Postpartum fitness and self-care

My entire childhood and early teenage years are filled with memories of being a competitive swimmer with my older sister. These were such fun years and they left so many great memories to look back on. This is why my sister and I throw Summer Olympic parties and get silly excited when swimming is on TV. What did people do before texting was a thing? How did people update each other when their favorite swimmers set new World Records!? I can see both of our husbands shaking their heads now…

By the time I was a junior in high school, I wasn’t swimming on a team anymore. Coaches had changed, friends had moved, I wasn’t dreaming of a swimming career in adulthood, so it just naturally fizzled out. I worked as a lifeguard after school at the pools I used to practice at and at that age, earning money for gas was way more important that the commitment to swim practice.

Even so, I needed a sport and I needed a hobby. My answer? Running.

Over the years I have completed 6 full marathons, 1 ultra-marathon, a bunch of fun half marathons, various obstacle races, and a handful of other fun runs. My favorite type of run is a trail run, so of course my favorite setting for a race is a trail as well. There’s something so much more enjoyable to me about running through a wooded area, seeing changes in landscape with every turn, and not being stuck on a paved road for miles and miles with a huge crowd of people surrounding you.

As most of us fitness enthusiasts know, variety is key so I have had my share of gym memberships over the years as well. This way, I could still run when the weather would otherwise prevent it, and I could incorporate strength training into my schedule to mix things up.

Last year when my husband and I moved to Tennessee, with the arrival of our son right around the corner, I knew that my exercise routine was about to change in a huge way. I continued to run before our move, up until 6 months pregnant. When we settled into our new home, we set up a basement gym, complete with a treadmill. Since then, I have been a treadmill runner and walker. Towards the end of my pregnancy, walking felt so good and having the ability to do it inside was such a blessing. Now, 9 months postpartum, the treadmill is a bit monotonous and doesn’t challenge me. There are only so many good podcasts and songs out there that can distract me as the minutes tick by. I still enjoy the feeling of waking up early, before my son, and getting to run but it doesn’t compare to being able to walk outside and do it.

That has been the biggest change for me, our location. We live off a back, rural, winding road with no street lights or shoulders. With a baby in tow, I would never run with a stroller on our road, and to do it alone would be difficult with my husbands schedule, and frankly, post baby, I’m an overly cautious weenie. I don’t want to risk getting hit by a car just for a run. So, with the occasional family outing to the park, I’ll stick to our treadmill.

Since having my son, my goals have changed so much. My relationship with fitness and working out has really taken a turn for the best, but it didn’t happen overnight. Before baby, I ran about 6-8 miles a day, 6 days a week and did strength training 3 days a week. Why? Although I enjoyed it, I always felt like I had to be “marathon ready” since I had run so many and people knew that, and to be honest, like most other women, I always wanted to lose that infamous “5 pounds” that we all seem to have. But I truly have always enjoyed running as well. It gives me mental clarity and some needed alone time with my thoughts.

When I got pregnant, I still did all the same workouts I normally did without pushing myself. I ran the mileage I was used to, and went to the gym as I usually did. I can remember being worried about my postpartum body even before I had my pregnant body. What a waste of energy! Here’s the thing, I know now that the body will do what it needs to do postpartum. Some women lose all their pregnancy weight in the first few weeks and others lose it in the first few months. Be kind to yourself and be patient.

Above all, it’s important that I am healthy and capable of caring for my son. It’s important that I eat right because I breastfeed him. My primary goal for fitness is to maintain a healthy weight and overall health, not to flaunt a bikini up and down some beach that we aren’t visiting any time soon. I live on 35 acres in Tennessee y’all, not a waterfront property in Hawaii. Who cares about a bikini anyway, have you seen the beautiful 1-pieces these days? If for no other reason than boob security, yes please!

At this point in my life, I can honestly say that I run less than I ever have. It’s been over a decade of running 6 days a week and over a decade of waking up before the sun to get in a long run before work or school. My focus these days is split 60/40. I focus more time on HIIT cardio using body weight exercises and weights. Workouts that include intervals of burpees mixed with intervals of squats, intervals of kettlebell swings mixed with intervals of push ups, etc. These workouts are hard, fun, never the same, and really make me work my whole body. In the 45-ish minutes I have, I feel like I get the most “bang for my buck” out of this type of workout.

After I delivered my son, I lost all my pregnancy weight quickly but things are not exactly the same as they were before him. How could they be anyway? I grew a person in there! My belly button will always be a little wrinkly and my boobs are bigger than they’ve ever been (can’t wait for that to subside one day after we wean.) It is what it is. All of my old clothes fit comfortably as they should, and I am healthy, active, and enjoying life. I eat a variety of foods, always trying to choose the best quality option, and I shop smart. We don’t often keep sugary foods in the house but we love to enjoy treats when we go out. Balance.

Today, my relationship with fitness is focused on longevity, self-care, and keeping a good balance. I exercise for the ability to move comfortably, fit comfortably in my clothes, and live comfortably. I do it so I can change a diaper in the backseat of a car with my 9 month old boy squirming all around. I do it so I can wear him in a carrier and still use a tiny public restroom stall while balancing him on my lap. I do it so I can chase after him, lift him up 1,000 times a day, and squat down to his level every 10 seconds. I do for overall wellness, inside and out, mentally and physically. My husband and I want to model good habits for our son both in the kitchen and in the “gym,” wherever that may be for him. I truly feel that by shifting my focus from mileage, my appearance, how many calories burned, and that last “5 pounds” that never really goes away, and instead focusing on challenging myself in new ways, having fun, and positive self-care, I will show my son that it’s important to take care of your body from the inside out. He’ll understand that you only get one body and that you need to love it and treat it well.

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