Friday 16 September 2016

Exercise and postnatal depression

Postnatal depression is fucking awful. Depression with a baby or child means you can't wallow feeling suicidal in bed. You have to keep going, and going, and going. So how the hell is exercise going to help when all you want to do is curl up by yourself, sleep and try and escape the hell that is your own head?

It helped me as it forms part of who I am. I love running (no shit) so to be able to exercise again helped me feel more like the old me - maybe with a bit more of a saggy tum - but me all the same.

But for mums who hate exercise it can also help for a huge number of reasons. First, when I talk about "exercise" I don't mean training for a sub 4 hour marathon (though that's cool too if that's your bag), I mean getting out of the house. Putting some structure into your crazy kid-filled day. Peeling yourself away from your phone. Putting on your and your kid's shoes and getting out of the door. Going for a walk around the block. Listening to some music. Coming home, feeling just a little brighter. You will feel better for it. I promise.

It's the change of scene. Raising your heartrate a little, deepening your breathing. Getting some fresh air. Saying hello and smiling at someone. Feeling like you've achieved something with the day. Walking (fast or slow) is really, really good for the soul. It helps clear your head, level the anxiety out a little and settle your mind. Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel better about yourself and the world will seem not quite as tilted as before.

Second, exercise can be as social or antisocial as you want it to be. I know when I'm feeling low I really ought to get out there and be friendly, but sometimes I just can't face it. So I go for a walk (or a run or swim if I'm lucky) with just the baby. But, it really, really does make things infinitely better by going for a walk with a friend. And, perhaps not surprisingly, there are now more and more groups springing up for mums who want to go walking. The journalist Bryony Gordon even set up Mental Health Mates as a non judgmental social place to meet other people who were also suffering from mental health problems and to go for a walk. Double hit. If walking isn't your thing, there are plenty of other mum-friendly exercise classes around like yoga or buggyfit.

Third, if you can find some help, taking time out from being a mum to do some exercise can work wonders to ease depression. I try to go to a yoga class or swimming once a week when my husband is at home, or go for a short run before he goes to work. Even just 20 minutes to go for a walk around the block. Exercise WITHOUT THE KIDS really, really helped my sanity. No one else to think about. Time to breathe, listen to a podcast, do some stretches, whatever. I think that's the key thing about exercise - when your body moves, it allows your mind to be still, and that's worth gold dust in these crazy motherhood times.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Getting out and about walking with a pushchair and a baby

I'm always trying to find places to go and walk around that are doable with a pushchair. It's not straightforward as there is no one place to go for reference. A lot of footpaths are accessible but you don't know till you get there.Generally cycle paths, byways and bridle ways are ok but they often traverse roads too.  Doing a search for disused railway paths often brings up other ideas of places to stroll safely. I've also found these websites helpful when browsing for accessible places to walk (sorry only southeast as that's where I roam).

Walks with buggies
NCT Dorking walks
Accessible countryside Surrey
Accessible countryside Kent
Accessible countryside Sussex
Disabled access Sussex
Tunbridge Wells walks
Easy walks in Sussex
Penshurst-Tonbridge off road cycle route
East Grinstead-Groombridge off road cycle route

Anyway, I take the little guy for a walk in our local woods on a regular basis. In the early days it was for me - I needed to get out of the house during mat leave otherwise I would have gone mad. And there is something about woodland (and heathland and the coast!) that really settles my soul and makes me feel more at ease and content.
As my son gets older it's more to give him a change of scene. He loves woodland. He likes looking at all the leaves. And now he's running about independently there is a whole new dimension. 

Sunday 31 July 2016

Richmond Park with babies

Richmond Park is pretty much up there as one of my favourite places of all time. I used to come here in my young, free and single days to do run loops of the park. Over the years I've spotted a celeb or two here too - Nell McAndrew, Andrew Marr, Ben Shepherd plus many gazelle-like Kenyan athletes effortlessly bounding past me. I've got so many lovely memories of the park - all linked to running - so when I was first able to come back here with Freddie I was in my element.I wasn't in a very good place when Freddie was young. I missed London. I missed my freedom and I missed running. We moved out of London just before Freddie was born. In hindsight that was a mistake. I found having a baby almost too overwhelming at times. I felt like I had been hit by a truck but had to carry on as normal as there was no alternative. Some people find the newborn months an absolute breeze. I hated them. I loved Freddie. I just felt completely out of my depth and panicked. That combined with living in a strange, unknown place made for a horrible time, when I happily thought a few months before, it was going to be the best of my life. Just goes to show things are never what you seem. Anyway, getting out of the house on a daily basis was essential for me to maintain any level of sanity on maternity leave. Even better if it was to one of my all time favourite places. We bought a running buggy when Freddie was four months old. Richmond Park is an ideal spot to go running with a buggy as there is offroad gravelly trail all the way around the edge of the park. Plus there are toilets and cafes en route so it's a lovely way to spend a few hours with a baby out in the greenery but with facilities to hand. It's really easy to park there on a weekday, and it's free too! I felt so free again being able to go running in Richmond Park, but with Freddie. I guess one of the hardest things I found about the newborn stage is that you are a little like a prisoner. You are tied to this vulnerable person 24/7. They need you on call day and night. I think I went for a very short jog around six weeks after Freddie arrived, but didn't really manage much till he was around four months old. You are tired, your pelvic floor muscles aren't what they were, you have no time to go to the loo or drink a cup of tea, let alone go for a run! Which made this trip all the more exciting as I felt like the old me again, just with my new best friend and sidekick tagging along!

The essential exercises to do after childbirth - pelvic floor (kegels) and core work

Well folks, I'm feeling a bit bummed out as I've been told I still have diastasis recti (separation of your stomach muscles - pretty common after childbirth) so running is not really advised until my core is stronger and better aligned. But I guess I need good foundations to come back running stronger after having a baby, so I'm going to focus on core work over the next 8 weeks, along with some leg and arm strengthening and some swimming (this is, of course, if I can find the time. My two boys run a tight ship so we'll see...). So hopefully, come October, I'll be in a better position to not do any lasting damage to my body and I can start training again properly.

I'm trying to turn this negative into a positive. It will give me more time to really focus on getting my stomach back into shape - something I've always said I wanted to do, but never have. Also I've always wanted to get into yoga more, so this is a great opportunity to do so. Plus, I loved swimming when I was pregnant, so I hope I'll still get enjoyment from a different form of exercise.

That said, it is very hard. Running is a very easy way to give yourself half an hour's grace from the realities of childcaring. Plus it does form part of my identity. If I can't run, I get sad. But! It's not for long! People have injuries for longer than 8 weeks, so I must think myself lucky.

It's actually quite hard to find good advice on the correct pelvic floor (kegels) and core exercises you should be doing after childbirth. I saw a women's health physiotherapist after my first son, and these were the pelvic floor exercises she gave me. I swear by these. Correct postnatal core exercises to follow in the next post.

1)  Start lying down with your knees bent. Imagine your pelvic floor is like a hammock running from front of the pubic bone to the base of your lower spine. Pull up your hammock, but keep your breathing normal and your tummy relaxed.
2) Hold for 10 seconds (if you can. You may need to build up to this right after childbirth). Try not to hold the contraction at full effort, more 60%. Relax. Repeat 10x. This exercise helps strengthen the fibres that work at a low intensity for longer i.e they help hold all your internal organs in all the time.
4) Next do 10x short, quick contractions. Hold for 1 second at a higher intensity, then relax. This exercise helps strengthen the fibres that work to prevent you wetting yourself when you sneeze, for example.
5) Repeat the exercises 3x. Aim to do these daily. It helps to remember to do them at the same time each day, or when you do something specific like make a cup of tea or breastfeed.
6) When you can easily do these exercises lying down, try them in a forward lean kneeling position, and then standing up. Gravity will make the exercises harder to do.

Why are these pelvic floor exercises so important? Well apart from the obvious that they prevent you wetting (or worse) yourself, they hold in your internal organs, including the womb, safely where they should be. Worse case scenario is a prolapse. Yeah, you're ok thanks.

Saturday 2 July 2016

Fitness classes for mum and baby

I'm completely out of shape (as you would expect) after pregnancy and birth and the early days of having a baby are just so physical, it's no wonder my back is whinging and I get puffed walking up the stairs still.

So as well as a gentle easing back into running I've signed up to a couple of fitness classes for me and the little guy to help get my poor old body back up to speed.

First up is mum and baby yoga. There are tons of these sorts of classes about. I tried to find one that was equally balanced for baby and me. I have found many classes do tend to be much more for baby when what I really want is a bit of time to do a set of downward dogs and stretch my back out back to its normal height.

I've found a fab class that progresses each week as you improve. Honestly I feel like I've been for an hour long massage it's that good. Plus the little guy loves it too and usually conks out midway through. 

Yoga or Pilates is so important for mums to do. First it helps with regaining core stability and strength and second it helps with realigning the body back into a good posture. My body at the moment is mainly spent hunched over my baby feeding him, or carrying him around in a sling which tilts my posture out of shape. Finally it just makes you feel good and is a bit of time well spent just for you.

The second class for general postnatal fitness that I do is not quite as common as mum and baby yoga but classes can be found in most areas. Again I've been really lucky as this hour-long session concentrates solely on mum but babies are welcome to attend. The class focuses on strengthening and toning all major muscle groups plus working on core strength post birth - so no sit ups but lots of bridges, pelvic floor work and so on.

I feel like a knackered old mare in these classes as the moment but am so excited to have found this sort of class as  its more important than ever to build my strength and cardio back up if I want to get back to running effectively.  I can't just rely on running and shouldn't either as I've lost so much strength through pregnancy. 

There are lots of other mum fitness classes available. Buggyfit run classes countrywide. They are held outside with babies in the buggies and Busy Lizzy (only in the Southeast) run a membership scheme for mums to attend various postnatal fitness classes such as yoga, pilates, boot camp and aerobics. I feel a bit sorry for the little guy as first time round I spent all my time doing classes and groups for baby, but this time round I'm being a bit more selfish and doing stuff for me, but happy mum equals happy baby so the downward dogs will continue. 

Monday 20 June 2016

Amba City of London Mile

What a fantastic race! The City of London Mile takes place in the heart of the city next to St Pauls. Runners are split into categories - men, women, family, youth (11-16), wheelchair, and international (elite) and each category sets off for their mile run in timed waves which run from 10am to 12:30pm. Not only does this make the race inclusive to all abilities, shapes, sizes and ages, it's free to enter. How good is that?

We entered the family mile. I think our littley may well have been the youngest "runner", and toddler also may well have been one of the youngest running too. Most children were 4 plus. It was so good to see youngsters exercising and having fun. We too often read those attention-grabbing headlines about obesity, computer games and children, or of children not getting outdoors to play. This sight was a reassuring check on all that.

The atmosphere felt more like a festival than a race, lots of laughter and people talking to one another and cheering each other on. It was well organised and not too crowded, which is a definite plus when you have small children to monitor.

Waiting at the start line in running gear with a baby strapped to me and a toddler holding my hand is definitely an experience I've not had before. I had to resist the temptation to bolt off when the gun went off as I don't think my 8 week old would have appreciated too much jiggling about.

Running our mile (read walking) was the most fun I've had in a long while. Our toddler LOVED the start and ran a great sprint for about 50 metres (before asking to be carried for most of the rest of the route). We managed a respectable 17 minutes - possibly the fastest mile ever run by a 2 year old.

It's fairly unusual to have a mile race, which makes the event even more special. Without children, it's a great opportunity to see how fast you can run a mile. We met a couple of families who had entered both their event plus the family mile, which is possible to do as the categories set off in waves.

Definitely a race to mark for future years. We'll be back both to run solo and with our kids.

Running has resumed

I've had my 6 week check and I'm free to start exercising (gently) again. Hooray. And what better way to celebrate than a family running track session?!

We're very fortunate to have a cinder running track walking distance from our house which is FREE to use. Amazing. There is a long jump there too - which nicely doubles up as a sandpit for kiddo.

I eased my way back into it all with a very slow 5x 400m with lots of rests. The pelvic floor held up woo hoo. My pelvic joint feels a bit fragile still so I'm being ultra careful.

Then last weekend I went for my first solo run. I ran 5km in 30 minutes which I was pretty chuffed about. I felt pretty broken at the end of it but really, really pleased. It was so good to have a bit of time alone too (sorry family).

I've signed up to a small 10km in September in Richmond so I'll be working towards training for that for the next few months, with lots of core work and gentle jogging. The aim will be to get round and feel ok, not to break any pbs. As I'm still breastfeeding and I'll only be 4 months post birth I need to take it easy still.