Saturday, August 2, 2014

How I Got My Body Back After Baby

Before getting pregnant I was always curious about what my body would be like after I had a baby. I read pregnancy books and websites and everyone was pretty vague about what the journey would be  and how long it would take. On top of this their recommendations were pretty standard and basic..."Workout gently and eat right." Well, okay that's obvious. No one would really say how long it took and what specifically they did to lose the baby weight.

So to clear through all the fog and general recommendations, I'm going to get into the nitty gritty of my postpartum journey, such as how long it took me to lose the baby weight and exactly what I did that I believed helped support this.  Let's get started with the discussion. Feel free to watch along here, or read the post below...

First up, if you've followed my blog for awhile now, you know I've posted about this topic before in this post titled, "Body After Birth" in which I chronicled my postpartum journey after my first daughter Avery was born. You can read more about that here.  Here's a glimpse at what that journey was like...
Body After Birth with Avery
Fast forward two and a half years and I'm back at it again, this time with baby #2: Mila! Here's a view of what my postpartum journey has been like so far...
Body After Birth with Mila
Now before I get ahead of myself, let me go back to the beginning: pregnancy. Here's my numbers for my pregnancy with Mila.  Just so you know I'm about 5'5:

Side note: I don't weigh myself during pregnancy (read more here) so this
was the closest picture I could find of myself at my pre-pregnancy weight.

When I weighed myself on the day I went into labor with Mila, I was slightly shocked at the number since I only gained 25 lbs with Avery's pregnancy. But one difference is that I started at a higher weight with Avery's pregnancy. I weighed 137 lbs with Avery, and with Mila I weighed 125 lbs.

So despite seeming like I gained much more with Mila, it seems like my body's "default pregnancy weight" just likes to be in the low 160's and that's okay.  I know I did everything I could during both pregnancies to exercise, eat right, and take care of myself and as result both girls were born healthy, happy and alert.

Now let's get into my postpartum journey, starting the day after I had Mila...

(In case you're wondering, my body fat percentage pre-pregnancy was about 15.5%, and now it is 16.5% I can imagine that as time goes on and I continue to build muscle back up, my weight my go up a pound or two, but my body fat will go back down to 15%).

Overall reflection of my postpartum took longer the second time around. That's the truth greenies. I went into it with all the knowledge, tips, and products that I used after Avery's birth and I figured I would get back to "normal" in the same time it took me, if not faster because I was just "so on my game". But that's when I got a reality check. At six weeks postpartum with Avery, I was happy and ready to post about my postpartum body. But this time around I was like, "Six weeks? Seriously, I'm not ready to post about my body after birth yet!"

Then I moved the deadline to 6 months postpartum, but even that came and went and still didn't feel back to normal.

But here we are now, 9 months after and I feel more like myself than I have since starting this postpartum journey. I've always heard the saying, "9 months to put it on, 9 months to take it off" and I couldn't agree more.

"Sure Mom, 9 months, let's talk about it!"

As you'll read below, I believe time is always on your side when it comes to returning to your pre-pregnancy weight. I'm not Hollywood actress or model who can bounce back after 6 weeks and look like even better than I did pre-pregnancy, and if you can do that, kudos to you! For the rest of us, this journey takes time. And in a way, that's one thing we've got on our side.

It took me a little longer the 2nd time around,
but I'm okay with that. 

Part of this could have been differences in the time I had to go back to work this time around. With Avery I had 3.5 months off (my maternity leave led right into my summer break from teaching), but this time around with Mila I had to go back after 6 weeks...ouch! But it also could have been just because she was my second child. Things have been stretched once before, and it took a little longer to bounce back.

One last difference is just that life with two kids was/is very busy, it's kind of like you never get a break. It was harder to get my daily workout with two, harder to make homemade meals from scratch with two, and harder to take time to rest and relax with two. It would have been easy to throw in the towel and say screw this, but you all know me and I just couldn't do that. It took coming up with new ways of doing things, managing the time I did have to myself, and being okay asking others for help. Looking back I feel even more proud of myself this time around because I know the work, time, and perseverance it has taken to get to where I am.

Now before I get started with my tips, let me define what I mean by "getting my body back." I know a lot of people think of this as simply losing the baby weight or getting down to your pre-pregnancy clothing size, but for me it's more. Although I shared my "numbers" with you above, it's not just about the number on the scale, it's about my overall health and level of fitness.

Before getting pregnant, I felt strong, I had muscles (okay more like "toned areas") and I felt energetic and I had the endurance to get me through my harder workouts. That's what I was shooting for. That was my goal. Oh and to feel good in my clothes again and a swimsuit without to trying to cover or hide anything, was also on the list. So here they are...

On my recent beach vacation 8 months postpartum.

Top Tips on How I Got My Body Back After Baby

1. Workout. Now I'm sure this is an obvious one, but it is one I couldn't have done without. Working out not only helped me burn calories, it also helped tone the areas of my body that had softened during pregnancy. I started working out just a few days after I had Mila because I am used to my daily workout and I go a little crazy if I dont' get one in. Obviously I started gently and just walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes, or I did some of my prenatal workout DVDs since my body was used to them. Then as I got stronger I started adding in some pre-pregnancy workout DVDs and I began running again.

I posted about my prenatal workout routine here and how I rotate 3 types of workouts: pilates, cardio:walking, yoga. Where I am now in the postpartum stage, I continued to rotate workouts but the intensity and type of workout has changed. Now I do: BarreAmped/pilates, cardio: running, yoga.

As you can see I workout in my basement/office/kid playroom. I love how easy it is to workout from home, this helps because I don't have to drive somewhere, and since I usually workout when they are sleeping in the morning or at nap time, I don't have to worry about a sitter either. Granted this doesn't guarantee my workouts are baby-free because Mila is more of a sporadic sleeper and when she doesn't feel like sleeping late like her sister or taking her full nap, she usually ends up hanging out with me while I'm working out.

"Hello Mom, I'm here to crash your workout!"
That's when it comes in handy to have the playroom aspect of my workout space. But sometimes if she's being high maintenance and won't stop climbing on me while I'm doing down dog pose, I will just stop the workout, and finish it when my husband gets home so he can watch her. Thank goodness for him.
"Don't worry Mom, I'll spot ya!"
Okay now back to the nitty gritty of my workout...
After my pregnancy with Avery, I really embraced pilates and I credit it for giving me such great tone and definition, but after Mila's pregnancy, I have a new love: BarreAmped.

These workouts, specifically by Suzanne Bowen, have toned my body in ways I've never had before. A lot of the movements are small, repetitive, and so difficult in a good way that the muscle actually starts to "shake". When I first started these workouts I thought the shake was bad, that I wasn't strong enough, but it turns out the shake is good! As Suzanne says during the workout, "Shake to change!" (The shaking is what is changing the body, and oh it is so true.). These DVDs have brought tone and strength to my legs, upper body and abs that I didn't even have pre-pregnancy.
Some of my other favorite BarreAmped and pilates DVDs are:

For my cardio day, I now run/walk for 60 minutes. I like to run for 2-4 minutes, and then walk for 2-4 minutes and I repeat this for an hour. Here's a treadmill similar to mine. It keeps things interesting and keeps the calorie burn up. I wish I could just run 4-5 miles at a time without stopping, but for me, breaking it up with short walking breaks (at a fast pace), makes it more enjoyable, yet somewhat still effective. I love to run in my Vibram FiveFinger shoes, these totally changed the way I run.

Last up is my yoga day.  Now although my yoga DVDs can be pretty challenging at times, this is usually my "take it easy day." It allows my body a chance to get a good stretch and continue to tone up in a more low-key kind of way. Some of my favorite yoga DVDs are:

2. Use a Belly Bandit. I found this to be really helpful after Avery's pregnancy to help pull everything back together in a sense, so right after Mila was born I was ready to wrap it up once again. So every day and night for close to 6 weeks after she was born I wore the Belly Bandit, and although I think it helped, it was no miracle cure by any means. If anything, it helped decrease the size of my uterus/belly but the results didn't seem as good this time around as they did at 6 weeks postpartum from Avery's birth, which kind of piggyback's on what I said earlier in the post of how things seem to go a little slower the second time around. Even then though, I'm still glad I did it. Read more of a detailed description back in this post.

Apparently I wasn't in the mood to take
a pic with the Belly Bandit this time
around, so here I am after Avery's
sporting the Belly Bandit.

Attaching the velcro to hold it all together.

3. Breastfeed if you can. Aside from giving your baby nutrition, breastfeeding is an awesome calorie burner. I posted first about this one in my original "Body After Birth" post and how breastfeeding can burn around 300-500 calories a day as well as help shrink the uterus back to it's original size. Granted breastfeeding also means you'll need to eat more calories to keep up with the milk production, so it seems like it would cancel out any potential weight loss, but I disagree with that.

During pregnancy my body created "maternal fat stores" to not only help grow my baby, but also to be used when creating breastmilk. By breastfeeding my baby, I am able to tap into those "fat stores" and use them up, where as if I didn't breastfeed I wouldn't be able to tap into them as easily. But on the flip side, I've heard some people say that as long as you're still breastfeeding, you won't be able to lose those last few pounds, but as you can see by the numbers above, I beg to differ. I think some of this may have to do if you are exclusively breastfeeding or if you are supplementing your baby's breastmilk with solid foods. In my case it seems like I was able to drop those last few pounds once they started eating more solid foods (around 6-8 months). Both girls still continued to breastfeed on demand, but the addition of other foods in their diet (with a baby-led weaning approach) seemed to release my need to nurse them exclusively...if that makes any sense? ( :

Tandem breastfeeding after Mila was born, Avery was 2 1/2. 

You can read more about my breastfeeding/pumping routine in this post:

Click here.

4. Get more sleep.  I'm sure this one seems out of place here, but it's here for a reason.  One of the most common pieces of advice for new moms is to "sleep when the baby sleeps" but when you have two kids, this idea kind of goes out the window. If Mila was sleeping, Avery was usually still up, and then when Avery would go down for her afternoon nap, Mila was bright-eyed and alert, ready to play. Me on the other hand, I was wearing down. You'd think that I would have gone to bed early so that I could cash in on some extra sleep with both girls in bed, but the truth is I did the opposite. That was usually time to do what I wanted to do like blog, work on videos, or just catch up on my DVR. That meant I went to bed later, while still keeping my 5 AM wake up time. Add Mila waking up 2-3 times a night and that's one perfect storm for disaster. And disaster did strike.

Just one week after I went back to school after maternity leave, I came down with mastitis and although it was probably caused by a long stretch of sleep Mila had one night, I'm pretty sure it was also caused by the fact that I was hardly sleeping, or relaxing. I was always working, keeping track of the girls, or working out. Sleep was the last thing on my to-do list. Getting sick, opened my eyes that I had to change my exhausting "I can do it all" ways, but it wasn't until a few months later when I read Thrive by Arianna Huffington, that I set a sleep goal for myself to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. That's when I really started to feel better. And although I wasn't always perfect with it, I was consistently getting more sleep (whether at night or with the help of short daytime naps). The best part, my body started to reward me. The last few pounds seemed to come off, and my belly which seemed to always resort to a "kind of pregnant looking bump" started to tone up. Talk about more motivation to go to bed early!

You can read more about my sleep goal here and all the benefits that come from getting more sleep.

5. Drink more water. So this is a new goal of mine that I will be blogging about in the upcoming weeks, but until then I can share that I've been making more of a conscious effort to drink more water.  I try to drink 12 cups of water a day or roughly 3 liter. Aside from the fact that it's better for our health, and helping your organs function better I have two main benefits I also notice. First is that when I keep on my water intake I'm not as hungry, and because I'm busy trying to get my allotted amount for the day I don't have time to sit around and snack, instead I think..."Hmm, I could have some chips or I could get another cup or two of water in for my daily quota." Obviously if I'm hungry I eat food, but sometimes I'm not physically hungry, I just want to eat something, I instead get to sipping some water (I've found I drink more water when I use a straw).

Another benefit I've noticed with drinking more water is less bloating, woo hoo! In my teens I always heard people talk about "losing water weight" so I literally thought that too much water is bad because it makes you bloated and big. Well young Ashley, that's wrong. Since then I've learned that not only is water essential for health, it can actually help reduce bloating. In my research I've discovered that by drinking lots of water you can help flush extra sodium out of your system, which leads to bloating. And I can attest that since starting my new "water goal" I have felt much less bloated, I've also been trying to cut back on my sodium, but nonetheless I know my increase in water intake has done great things for my health and weight loss.

Now I've heard debate about how much water each person should drink, some say it is possible to drink too much water, where as some say more is better. One good, but kind of TMI approach I've heard of is to gauge the amount of water you're drinking by the color of your urine. The closer it is to clear, then you're drinking enough, keep it up. If it's dark yellow, grab your water bottle ASAP!

6. Try a vegan diet. I'm sure I'm a little biased in this one, but I've reached my lowest weights and lowest body fat percentages since becoming vegan.  In my pre-vegan days I weighted around 135 lbs and my body fat percentage was around 23%. Now that I am vegan, I average a weight of 120 lbs and my body fat is around 15-16%.  You also hear about a lot of celebrities losing weight when trying a vegan diet. There's some science there because most vegan foods are high in fiber and low in fat. Where as most standard diets are high in fat and low in fiber.

Now just switching to being a vegan is no guarantee for weight loss.  If you sub traditional junk food with vegan junk food, the scale is not going to budge. But I make an effort to steer clear of processed vegan food and instead rely mainly on whole foods and plant-based meals that I make from scratch here at home. I include green juice and green smoothies into my diet on a daily basis as well. For me, this diet works and I feel healthier than ever before.

One of my favorite vegan dishes: "Veggie Curry Pasta" (see the recipe here)

7. Keep up the dry skin brushing & lotion. I was lucky enough not to get any stretch marks during either pregnancy with my girls. I'm not sure if that was due to my genes, if I got lucky, or because of the lotion I used, but either way, here's what else I did to help my skin adjust to the postpartum changes.

I kept up with this Desert Essence Organics lotion all throughout my pregnancy, twice a day. This particular lotion doesn't make any claims about keeping you "stretch mark free" but I did manage to stay free of stretch marks when using it, so perhaps it helped. Worst case scenario, it kept and continues to keep my skin soft and moisturized.

Another thing I do since I've had Mila is dry skin brushing. You can read more about it here, but it's basically where you take a brush like the one seen below and you brush your body (when you are dry) and it helps exfoliate, soften skin, detox, and help reduce the appearance of cellulite. Obviously it's not a cure-all, but I do believe it has been helpful in getting the skin on my tummy to tighten back up again (in combination with my workouts).

8. Give it time. I mentioned this above, but just know, that time is on your side. It was especially on my side the second time around, and although I feel like it kind of betrayed me in how it took me even longer to get to my "pre-pregnancy size," I did prove to myself that it WAS just took a little longer. So on those days when I would think why do I still look like this, it's been 3 months or 5 months?! I would tell myself, "Just give it time, things will get back to normal, you'll see." And I did, it's true.
The older Mila got, the more time I knew I would
have to get down to my pre-pregnancy weight.

Granted it took some hard work, good nutrition, and the effort to sleep more, but eventually I was able to return to my pre-preganncy weight. It's kind of like a tip I offered in my "Finding Peace in Pregnancy Weight Gain" post, in how I said, "This isn't going to last forever, I won't be pregnant forever!" It's the same with the postpartum journey. The uphill battle I felt in those first few weeks/months, won't always be there. I knew that as Mila would grow, I would slowly...but surely, get there.

So there you have it, my postpartum journey! Whew, it's sounds a bit exhausting and vulnerable all at the same time to share those stats and tips with you. I'm sure some people may think I've lost too much weight or some may say, I still have some pounds to go, who knows. All I know is that I feel good where I'm at right now in my postpartum journey and these are the tips that I know helped me get there.

So now it's your turn. 
What was/is your postpartum journey like?
Did the weight come off quick and easy or did it take longer?
Was it different for your 2nd, 3rd, 4th child?
What tips, tricks, recipes, videos, or workouts helped you in your journey?
Please share them below... I would love to hear from you.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or personal trainer and don't claim to be one. These are the tips that worked for me and my postpartum journey. Do your own research to find what works best for you and your body.

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