the M&S Medium Impact Santoni Non-padded sports bra, £20 looks very similar.
I also have absolutely loved wearing the Technical Knit Classic Sports Bra in Black, £50 from Lucas Hugh which, while it won’t give great support for a HIIT workout, was incredibly comfortable to wear instead of a feeding bra and has a knitted ribbed edge around the back so nothing digs in. It saw me through pregnancy and I still wear it now.
12 weeks of the Louise Parker Plan
Unfortunately, there is not much new to report on the weight loss front on the Louise Parker Plan . I have plateaued. Maybe it’s because I’ve eaten a little too much dark chocolate recently, or had a few too many cheeky glasses of wine (forgive me, Louise) but my weight loss is the same as it was a few weeks back (9lbs in total) when I last wrote my postnatal diary.
This is not a bad thing – it makes me realise I need to tighten my belt again (literally), get my backside to the gym and eyes out of the fridge. I have a big party to go to in November so I’m now back to sticking to the plan. Louise Parker says that we fall off the wagon now and again but we need to pick ourselves up and get back on it. So that’s my plan. Until the next (and final) instalment….
Catch up on Susannah's previous postnatal diaries . Follow Susannah Taylor on Instagram here