Giving birth to a healthy baby was my only pregnancy goal. But to achieve that, I wanted to position my mind and body in the best place they could be under the circumstances. The fact is that every action you take during pregnancy will affect two living beings — and that fact became my mantra while I prepared to give birth.
Since I’m a professional athlete, taking care of my body, training and eating right is a way of life for me — like washing my hands and brushing my teeth — so that part of life did not change for me during pregnancy; I continued to train for two to four hours a day and incorporated proper nutrition. Of course, as the days rolled on and my belly grew, I did slow my training to a more moderate level — and yes, I did indulge in some of those weird pregnant-lady cravings we’ve heard so much about.
But no matter what, I believe the best predictor of a healthy child is a healthy and happy mother — and my routine of training and eating well makes me happy and healthy, so I stuck to it.
After gaining 23 pounds during pregnancy (and having an emergency C-section), I was overjoyed to hold my baby boy in my arms. However, I knew that childbirth was only the top of the mountain; afterward, you still have to get down — a journey that can unfortunately contain just as many pitfalls and missteps as climbing up did. So even if you, like me, stayed on point with mind and body fitness leading up to childbirth, you still need to remain mindful and dedicated afterward in order to feel healthy within your ever-changing lifestyle with your new family member.
So for all the new parents out there, I’ve put together a few of my favorite (and proven successful) simple mantras for postpartum health and fitness. By following these, I was able to race Ironman Texas five months after my C-section. Then, I backed that up with Ironman St. George 70.3 the very next week — and Ironman Chattanooga 70.3, two weeks later.
Here are my five top tips for success in postpartum fitness.
The body can be so resilient — if we are patient and allow it to be. Of course, being patient is difficult for many people (not just us athletes). But it’s critical to let your body heal once you birth a human; healing means listening to your body when it says not to push and moving forward when it says, “Let’s do this.”
Fuel your body
That means fueling to heal and recalibrate, which will speed up the recovery process. Whether you are breastfeeding or not, it is so important to stay hydrated and replenish your body with healthy nutrients that give you the energy to manage this new little life you are now in charge of every day. For me, my postpartum availability to, say, properly cook vegetables was zero, so I made sure to stock up on chilled veggie superfood soup (ZÜPA NOMA is my favorite) and other healthy, super-easy foods.
Throw out your vanity
Yes, it’s tough, but do it. Throw your vanity out the window for a bit, and it will make everything else more comfortable. Start your exercise routine out slowly, and don’t pay attention to the mirror or the scale. You will ultimately see small gains over time, and at some point in the future, you may even begin to recognize the old version of yourself — but new and improved and wiser and a parent.
As a currently nursing athlete, it’s sometimes shocking to me how engorged my breasts get between feedings — especially when they end up bouncing around during races. But I have learned to throw my vanity out the door, and I am thankful that my body gets to and is able to nourish my kid.
Schedule, schedule, schedule
Time is our biggest commodity, and if you thought you had time before your child arrived, get ready for yours to be reduced to… nothing times 10. Efficiency is a key to freeing up time, so it can help to make a schedule for the day — which includes your fitness regimen. You will inevitably get thrown daily curveballs from your little one (or life in general), so just plan to adapt and keep moving.
With a newborn, sleep deprivation is pretty inevitable — after all, you’re being pulled in many directions. But sleep is the greatest recovery tool known to humans; there is no substitute for it. If you find yourself lacking, try to adapt to your child’s cycle. Learn to nap — even in small increments — and take advantage of every opportunity to rest, because there is no magical pill to duplicate it.
The climb down the post-birth mountain will likely be full of trip-ups and rocky terrain, but stay the course, and you will land successfully. Don’t prolong or derail your recovery by trying to skip out on rest or nutrition. Instead, keep going over the above five in your mind. I can’t tell you the number of times in my new-mom days I would look at my clock and realize it was 3 in the afternoon — and I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink that day. It’s those little things (you know, food and water and the like) that make the big things happen, so don’t skimp on them.