We have all heard the saying, “you are what you eat,” – this is meant to make us more cognizant of the food we put in our bodies. When you have a baby this awareness becomes even more important because you are breast feeding. And the baby suddenly becomes what you eat as well. Infants do not get a choice about what is put into their bodies so as a mom you must take care of your health, which will in turn take care of theirs.
During my pregnancy I did everything I could to take care of Charlotte in the womb and nurture her growth. I worked out daily with yoga and walks. I took and taught spin and barre classes. I took my prenatal vitamins, fish oil pills, probiotics, and I tried to eat as healthy as possible, while limiting my stress levels. I gained a healthy 33 pounds, and I even got flu and T-dap vaccines. Once Charlotte was born, however, my focus shifted from taking care of myself and her on the inside to taking care of just her earth side. My own health took a back seat, as I couldn’t find the time to make meals of substance for myself. I found myself unable to get to my regular yoga and spin classes (save for the ones I taught!). And the little sleep I was getting didn’t help. Breast feeding is so dehydrating, and yet I could not remember to drink enough water each time I sat down to nurse. I found myself substituting a glass wine for prenatal pills in the evening. Except for taking my placenta pills, in those first few months I was not doing enough to take care of myself. Though I was aware of all this, I didn’t know how to change my routine to take better care of myself. Soon my hair started falling out and my skin was going crazy, which were both outward signs of something off inside.
I was so busy being a mother that I forgot to mother myself.
What I failed to see was that by not taking care of me I wasn’t taking care of Charlotte. By not drinking enough water and properly hydrating I was hurting my milk supply for her. I was eating a lot of dairy because it was easy to consume (ice cream for breakfast, anyone?!) until I realized that what I was eating was potentially the source of Charlotte spitting up constantly. If you are a mother to a child who spits up constantly you will know what a headache and heartache that is. To feed your baby for 45 minutes only to have her puke her lunch on you, your neighbor, friend, or anyone else in the vicinity is annoying and embarrassing. We have burp clothes stashed all over our house for the sole purpose of being able to clean her or ourselves at any given moment. Paying attention to how Charlotte reacted to my milk forced me to pay attention to how I was feeding and taking care of myself.
People often ask me if I have altered my diet since I am breast feeding Charlotte. If anything I am eating even better than when I was pregnant. I want Charlotte to grow up with healthy eating habits, and if I can set the example now, then my hope is she will follow in our footsteps in the future. We now buy more fresh produce – avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes and strawberries, just to name a few and mash these up in our Nutra Bullet to feed to her. She has not gained a lot of weight for a baby her age so our pediatrician suggested adding in extra bites of soft foods here and there to her diet. Steaming foods to puree for Charlotte doesn’t take much extra time, it just takes some planning, and I know I’m feeding her a whole food rather than what comes from a jar.
Once I started to take care of my physical body it became time to take care of my mental health as well. Though I felt guilty for leaving Charlotte to take a yoga class or teach a spin class, I found, returning home to her, that I am able to be a much better mom. I have extended this working out to hiking 14ers in the high country, which is one of my favorite summer activities. Since we do not have family in town, I do not have someone available to watch Charlotte while we camp and hike. I began to browse 14ers.com and the message boards longingly looking at others trip reports and wishing I was outdoors. I became irritable and moody because this is where I wanted to be. My husband, who does not have a vested interest in hiking, suggested I find other hiking partners, and he would stay home and watch Charlotte. The result has been me hiking 3 peaks so far this season and learning new and interesting things about different people I have had the pleasure to hike with. An activity I took for granted pre-Charlotte has turned into something of a mini vacation that I cherish these days. When I come home from one of my climbs I feel refreshed and ready to embrace motherhood once again. While I love being with Charlotte day to day, I realize it is so important for me to still have my own identity. Now I schedule child care for Charlotte around my work and fitness lifestyle. Paying someone to watch my baby while I work out has become money well spent.
This is not to say that these changes have been easy for me. When I first started working out post-baby I would have to wear two sports bras to hold everything in place. Having a natural childbirth meant some activities like jumping jacks, running, and basically anything jarring the bladder have to be avoided. Contrary to what fashion magazines and celebrities may lead you to believe, breast feeding does not automatically melt all the pounds away. If anything, while breast feeding your body will still hold on to a little extra fat so that you can efficiently and effectively feed your child. So those last 5 pounds I wish to move off my frame aren’t budging no matter how much I will them to! I do, however, appreciate all the compliments of how my postpartum body looks because I put in a lot of gym time pre-baby to ensure I bounced back stronger than before. Do not let horror stories of women who got pregnant and then ended up on “The Biggest Loser” fool you – having a baby is not a death sentence to your body. You can lose the weight, if you try. And it starts in pregnancy.
We live in a society that expects us to breast feed for a year (but do so in private, please!), have washboard abs three weeks after having a baby, and still maintain shiny hair, a clean house, and make organic dinners. We put so much pressure on women in our society, especially when it comes to motherhood. (Even if you don’t have a child, you get pressure about becoming a mother!) Don’t fret if you can’t live up to these unrealistic standards. What I’ve learned is most important in this postpartum period is (re)learning how to take care of myself. Though I had a baby, I almost felt as if I were the baby, and I was helpless in my physical and emotional state. Once I realized that I couldn’t be a good mother to Charlotte if I wasn’t a good mother to myself my perspective changed, and now I do whatever it takes to keep myself healthy.
Taking care of me plus one isn’t always easy. But it’s worth it. It’s harder to NOT take care of myself, mentally and physically, than it is keep myself healthy and happy!
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.