About seven years ago when I was pregnant with my first son, I was on a plane visibly embarrassing my husband as I laughed my head off (loudly). The reason that I was laughing was because I was reading Jenny McCarthy’s Belly Laughs, in which she tells new moms about all of the amazing changes that come with pregnancy and the time right after. Now that I am the mom of two handsome boys, I can definitely relate to Jenny--and I love to share my own stories with new mommies in my pre and post-natal fitness classes in Los Angeles. Here are some things nobody tells you about your post-natal body that I've learned from personal experience. My intention is to bring laughter and levity to some crazy changes that the gift of motherhood brings.
So yes, pregnancy brings about all types of crazy changes, from your ponytail to your pelvic floor. Remember to delight in the amazing capability of the female body. We are capable of growing babies inside of our abdomen. We are also able to nourish them with our love and support. I now see my triceps as the muscles that help me throw my baby in the air as he squeals in delight. My hamstrings are for stroller jogging, and my abdomen is the place that it all began! Enjoy your strength as a woman and as a mother.
- You might sprout a (temporary) belly tent. About four weeks after the birth of my first son, I was cleared by the OB to start working out again. I had already started walking and doing some deeper breathing practices, and was super excited to go to a boot camp class to get back into shape. When I went to my favorite class, the instructor started us off in plank to warm up the core, which is totally effective and safe for post-natal fitness. However, no one told me that my tummy would look like an upside down teepee. It looked like I had a small tent below my belly button when I was in plank position. ''What the heck?'' is all I could think. I then remembered that it takes a while for the uterus, which is usually the size of a fist, to contract back down to its normal size (after being stretched out like a water balloon). So, if you have an odd teepee shaped tummy in plank, do not be alarmed! It goes away.
- Two bras will become the norm. As all new mommies know, when your milk comes in, your bra size goes up. For me, it was way up... the alphabet song went all the way up to the letter ‘F.’ Nobody ever told me how incredibly important exercise bras become after having a baby. For the first few months after pregnancy, I found it helpful to wear two exercise bras for extra support. The one on the bottom layer should have two separate cups so as not to smash your breasts (and milk ducts). The top layer can be a little bit cuter with a splash of color to hide the functional base layer. This sounds silly, but trust me, your posture will improve with the right support.
- Hair loss happens. About four months after I had my first baby, my hair started falling out in the shower. I remember that terrible moment of thinking that there was something really wrong with me. I called the doctor immediately, and she explained to me that hair loss is normal a few months after the baby is born. We're talking astonishing shedding--my entire shower drain was clogged! My hair is just past my shoulder, and I normally wear a ponytail to work out. I remember that four months post-partum, I wrapped a small ponytail holder around my hair four times, and I went to yoga. During the first down dog, the ponytail holder fell out! It slid right out because there was not enough hair to hold it. I learned at that moment to embrace headbands. When the hair starts to grow back, it is really short and sticks out in crazy ways. The wider fabric headbands keep it looking cute and out of your face.
- Squats will become your new BFF. Imagine the pelvic floor muscles as a hammock. Normally, the hammock holds the weight of our insides. During pregnancy, your pelvic floor is really stretched, as there is simply more weight on the hammock. After pregnancy, those muscles need time to build up strength again. When these muscles are not strong, it is common to experience something called the ''pee-sneeze.'' When we sneeze (or laugh, or jog), there can be bladder leakage. I highly recommend squats as a way to help recover the strength of the pelvic floor. On the way down in the squat, you stretch the pelvic floor muscles. On the way up, you contract. You can even add a kegel at the top of the squat if you choose.
Desi Bartlett MS CPT E-RYT is a pre and post natal Yoga and Fitness expert in Los Angeles, CA. She is the mom of Cruz and Nico, and the star of Acacia’s ‘Prenatal Yoga,’ ‘Yoga for Beginners,’ and ‘3-in-1 Total Body Fitness' workout DVDs. For more information on Desi, please visit her website, desibartlett.com