My Journey | Pregnancy & Beyond
Many people have a rosy view of pregnancy before they fall pregnant. I think Hollywood has a lot to answer for. I for one thought it was going to be 9 blissful months during which my greatest test was going to be restraining myself from buying too many cute baby outfits. I was planning on continuing with my fitness regime until my belly got in the way (but that wasn’t going to be until the third trimester). I was expecting morning sickness. You know the odd wave of nausea in the morning and then just continue on with my day. I had all intentions to continue my healthy balanced diet and make sure I take my pregnancy multivitamins and lots of water.
Needless to say, this wasn’t how I experienced pregnancy. I had almost every symptom in the book. It wasn’t morning sickness for me, it was all day sickness and complete food aversions. No salad, green juices or chicken breast for me! All I wanted was fruit and refined carbs – the only two food groups that didn’t have me dry retching. My dinners often consisted of oats and fruit salad (sometimes hot chips…*GASP*) while my poor husband had to cook up his own salmon steaks and salad (usually my favourite meal!). The pregnancy multivitamins and iron supplements made me feel that ill I had to stop taking them which then ended up in anaemia.
I also had severe pelvic girdle pain (also know as pubic symphysis dysfunction), a condition that causes excessive movement of the pubic symphysis and misalignment of the pelvis. Because of this I found it really painful to do simple everyday tasks like walking or even putting on shoes. Even though I wanted so much to keep up my fitness and usual exercise regime there was just no way I could. My physio explained that I’d better wear a stabilising brace to keep my pelvis as stable as possible until delivery (a great look for a pregnant lady) and do only very light exercises. I felt pretty sorry for myself at this point. I kind of felt like a failure, especially since I believe in practicing what I preach as a Dietitian. I had always encouraged my pregnant clients or those wishing to fall pregnant to look after themselves by eating healthy and exercising regularly. Not only to give you and your growing baby the best start, but also to ensure for a quick recovery post-birth. Now I couldn’t do either of those. I found a new appreciation for what pregnant ladies have to endure for 9 whole months and realised I wanted to take a gentler approach with my antenatal and postpartum clients.
Birth and post-partum recovery
I had quite a long and arduous labour after I had to be induced due to high blood pressure and severe headaches close to my due date (symptoms of pre-eclampsia). The birth itself and some complications along the way caused a lot of damage to my body, especially my pelvic floor. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had a long road of recovery ahead of me. One that was going to include many physio and specialist appointments, consistent pelvic floor exercises, safe post-birth workouts, and healthy eating – all whilst learning how to take care of a tiny new human being.
It was not only my pelvic floor that took a bashing but I was also left with a whopping >10cm abdominal separation (diastasis recti for the nerds). This is when your abdominal muscles stretch during pregnancy and creates a gap between the two muscles. The phenomenon that explains the dreaded mummy tummy or “pouch” post birth. Again, the womens health physio was a saviour with this one. She explained to me that correct posture and safe abdominal exercises (NOT crunches) can help to heal this and bring the muscles back together.
Fitness and Nutrition for recovery
I didn’t want to make hectic plans to get my pre-pregnancy body back. I wanted to ensure my baby’s needs were met first and that my body had time to heal and recover before I launched into anything serious. It has been a slow and steady road but with a lot of encouragement, help, hard work and diligence I have built up my strength again and almost feel like I’m back to where I was before getting pregnant. Here are a few of my fitness and nutrition tips I can recommend that worked for me:
1. I cannot stress the importance of a good womens health physio - she helped me so much and has been an integral part in my recovery and healing process post-birth! If you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant, about to give birth or already gave birth PLEASE track down a good womens health physio near you and go have a chat with them.
2. Before worrying about post birth weight loss, focus first on nourishing yourself with healthy food and plenty of water (especially if you’re breastfeeding). Eat when you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty. Your body has worked overtime with creating and birthing a human being, it deserves some love.
3. Don’t cut out any food groups, especially carbohydrates. I’m not suggesting that you eat rubbish. What I am suggesting is that you should be getting as many nutrients at this time as you can and cutting out food groups is only going to make that harder. Focus on plenty of fresh fruit and veg, fibre-rich wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and quality protein. Be lenient about treats, don’t go overboard but don’t restrict yourself to the point where you feel deprived. When you’ve recovered and feel like a normal human being again you can start to think about cutting back.
4. Before launching into ANY exercise please get the all-clear from your GP or obstetrician/gynaecologist AS WELL AS a qualifified womens health physio. You can do more damage than good even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
5. Have some healthy fast food options available. If they’re around, you’ll eat them! When you’re tired, short on time and hungry, it’s tempting to grab foods that are loaded with empty calories. You want to be able to open the fridge and grab something that’s ready to go and healthy. Get your partner to help you with this! Ideas: natural Greek yoghurt (no added sugar), sliced fruit and veggies, ready made salads, cooked wholegrains like brown rice, cereals, sourdough bread, and wholemeal pasta, cheese, nuts and seeds. Have a look at my snacks recipe page.
6. Find a support group of like-minded people. Most cities and country towns in Australia have some sort of community health system where the child health nurse can help you connect with other mums with babies roughly the same age as yours. JUST DO IT! These mums will become your support group through all the trials and struggles of motherhood because they’re going through the exact same journey as you are. It is one of THE BEST things I ever did! We encourage each other, work out together, have coffees together after sleepless nights, cry together, laugh together and help each other. It makes you realize you’re not the only one on this crazy ride called motherhood.
Most of all….
Remember that it can take a year or more to lose the pregnancy weight. There is so much going on as you’re adjusting to a new life with a baby and your body is trying to recover from a 9-month marathon! There is so much adjustment so don’t beat yourself up if you’re not bouncing back as quickly as you’d like.