Thursday, 3 March 2016

The reality of exercising when you have a baby

When I first started this blog over two years ago I thought it would be easy to get fit again after having my first baby. Ha ha ha ha ha! Dream on.
The reality is this. You have windows of 15-20 minutes to GET.STUFF.DONE. And by this I mean brush your teeth, drink that cold cup of tea from two hours ago, try to remember where you left your brain, lie there in a daze wondering what the fuck just happened. The thought of doing any form of active exercise in the early days made me want to weep. All I wanted to do was sleep and eat biscuits.
However, this is just FINE in the early weeks. You are not supposed to exercise (much). Your body has just made a human. A whole human! That's a pretty huge goal to be feeling smug about for a while.
The NHS recommends waiting till after the 6 week check up before doing any exercise other than walking, stretching or squeezing those shot-to-pieces pelvic floor muscles, particularly if you have had a c-section or non-straightforward birth. Pregnancy hormones can also affect your ligaments up to 6 months post birth so if you haven't been exercising during pregnancy, it's also best to not do much high impact stuff too soon either.
The main things preventing me from getting back to my previous fitness were completely rubbish pelvic floor muscles, anaemia, exhaustion and lack of time. Physiotherapy really helped with regaining my pelvic floor muscle strength but it did take a good year for me to feel confident in them. Funny enough, I think being a runner helped me here as I was more inclined to do the exercises as I wanted to run again.
I lost a lot of blood during birth (which is apparently fairly common) and I wasn't prepared for how wiped out I would feel initially. The double whammy of anaemia and tiredness meant it was all I could do to get off the sofa and go walk round the block each morning. You may be lucky and have a straightforward birth and feel just fine afterwards, but be prepared to bide your time until your body feels ready to get out there again, and don't be too hard on yourself (like I was) if you do just want to crumble in a corner and weep.
Once I'd fully recovered physically, the main issue with regaining any level of fitness was TIME. No longer was I able to go for long runs at the weekend easily, and my mornings and evenings were spent either feeding and looking after my baby or, once I had gone back to work, rushing to and from work, juggling childcare and the commute. I had no nearby family support to look after my son during the day. It was just me and my husband, who was generally at work in London during the day.
So what did I do? I had to adapt for a start. My time was no longer my own. To be honest I still struggle with this a little but the benefits of having my lovely little son obviously far outweigh the lack of me-time. Planning and sticking to an exercise regime was essential. If my husband left later for work one day a week it meant I could rush out to do some track sessions for 40 minutes. If I was working at home I had an hour I could use instead of commuting to get to the swimming pool. You have windows of opportunity so you have to make the most of them. On the positive, this does make you much more focused and gives you no room to make up excuses!
I also invested in the Out N' About Nipper Sport running buggy which is amazing! It meant I could still get out for a run with my son. I used it from when he was 4 months old and he still goes in it now at 2 years old (though bribery is often needed now to get him to stay in it for longer than 20 minutes without moaning).
I thought I would be able to run a marathon 10 months after having my son. My reality was 14 months. I managed a slow 10km at 4 months that I probably should not have run (let's just say my pelvic floor muscles had absconded the building). Neither I trained for properly nor did that well at. But I probably got more out of them as I realised I had done bloody well getting back out there even though I knew I wasn't going to win any prizes for speed.
Everything changes gradually when you have children. You think it will all last forever when you are in the midst of it all and you won't ever have any time to brush your hair let alone go for run, but slowly, slowly things start to return to where you remembered being pre-children. And the major bonus is YOU ENJOY EVERY RUN as they are so preciously rare. I'm now pregnant again and can just about manage to shuffle two miles extremely slowly, though my default exercise of choice is swimming for now. I know the newborn months will be hard and I won't have much time to exercise how I want to, but I also know that my fitness will also improve gradually again and I'm doing the best I can and that's good enough.

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