I gave birth to Honor on January 11th, 2018. I was lucky enough that it was a very quick 4 hour labor and delivery (watch me tell the story here!) so I was home within a couple of days. However, my journey back to feeling fit and back in shape, was a purposefully slow and gradual one. It’s still ongoing. There is so much pressure on women to ‘snap back’ after having a baby, focusing purely on the external, and I don’t agree with this idea. My industry doesn’t help: the images on Instagram of new mums with toned tummies wearing bikinis, is not always as inspiring as it is perhaps aimed to be. In fact, I posted a pic in swimwear myself, when I was feeling proud of the progress I’d made, on the first trip away Mackenzie and I took with the baby. The comments were mostly supportive and kind, but there were a few less happy ones on my feed, that resonated with me. I realized that while I was trying to be positive, some people didn’t see it as a positive message. And I care about that. So as I share my post-partum fitness and nutrition journey below, please know this is just my personal story. It’s not meant to be didactic – nor is it in any way medical advice – just the honest truth about how I felt and what I did, step by step, to get my mind and body fit and energized again.
I have always exercised about 4 times a week. So in the lead up to giving birth, I pretty much stuck to that. I took advice from my doctors and each class teacher about which parts of the workout I should skip or modify, and always listened to my body. After the first trimester I stopped pilates classes and took privates, at the request of my pilates studio. This I carried on up until two days before giving birth. It was fantastic for learning breathing techniques that later helped me in labor, and my doctor actually said she thinks I had a quicker delivery because my abdominals and obliques were still engaged. So that was awesome!
I also carried on circuit training at Training Mate (I’m always Insta storying from there), and the owner Luke was super strict about me taking it very easy, once I entered my third trimester. No bouncing, no cardio, keeping my heart-rate low, and using the lowest weights I could find. I also carried on barre class at Physique 57 until a few days before going into hospital. The stretching and low-impact, isometric exercises made me feel fantastic. I used a wedge cushion to do anything that involved lying on my back or side, and moderated the abs part so I skipped crunches and held a side plank instead. While pregnant, I stopped spin classes and hardcore circuit training that involved running, purely because it felt uncomfortable to run and I didn’t want to get too hot. The baby is warmer than you, and their heart-rate is higher than yours, so I was advised not to get too sweaty or to make my heart pound.
As for what I ate, well I unfortunately had morning sickness in my first and third trimesters (watch how I dealt with that here). So I spent a lot of my pregnancy trying not to vomit (fun times!), which made for a decreased appetite. When I did want to eat, it was usually a craving for stodgy cheese on toast or pasta, which I often couldn’t finish. I remember I’d come downstairs after a nap (which I also did a lot in my first trimester, the overwhelming fatigue was something I’ve never experienced before), and I’d say to Mackenzie, ‘Ugh I can’t eat tonight,’ followed by ‘wait, I need spaghetti Bolognese – now please!’. Having morning sickness in my third trimester was also a challenge. I never realized it existed until I had it. In my last few weeks before giving birth, I also contracted bronchitis. I was bed-bound for almost a week during Christmas time, and felt horrendous, barely able to eat, other than forcing down very simple, plain dry toast or rice. I remember wanting oranges – millions of oranges – and being in a fog. At one of my medical appointments, after the usual scan, I found out something shocking. It was most likely just water weight, but I actually lost 4 pounds during that time. That panicked me – in fact, I haven’t shared that until now, because I was in a low spot, and worried for the baby. But after reassurance from my doctor that everything was ok, and resting, I began to feel better, and a few weeks later we met our beautiful little girl.
Right After Birth…
For the 6 weeks after Honor was born, I just enjoyed the bubble. I barely left the house, we didn’t want many visitors (what’s the rush?!) and just enjoyed being a little family together. My parents were staying with us and Mum cooked me all my favorites every night. Spaghetti Bolognese, chicken curry, egg mayo sandwiches (my mum is famous for these in our village back home and it was the first thing I craved in hospital after having Honor!) and I enjoyed a small glass of red wine a few nights a week, after putting Honor to bed. I was breast-feeding and have never felt more ravenous, and thirsty in my life! I was chugging at least four liters of water per day, and would finish a meal and immediately feel starving. This was way, way hungrier than I had ever felt during pregnancy, and after mentioning it on my Instagram stories, loads of you agreed you had felt the same! I was tired and happy (with the odd hormonal burst into tears). I ate a lot of home-cooked and hearty food, rather than junk or anything too healthy. In between feeding the baby every two hours, I made sure I stretched a lot, and took deep breaths (I left a post-it note on my bedside table reminding me to do these things), but I didn’t miss exercising at all. Oh and one other thing: I ate a lot of bone-broth from the store Belcampo. It is full of collagen which helps the body heal faster. I truly believe in it! You can make your own or buy it.
6 Weeks Post-Partum
At my six week check-up, my doctor said I was ok to start exercising again. Guys, I started really, really slowly. One thing I’ve learned, is that you might feel ready mentally, but your body has gone through something so intense, you need to be patient with it. Your internal organs are only just settling back to where they should be, your hips have actually moved position, your abs don’t meet yet (mine still don’t quite, and Honor is 8 months old…), you may well still be sore down there, plus you’re probably not sleeping much, so anything involving too much energy, or balance, makes you feel fuzzy. I went to one beginners pilates class per week, for around 3 weeks, and started walking Honor in the stroller, for no more than 20 minutes at a time. I also took some short, 20 minute classes from the app Tone It Up (remember my ‘before’ pics here?), which has a very friendly online community and lets you workout from home, on your own schedule. I was unfit and out of breath very easily.
10 weeks Post-Partum
10 weeks post partum, I began to ramp up my sports a little. I booked into Training Mate again, and made Mackenzie come with me I was so nervous. I wore a baggy t-shirt and couldn’t run, because my boobs hurt. But I remember the positive comments and ‘welcome back’s from people there, which buoyed me. I was beyond out of breath at things I used to do easily. But the point was, I finished the class!
I was now aiming for 3 classes per week, which I took extremely gently, and tried hard not to be tough on myself if my body didn’t look how I hoped when I glanced it in the mirror. In fact, most of the time I was impressed (and surprised!) with how much I didn’t care.
Two things to remember: first off, I HAD A BABY. It occurred to me that is the most epic, challenging, awesome, miraculous thing a body can perform. Sorry men, but you will never feel that kind of awe-inspiring pride and empowerment. So quite frankly, the ‘scars’ that giving birth might bare (caesarian scar, stretch marks, wrinkly skin, extra fat) suddenly feel rather innocuous and superficial in comparison. Of course, those physical manifestations are not ideal, and they don’t make you feel like a supermodel, but I had a very different perspective about them, and way more patience, than I had imagined. I should also mention that during this time I didn’t own scales, so I wasn’t weighing myself – I think they become an obsession and you can also weigh completely different amounts according to the time of day etc, so it’s not very accurate. But, I’m pretty sure I actually put on weight, during breastfeeding. I read that this is a common occurrence, because of the hunger breast-feeding can make you feel.
Months 3-5 Post-Partum
I was working out 4 times a week, and around month 4 I took my first Barry’s Bootcamp (running and circuits) and Soul Cycle (spinning) classes. They were really hard, but I took them at my own pace. I even warned the instructors not to give me a hard time! The class the following week was still hard. And I felt frustrated that I couldn’t do things that I used to be able to do. But after the fourth time around, I began to see some progress. Not just with my stamina, but I could feel my core starting to tighten up again. I was still exclusively breast-feeding during this time, and apart from wearing two sports bras at once (ladies with big boobies, I salute you) I was still h-u-n-g-r-y. I was having a cup of tea plus two or three pieces of toast with peanut butter for breakfast (this has always been my brekkie – usually one or two slices rather than three though – for years and years). Fruit, latte and granola bar before lunch. Then a large salad with quinoa, shrimp, chicken or egg for lunch, then probably toast or half an avocado for an afternoon snack, then a handful of nuts or chips with salsa – often with my glass of red – before dinner, and a hot meal (anything from chicken and rice to fish and quinoa, tacos with guacamole, pizza, chili con carne, stir fry). I’m a sucker for dessert, so then we would have a vegan cookie or frozen yogurt or dark chocolate. I find it really hard to go to bed without having something sweet first! That’s for sure more food than usual for me. So I looked up some healthy recipes for snacks, and started making quinoa chocolate pudding, and a similar one made with sweet potato. I also tried to switch the granola bar out for a homemade smoothie. I wasn’t trying to cut back on calories, but rather switch them out for more nutritious ones.
Months 6 and 7
This was spent in England on a trip to visit family. I tried to be healthy and had a very normal mix of pigging out (chocolate, pasta, cheese, gin and tonics) and being well-behaved (I ate loads of salmon, shrimp, green veg), depending if we were seeing friends or staying home. I did cut back on my wine. And I didn’t exercise once, which isn’t ideal, but I had planned it to be my delayed ‘maternity leave’, so most moments I just spent with Honor and the fam. However, I did lose a few pounds by the time I got back to LA, most likely because I was breast-feeding less and less, and my appetite decreased a little. One thing that was interesting to note – I went to the physiotherapist because my back was hurting. She did some prodding and testing and told me my abs were not as strong as I thought, and my pelvis still wasn’t back to where it eventually will be. She advised that I’m not ready to do all the abdominal exercises I had been doing. She said recovery from pregnancy really takes about a year. It was a shock to the system, and I decided to be more careful. It made me realize that you might look a certain way on the outside, but you still have to be mindful that the inside might not have caught up yet.
Honor is now 8 months old, and I’m proud of how fit I feel again! I’m sticking to 4 workouts maximum per week, often it’s less because of work commitments or travel. I do a mix every week or pilates, circuits and spinning. I’m still fairly crap at spinning, I can’t always keep up, and it’s quite a nice feeling to be fine with that! My perspective has changed. I was always a very competitive person before becoming a Mummy, but now I’ve got bigger fish to fry: I’m taking care of a little person I love more than anything in the world. So yes, I still want to take care of myself and look and feel good, but I’m not in any great rush. Diet-wise, feeding Honor has taught me how to steam a variety of yummy seasonal veggies, so we incorporate those into our nightly stir-fry or curry or casserole. I still have my tea and toast with PB every morning, an iced latte mid-morning, and a chicken, salmon, shrimp or tuna salad or sandwich for lunch. I eat a half or whole avocado every day (still obsessed), and I probably have a boozy drink 3 or 4 times a week (I’m sipping a red wine on the plane as I write this, LOL). I still can’t finish dinner without something sweet, so we always have a stash of dark chocolate in the fridge. That’s replaced the giant cookie or frozen yogurt I was scoffing throughout Spring.
Things I keep in the fridge, freezer or pantry at all times: hard boiled eggs, veggie burgers, cans of tuna, agave nectar, frozen salmon fillets, frozen peas, frozen cauliflower rice, organic salad dressings, oat milk, cacao powder, chia seeds, frozen banana (pre-sliced, in a plastic bag). Those help me snack well or whip up a yummy meal even if I haven’t been shopping recently.
Oh, and I nearly forgot supplements…
I still take my pre-natal vitamins daily, on the advice of my doctor, and I also take Vitamin B12 drops to help with energy and my immune system. I also sprinkle Vital Proteins collagen powder into my smoothie, as it helps in the same way bone broth does.
I hope this was a helpful insight guys! I can’t emphasize enough to please consult your own physician though, when it comes to pregnancy or post-partum diet and fitness. Please share your tips and stories below – I love to read them!