“I’m a new mom. I can barely remember what day it is, never mind imagine getting my pre-baby body back. Help.”
New motherhood is a chaotic swirl of tenderness, tension, panic, and poops. If you’re not plagued by PPD 1 or recovering from a difficult birth, 2 you might be thinking it’s time to whip your body back into shape. 3 Listen, lady: You have just accomplished the most miraculous physical feat imaginable. Naturally, your body’s going to be a little different, at least for a while.
No matter. I 4 have got five practical ways you and little Ike can be healthy together right out of the gate. 5 Start here shortly after birth and you’ll be well on your way to a full wellness recovery.
Breastfeeding is terrific for lots of reasons. And because the body has to work to produce milk, breastfeeding is one of a very few honest-to-god metabolism boosters. Be cautious, though: some women overestimate the caloric expenditure of breastfeeding, and end up setting themselves further back from their goals by eating more than the nursing body needs.
Bonus: Bottle feed, too.
Whether you pump or use formula, bottle feeding is a handy supplement to breastfeeding. 6 While baby is being fed by someone else, you have 10-30 minutes (time that breastfeeding would not have afforded you) to stretch, take a brisk walk, or nap 7. Bottle feeding also makes it possible for you to sleep through one or more of those middle-of-the-night wake-ups. 8 Maximizing unbroken sleep at night makes taking care of you and the baby during the day an infinitely more pleasant proposition.
2. Go Outside
Fresh air is good for mothers and babies alike. Regardless of the weather, getting out of the house everyday will improve your moods, break the monotony, 9 get you moving, and help set little Tot’s internal clock to err on the side of wakefulness in the daytime, sleepiness at night.
Bonus: Wear that child.
It’s never been easier to hands-free a baby. Wraps, slings, packs, and carriers come in a million fabrics, shapes, styles, and colors. Whether you’re relentlessly hip or endearingly old-fashioned, there’s a baby-wearing system to compliment your style. Plus, the added 5 to 35 pounds of baby gets you more bang for your cardiovascular buck. Go with a high-carrying, close-to-the-body backpack once the baby can hold his head up. There are baby-wearing tutors available who’d love to help you feel confident with whichever carrier you choose.
3. Eat at Nap Time
If your baby is still new, it can be hard to prioritize taking care of your own needs when she’s awake. Make preparing yourself a decent meal the very first priority after the wee one goes down for a nap. 10
Bonus: Eat meals together.
Once Tiny can hold her head up it’s time to start getting civilized. Research safe “first” foods, steam the living hell out of them, and toss them (cooled) on her tray. She’ll learn about gripping, texture, taste, and mess-making while you throw together and (we hope) eat your own healthy meal 11 Sitting together while you eat lays the foundation for eating as a family, a practice that benefits not only the body but the mind and soul. 12
4. Act the Fool
Once she cracks her first smile, she’s aware enough to appreciate you acting the fool. Get down on the floor with her during tummy time, or prop her up on some pillows and put on a show. Crawl. Roll. Crabwalk. Slither like a snake and bounce like a frog. She’ll get a huge kick out of it, and unless you’re already into Primal Movement, you’ll get a significantly kick-ass workout. I can almost guarantee you’ll wave the white flag before she does, so dress comfortably, pop on some tunes, and embrace the ridiculousness.
Bonus: Let someone else act the fool.
Find a local gym 13 that has well-thought-of, on-site childcare. Dump the tot off 14 for 20-90 minutes while you get your weight-lifting, dancy, treadmill-tastic groove on. Bonus bonus: Shower! Bring shower stuff and a clean set of clothes and shower there, too. You’ll feel like an superhero when you pick up your little human.
5. Act Done
Starting and growing a family is all-consuming. Just being in the prelude to getting pregnant, be it with your second or your fifth, can usurp much of your focus, time, and mental and emotional energy. 15 Behaving as though you’re done with the whole family building thing can free up some of those resources so you can focus on you. 16
Bonus: Be done.
Whether this is baby number one or twenty-one, it’s perfectly reasonable to call an end to your baby-making period. It can be easier to make longer-term plans for yourself and your body when you know how many kidlets you’ll need to find childcare for. 17 And I’ll let you in on a little secret: unless you and/or your partner get snipped – and in some cases even if you do – you can still change your mind and have another baby some day. And there’s also always adoption. 18
Once you have two brain cells to rub together you’ll see that you’re more complex, more interesting, and more beautiful for having had your baby, both inside and out. Until then, bookmark this article, refer to it everyday, do your best, and for god’s sake, take a shower. 19
- If you are, or suspect you might be, there are resources available. Call your doctor’s office. Tell the receptionist you’re experiencing postpartum depression and that you need to meet with your doc ASAP to discuss options. If you live in Western Mass, you can also visit this page for a list of groups and other resources. Go ahead. I’ll wait. ↩
- If there are no local support groups in your area, check for online groups. They’re out there, and they would love to include you. ↩
- Thank you, US Weekly magazine, for following up every celebrity birth with the now-requisite “How I Got My Six-Pack Back Six Weeks After My C-Section!”-type story. Heed: Those women don’t have day jobs. What they do have are personal chefs, personal trainers, and an ungodly amount of pressure to look like they never bred. Stop reading those magazines. They’ll rot your brain. ↩
- A personal trainer, working mother of a 2.5-year old and a 1-year old, Scorpio, and Scrabble enthusiast. Oh, and I loathe online articles that target new moms. ↩
- Which is important, since – let’s be real here – you were the gate. ↩
- It’s also handy as a stand-alone approach to baby-feeding. Are you feeding your baby? Yes? Then you’re doing it right. ↩
- Self-care’s most crucial ingredient is adequate sleep. Church. ↩
- If you happen to have a co-parent, why not make them do some of the grunt work, right? If you’re flying solo on this parenting journey you have my respect and sympathy. ↩
- Yes, yes, the blessed, unbearably cute, I-Love-Every-Second-With-My-Precious-Little-Angel-How-Dare-You-Insinuate-Otherwise-I-Bet-You’re-An-Awful-Person monotony. ↩
- You know, after using the toilet, maybe changing out of that puke-stained shirt, and taking a full breath. Hang on – take one more. OK, now go eat. ↩
- If she’s not ready for food, get a bunch of novelty items, like keys, wooden spoons, socks, sunglasses, closed toothpaste tubes, and other oddball things and hand them off one by one. This may buy you enough time to eat a meal. Then again, it may buy you just enough time to collect a bunch of random items. Oy. Babies. ↩
- Aw. ↩
- Hey there, YMCA! I heart you to the extreme. ↩
- You know, gently. ↩
- This is especially true if you’ve ever experienced a loss, if you’re an older mother, have a very tight budget, or are gearing up for fertility treatments. ↩
- You still have a tiny baby here, so don’t be misled: When I say you can focus those resources on you, you’re lucky if that focus lasts all of 10 minutes. Any more than that and you deserve a pat on the back; Any less and you deserve a glass of wine and a back rub. ↩
- /will be homeschooling / will be shipping off to a boarding school in Switzerland / will be ferrying to your parents’ house every weekend / et cetera. ↩
- Human, canine, feline or reptilian. ↩
- *wink* ↩