Adventures in Postpartum Exercise

I went back to the gym 17 days after giving birth.

That was a mistake.

I was eager to feel a little bit like my old self again, to move my body independently of doing things for my baby, and dear God, to actually be alone and do whatever I wanted for 30 glorious minutes. And yes, I was eager to start working toward my pre-baby body again.

17 days after giving birth.

That was a mistake.

I always thought I would give myself more grace after having a baby, but it was much different psychologically for me at the time from what I imagined. I gave myself all the grace in the world when I had a baby in my belly, but once she was out, I felt like I no longer had an excuse to carry the extra weight (even though, duh, I totally did—I just had a baby and was breastfeeding to boot).

I didn’t anticipate the physical awkwardness of that postpartum in-between phase, when my pre-baby clothes were still a looong way from fitting, but my maternity clothes were pilled and stretched out and unflattering. I didn’t realize I’d have to buy a whole third wardrobe to accommodate that phase (many pieces of which I’m still wearing, by the way, since I don’t comfortably fit into my pre-baby jeans or some tops nearly 17 months later, but I’ve long since accepted that).

Back to that first trip to the gym. The common advice after an uncomplicated vaginal birth is to wait six weeks to do anything other than light walking, and then get cleared by your doctor to exercise again. I felt great by 17 days out, though, and had stopped bleeding (after giving birth, you basically have the longest, heaviest period of your life—woo-hoo), so I figured it was OK. I think I did a slow, gentle stint on the elliptical and lifted some weights. I felt great!

And then I started bleeding again. It was then I realized I had pushed my body too far, and decided to wait until my six-week checkup to exercise again—just like I should have in the first place.

I got the all-clear at that checkup on June 11, then went for my first postpartum run the very same day. I alternated one minute of running with one minute of walking for 30 minutes, with a 13:07 pace overall. 

I felt great, but certain body parts definitely jiggled in a way they never had before. I must have either fed Evie or pumped right before I left, but my chest was still… a factor… in my running that I’d never experienced before. The larger sports bra I’d worn throughout my pregnancy was laughably way too small now that I was feeding a hungry baby, so I bought a Fiona bra at a local Brooks outlet store to keep everything nice and strapped in.

Side note: Now that I’ve experienced what it’s like to have a larger chest, I have major sympathy for ladies who have dealt with that their whole lives. It’s a real pain in the ass. I nursed for 13 months, so it’s been about four months since we stopped and I am thrilled to be back in my pre-baby bras.

I ran/walked a few times a week until the end of July, when Evie was 12 weeks old and I went back to work. I should also mention that Aaron and I did Whole30 during the month of July. I was inspired by Cely writing good things about it, and I really needed to do something to clean up my eating and gain some body confidence before going back to work.

I was particularly mortified by this photo taken in June, where I still looked quite pregnant. 

I was less than two months postpartum, so of course I recognize now that looking like this is totally normal and perfectly fine. But I also wasn’t eating very well at the time, and knew I could do better and feel better in the process.

I did a lot of research before starting Whole30 about how to do it as a nursing mother, and about whether or not it would impact my milk supply. (Please do your own research and talk to your doctor about what’s right for you; don’t go by my decisions!) Typically snacking between meals is discouraged while doing Whole30, but nursing moms are free and encouraged to snack whenever they need to. 

I also read many accounts from moms who said that Whole30 either had no impact on their milk supply or actually increased it. Whole30 is all about eating real, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, calorie-dense foods, so it made sense to me that it would only improve the quality and/or quantity of milk. I obviously can’t be a judge of quality, but I can report that I experienced no negative impact to my supply. In fact, July was the month I really focused on pumping as much as I could to build up my stash of frozen milk before going back to work, and I was able to do that just fine.

By the end of the month, I had lost eight pounds, was sleeping better (when I was able to; I was still waking up several times a night) and had so much more energy in general. Whole30 was a great success, and I went back to work feeling awesome!

I was much happier with this family photo, taken in mid-August. That’s a whole pre-baby outfit! (All made of stretchy knits, but still.)

I had always been pretty sure I wanted to go back to work—I enjoyed my creative job and just never pictured myself as a stay-at-home mom—but I still cried leading up to my return. I knew it was the end of the first phase of Evie’s life, when her mom was around 24/7 to take care of her, and the time had gone by so quickly. It felt like I was losing something I’d never get back. I get teary-eyed even now thinking of those feelings.

But the first day I went back to the office, I knew I’d made the right decision. I still missed my baby like hell, and fumbled my way through pumping three times a day while trying to catch up on everything that had happened at work while I was gone, but it felt so good to be showered and dressed in real clothes and doing grown-up work with other grown-ups. 

I have so much respect for stay-at-home moms; it is truly one of the most difficult jobs in the world. It just wasn’t right for our family.

It helped me a lot emotionally that Aaron had a month of paternity leave left to use, so he stayed home with Evie through August before she started daycare. The transition to daycare was pretty rough as she adjusted to being cared for by complete strangers and being around other babies all day, but she was completely settled in after about a month and grew to love it. Even though she’s now in a toddler room, she still loves her teachers from the infant room and will leap into their arms for big hugs whenever she sees them. It’s so sweet.

Anyway, I’m getting off track! After I started back at work, making exercise a priority became a lot more challenging because all I wanted to do when I got home was snuggle my baby. More often than not, I chose to do just that—which was totally the right decision. Even though in those early days, when you’re barely sleeping, it feels like your baby will be a squishy, helpless, cuddly little thing forever, that stage goes by so fast. Everyone says it, and it’s annoying, but it’s true. I’m glad I savored every chance to have my little squishy baby take a sweet, open-mouthed nap on me.

Evie began sleeping through the night around six months old, after several grueling nights (weeks? who knows) of letting her cry for certain amounts of time and then comforting her until she learned to soothe herself back to sleep.

This. Was. A. Game-changer.

Evie now had a predictable bedtime and was (almost always) guaranteed to sleep for 12 hours, so I knew I had plenty of free time to work out once she was down. We had also just bought our house and moved to a different town, so I enjoyed going on short runs to explore the new area.

Still, I struggled with the transition to fall—colder temps, more rain, and nights that became dark earlier. Looking back on my GPS records, I didn’t run for the entire month of September… and also for another entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I decided to embrace the holiday season and just go all-out with eating and being lazy).

When 2017 rolled around, Aaron and I decided to do another round of Whole30 as a post-holiday reset. I lost another five pounds in January and effectively kicked my sugar cravings.

My friend Hallie invited me to join her team for a relay in April, so I had an actual goal to motivate me to run on a regular basis. The fact that I’d be part of a team of five women was a big motivator because I didn’t want to be the out-of-shape weak link.

This post is getting veryyy long, so I’ll save the rest of my relay prep and the race itself for the next one!

In the meantime, you can catch up on my running and exercise in real time on Instagram @dev.on.running.