Monday, October 31, 2011

Getting Your Body Back After Baby

Me at 34 weeks with my first child
Yep, I am still on maternity/medical leave.  Enjoy this post about (gently) whipping my body back into shape after pregnancy no. 2...

This post ran (way back) when I had just recently given birth to my second child.  I was asked to be a contributing author for the popular blog, Ageless Pilates; and so I thought long and hard about what I could write to help women develop confidence and positive body image after birth.

I decided that living by example, and telling my story – as a health care professional and mother – might be the most encouraging for new mothers.

So here is my (short version) story*:

Before the birth of my first child, I made an announcement. First, I made it to myself, quietly. Then I boldly announced it to my husband and those closest to me.

I said, “I have no expectations whatsoever about my post-baby body. I will take care of myself, nourish my newborn, exercise, and eat well – and whatever I emerge looking like or weighing down the pike, I’ll accept joyfully.” I am proud of what my body is capable of doing (especially since I am an older mother), and I will not berate it or be hard on myself.

I made that declaration in December 2005. I meant it. I was determined not to let preoccupation with body image or a love/hate relationship with food, that so many women (and even girls now), interfere with taking care of myself and my baby.

A few weeks later I gave birth. Labor started on Christmas day and went on until the 27th. And right on the heels of my first pregnancy, just twenty months later, came my second son.

I did not have much time to get in shape after the first baby – but I did it. I started doing Pilates (modified, of course) immediately after birth. Pilates can help shape up – faster (yes, really) and more efficiently. Best yet, I never spent more than 30 minutes a day exercising, and that also included yogic meditation and breathing.

I believe that the health care system today should be helping women regain the health of their body and mind after pregnancy. I do this by practicing what I preach. I strive to be the “proof” that what I teach and the methods I use work and work well. Pilates and Yoga, when combined with current medical research, are very effective at reshaping your body after childbirth.
What does “combining yoga and Pilates with research” mean? It means for over 15 years I have taught Pilates and Yoga that is medically grounded in biomechanics (proper joint alignment) and that uses physical therapy research on the spine.

Pilates can help you get back in shape after giving birth. How?

  1. Develops Determination & Discipline. Pilates is a Mind-Body Exercise.

    Before you step on your Pilates mat or machine, you must make a decision. Refuse to let the negative stereotypes about women in today’s pop culture pervade your subconscious. Practicing Pilates and Yoga during and after pregnancy helps tremendously – it balances your body and mind. It imparts a sense of calm well being. And it is also inexpensive and can be done at home. You don’t need a gym membership or a fancy piece of Pilates equipment. A mat and your positive attitude are all that’s needed.
  2. It is efficient at managing weight. I was not born being “naturally” thin. I struggled with weight all my life, constantly trying to lose weight. When I got pregnant, I finally accepted my body. I was prepared to accept whatever my new body shape was. To my great surprise, (shown in the second photo), you can see what my “post-babies” body has become, thanks to Pilates.
Me 11 months after baby no. 2

After two pregnancies, I am in better shape than before I gave birth (yes, it is true). How can that be? I credit my children (and of course, Pilates). They have taught me the importance of moderation in everything. I learned to consume less calories and yet feel just as satisfied. Part of that lesson was learned by eating only when I was hungry.

I was also not able to exercise as much. That would sound counterproductive, but I cut out running altogether. I strictly practiced Pilates and Yoga, and ended up (actually) losing the extra 20 pounds that I had been trying to lose my whole life. Pilates works efficiently and wastes no time or movement. My Pilates matwork routine, which I practice exclusively using spinal neutral, takes less than 40 minutes to complete. I even break it up into 5-10 minute segments throughout the day. Pilates is not an “all or nothing” method. You can make it fit your schedule.

  1. It is a Tummy Tightener, through rehabilitating your “Cylinder.” The cylinder is your powerhouse, or your “core” as it is commonly referred to.

Your cylinder is made up of the 4 most important muscles for postpartum fitness. They are your respiratory diaphragm (muscle you use to breathe), your transversus abdominis (THE muscle responsible for creating a strong back, a flat tummy, and a injury “proof” spine), your multifidi (muscles in the spine which give sturdiness and controlled motion), and finally – the all important pelvic floor (think Kegel exercises).

Without a strong Cylinder – exercise is fruitless. When you begin to study Pilates, if you want the best, most safe, and most effective results in the shortest amount of time, find a teacher who has a firm grasp of the Cylinder and how to strengthen it.
Now you know the secret to the effectiveness of my Pilates program.

There are many other benefits to Pilates, but these are perhaps the most important ones. I credit the methods I use in Pilates with rehabilitating some of my most difficult low back pain patients, in addition to beautifully reshaping a woman’s body after she gives birth. Pilates is gentle, can be done anywhere, and is safe so long as it is instructed by someone using the Cylinder Approach. So get out there and find a teacher who can guide you toward reclaiming your body, and your Best Self. Good luck!

*Note to readers: Please stay tuned for the rest of the story.  Once I am out from under health issues surrounding this third pregnancy, you can fully expect me to post how I overcame the obstacles.  (how's that for positive thinking?) 
Notice that I am still working this (body) issue and my third son is now 4 months old. So moms out there, don't fret - it takes time to get your body back (especially after having a third!), even when you are a "pro" like myself, helping others moms do it. So be easy on yourself as you are getting back into shape.  Believe me, I am working hard at practicing what I preach. Shortly - I'll be sharing my story of mind (and body!) over matter!

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