You know, it’s always easier to give advice and recommendations when you’ve gone through an experience for yourself. You become better able to relate to others in a specific situation. You “get it”. And the individuals on the receiving end of your advice can FEEL that you get it.
I have always prided myself on trying every exercise variation or fitness program or sport before coaching it, recommending it, or poo-pooing it. So when I used to dole out pieces of advice to the sporadic pregnant woman looking for my help, I was never truly confident in my advice. I didn’t have that connection to the experience that would help me fully relate. Sure, I did plenty of research to back up my recommendations. But research will never beat real experience. There’s a wisdom gained in personal experience. The best coaches have plenty of personal experience in their chosen fields.
So I’m thrilled to now have an insider’s view of pregnancy, childbirth, and all things postpartum. And I am comfortably sliding into the natural role of fitness mentor for pregnant ladies. (They seem to be seeking me out as of late!) You see, having earned the title of “Mom” after a very enjoyable, healthy pregnancy, other women now feel that I GET it.
I am certainly honored to be viewed as a source of support for new moms and mommies-to-be – especially in the realm of fitness. But before I add any juicy pregnancy and postpartum advice to my list of available blog topics (don’t worry… the Badass shizzle will certainly continue!), I must share with you some random lessons I’ve learned on my way to parenthood. Hope you enjoy!
1 – Hormones trump everything else.
No matter how badly you want to eat a perfect diet while knocked up, those pesky hormones will bubble up and make absolutely nothing look appetizing – except a box of mac n’ cheese. A whole box.
No matter how fit you are, the hormones that cause your blood volume to nearly double while baby is on board can make you almost pass out during a gentle stroll. (You can imagine my horror at that one!)
No matter how religiously you take your supplements, eat sufficient protein, and stay well hydrated, those damn hormones will cause just enough water retention in your limbs to give you carpal tunnel syndrome. Then you wake up every night with painfully numb hands. Ugh.
And no matter how well conditioned your lovely locks are, that freakin’ change in hormonal levels will make your hair fall out all over the place around 4 or 5 months after baby arrives. Um… that’s like right now for me. My hair is everywhere!!
2 – Recovery and rest are THE most important pieces of physical transformation.
When using exercise to transform the body into that of an exalted warrior or a spirited goddess, the true physical changes from exercise happen during rest. Fat loss, muscle gain… it all happens when we are lying around, recovering from our efforts. Sleep and down-time are essential.
Of course… the transformations a woman undergoes throughout her pregnancy and the postpartum period are visibly intense. Whether a gal is helping to grow a new life OR recover from the expulsion of that life, TONS of sleep is required to keep that gal healthy and well-functioning. And I mean TONS.
I slept ferociously throughout my pregnancy. And since this was my first child, I was able to nap at will. It was like I couldn’t sleep enough! That little fetus feeds off of every internal store you have, I tell ya. Brain power fades… energy wanes… motivation to be productive falters… your butt might even shrink in the process! (just another one of those crazy happenings that you never hear about til it happens to you – ha!)
And after the baby arrives – rest from the rigors of birth, countless body changes, and the added demands of breastfeeding is essential. They always tell you to sleep when your infant is sleeping… It really is an important piece of advice. When I don’t get enough rest, I tend to easily get sick or develop mastitis (breast infection). Not a pleasant thing.
3 – Mental toughness is not always enough.
I’m a huge proponent for practicing mental toughness. It’s a key element in our manifesto, the Badass Doctrine! (Found on the right side of this very page) It’s true that our bodies are capable of SO much more than we even realize. And yes, by practicing mental toughness during many past exercise challenges, I knew I could call upon it again during the intense birthing process (boy, did I need it).
But ya can’t always push past physical obstacles just because you strive to. In some cases, mental toughness just isn’t enough. This has been my biggest epiphany. When you are a breastfeeding mother who is trying to return to exercise, sometimes your body lets you know when you’ve overexerted yourself by throwing a debilitating case of mastitis your way. Or even if you are strong and fit, shifts in your body from pregnancy may cause lower back pain and halt your good intentions at resuming certain exercises when you want to. Just a couple examples from my end.
This experience has made me realize that certain conditions can cause natural obstacles to one’s progress. Not negative obstacles. But obstacles nonetheless. Issues to be aware of when attempting to invoke steady improvement. And while mental toughness is still a favorite attribute of mine – I know that it has its limits in many situations. And I REALLY know that physical recovery can take a lot longer than you expect.
4 – Prepping for childbirth is a different process for every woman.
Yes, the female body is made to handle childbirth. No matter what any woman says, I believe all modern dames have the ability to successfully bring a child into the world with no interventions (only if that woman has a low-risk pregnancy, of course!).
But each and every woman’s needs on the preparatory path to birth are completely different. Some need to spend some quality time improving their stamina. Others need to learn how to be mentally tough and steadfast through a marathon of physical demands. Some need to practice calmness in the face of certain anxiety and fear. And my challenge was to ensure that I could relax my body enough to allow it to do its thing.
Giving birth ain’t just about having the muscle to push! Sometimes, muscle and tension can be counterproductive to the progress of labor. So… since there was no worry about my level of fitness… I needed to practice relaxing through some much-needed yoga, mobility exercises and soft tissue work.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I did do some good ole’ fashioned KimBall workouts. I participated in repeated Tough Mudder prep workouts with my devoted group of hooligans for 2 months in my second trimester… I rock-climbed up until about 20 weeks preggo… and I even went on an 8-mile hike in Big Sur at 8 months pregnant! But for the majority of my time as a human incubator, I followed my gut and focused on more replenishing, relaxing, tension-melting activity. It was what I needed to be successful at the challenge of birth. And each woman will find a different way to make sure they are successful.
5 – Motherhood gives you bad posture.
… That is, if you do nothing to combat the process!
That big ole’ belly can cause shifts that pull your shoulders forward and tilt your pelvis (causing you to develop a sway-back look). And when baby shows up, breastfeeding positions and constant carrying of that little bag ‘o bones can reinforce the unfavorable posture. So, finding time for stretching, foam rolling and massage of the overworked muscles will help a mom fight the poor posture battle. Of course, remembering to stand up straight whenever possible is worth its weight in gold, too!
6 – EVERYONE has an opinion.
About what the shape of your belly means. About what you should eat and how much activity you should do. About how and where you should give birth. About how to be a good parent.
Why do people feel as though they need to barf out every single thought they have when they see a pregnant woman or new mom? It’s insane! But thankfully, most people are supportive and well-meaning. They just wanna be involved. They take notice of your condition because the creation of a new being is such a delightful, miraculous event. They brighten up when they encounter a bright-eyed, innocent babe.
And when others pass judgement and leave a gal feeling down and doubtful, I like to think of it as just another opportunity to strengthen one’s self-confidence. No matter what others think, you get the final say. And your say has value. Shouldn’t that be the truth for everyone? Pregnant or not? Parent or otherwise? Good food for thought. And a good thought to finish on!