Training and motherhood: pregnancy, breastfeeding and beyond.

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Pic taken by ‘Her Majesty’

A pregnant friend recently sent me a message:

Hi Hannah, I have a question for you. How do you manage to train & run, when you are sleep-deprived from looking after your twins? I am just wondering cos I always feel so lousy from lack of sleep and I imagine it’s only going to get worse once the baby arrives! xx

My answer I told her, was extensive, so I thought I would post it here, to maybe help any other preggos or new mums thinking the same things.

My answer is primarily based on my experience of being pregnant with and breastfeeding twins.  I’ve gleaned some other information from here and there.

I’ve heard of mother’s running marathons and ultra marathons, stopping to breastfeed their babies along the way.  I’m pretty sure these mothers didn’t jump into that idea after giving birth.  They must have been in a pretty good physical state before hand.  The first mother I heard about doing this, stepped into a 24-hour timed race (you run as many time round a track loop as you can in 24 hours) after her husband couldn’t take part.  She ran more than an ultra, without planning to. An ultra is anything over a marathon distance.  The second was a professional runner who was back training 6 weeks post-birth and back competing in the first year.

I was not an athlete before I gave birth.  I was training for Malta marathon when I found I was pregnant, before that I was an on-off runner, much like now ;)  I did a 19km run in September 2009 and felt a bit weird.  I discovered I was 6 weeks pregnant and on the next run I tried to do, I felt all kinds of cramping and pulling in my abdomen.  I was not comfortable. 

Around 7 weeks -10 weeks pregnant were rough for me.  I never vomited but felt nauseous constantly.  I went off all food but plain pasta with cheese (joking this is clearly Adam’s baby, I would never normally eat that food!) and freshly squeezed orange juice.  I lost about half a stone in weight.  When I wasn’t working I was sleeping. I yawned often during my Yoga classes despite getting lots of rest, I had a feeling I was growing more than one baby.  I was taking all the standard recommended pre-natal vitamins. 

12 weeks pregnant
12 weeks pregnant

From 10-12 weeks things started to get better.  At 10 weeks I started to tell my best friend and family the news, as things felt more settled physically.  By 12 weeks I was almost back to normal.  I continued my normal Yoga practice and was doing advanced pilates 2-3x a week throughout this time.  When I discovered I was having twins at 15- 17 weeks, I felt it was time to move to prenatal pilates.  I bought a prenatal Yoga DVD (I already had some gentler ones, but as I wasn’t running I bought a tougher astanga-based DVD).  I emailed the teacher saying the sequence was really uncomfortable for me.  She said as I was expecting twins I should be practicing the third trimester version, not the second.  I still found it tough and just stuck to my own practice, she offered me a refund but I didn’t bother and kept the DVD.

Yoga is perfect during pregnancy and early days of motherhood, as you can modify your practice to your hormonal changing body, with one caveat: a hormone called relaxin means that for up to a year after giving birth (longer if you are breastfeeding) keeps your joints lax.  If teaching post or pre-natal students, increasing flexibility is not the goal.  Relaxing and strengthening, some mild stretching to create space, not flexibility, are the goals.

I’ve seen videos of pregnant and post-natal Yogis doing all kinda things.  Good for them! This below is based on my experience.  I would not recommend a normal Yoga class or any gym class for a year after giving birth.  I know too many people with the same back injury, which to me has come from not properly conditioning / stabilising the abdominals after birth.  It all depends on the class, but high-intensity kickboxing or aerobics, not things I tried after pregnancy but in my mind the body needs a year to recover and these classes can wait.  That 1 year wait is based on 3-6 months of breastfeeding.

It sucks, yeah, but one year is not that long in the grand scheme.  And if my experience is anything to go by, any spare time is for sleep in that first year (a massage or swim maybe).  It all depends on what kind of baby you have.  Mine will surely love me for saying they were both terrible, in their own ways :)

My son did not sleep.  My daughter slept and rose with the sun and demanded my attention for every moment in between.  I was a wreck for 18 months until my son’s teething woes were over and he slept a full night.  I then stopped looking at bed adverts and salivating. 

I breastfed the both twins exclusively for 4.5 months.  This meant for those months of summer, the sofa was my buddy.  I remember packing the twins in the car for the first time and heading out of town to a friend’s, and it started to cloud over and rain.  That was my summer, sweating on a sticky leather sofa, trying to feed two babies and somehow answer the phone.  I think I went to Yoga class once in this time. It restored my sanity and made me feel slightly like a human (if an engorged and leaky one). I came home to Adam bouncing on a pilates ball in his boxers, babies wrapped in muslin cloths in each arm.  I can’t remember exactly what had happened, but they had refused to take the expressed bottled milk, mostly screamed and someone had been sick or pooed all over Daddy, maybe one did each.  The post-yoga glow I remember narrowly balanced out the chaos I came home to for those first 6 months. 

Adam bought me massage and pedicure vouchers at one point.  So any spare time I got thanks to kind neighbours, I went for these.  I needed rest more than any activity, and I fell in love with pedicures for they made me feel a bit more ‘together’.  

I had a problem following my c-section so I had a repair job done when the twins were 2.  Until this time I did very little physical Yoga as I was in a lot of pain with my tummy, there was very little of the essential restorative core work (except endless bouncing with that insomniac son until 1am on a pilates ball).  After a couple of problems with the repair job, I was ready to go 8 weeks after that.  I put the twins in a daycare at 2 years 3 months and it was only then I felt ready to start doing Pilates and running.  Looking back I should have focused more on Pilates to restore the strength lost in my abdomen throughout the three years, before I upped my running.

Running was freedom though.  Fresh air, sunshine and iPod were a welcome escape from the ‘terrible twos’… and the terrible 3s.

I then slipped on the floor when the twins were 3, another 6 week set back, then I really got into the swing of things. A 30km night run followed by Gozo hellfire 21 k trail race.

Not exactly ‘upping the training gradually’ so much as ‘feck it, I’m just doing this’.  I did Yoga outdoors as I was sick of being inside.

Now the kids are big enough to train with me.  Her majesty likes yoga and the little man enjoys running.  The problem is trying to get them both to allow me to do both, but somehow we manage :-)

So, my answer can be summarised as: if you are exclusively breastfeeding, as in you are the sole sustenance for your child, then chill Winston.  You are a cow.  That is a workout in itself and if biscuits and the sofa are where it’s at, then Let It Be.  Obviously, still pay attention to your diet at this time.  I paid attention to every bit of vegetarian food that came into my vision, and gobbled it right up. 

I should have taken iron supplements during this time, in hindsight.  Breastfeeding twins exclusively for 4.5 months is enough to turn someone vegan for life.  It was a full-time job and some.  I was whacked at the end of a day’s ‘work’.  Adam had to peel me off the sofa and help me to my bed.  I’m not saying this is normal, but that is how I felt at times.  Forgoing exercise for this bit is fine, in my book. 

If you are not sleeping, sleep.  When you have a singleton, please sleep when they sleep.  Exercise is stress for the body and you don’t need a lot more of that with a newborn kicking about.  If you are overly anxious or depressed, some light exercise is good.  I did a lot of walking and pushing that double buggy around was a workout, my arms were strong.  Squatting to the floor with a baby in each arm and back up again regularly in a day…My legs were quite something in that first year or so.

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Pic taken by little man

Don’t go mad, ease exercise back into your life and really pay attention to things such as diastasis recti (abdominal separation).  Get a doctor to give you the ok (although mine did without actually checking for diastasis recti, so check that yourself, go to a physio or I can recommend a great pilates teacher in Malta to do it for you). 

If you have sleepless nights or sleepless weeks, I would say sleep rather than workout.  My son took so long to get to sleep, sometimes I had just shut my eyes when my daughter woke up.  Workouts will help gobble up stress but also if you’re already feeling burned out as opposed to ‘a bit lethargic’, then take a walk, get fresh air and a good sleep, maybe even a bath with lavender oil?  

If you are a professional athlete you will have to chose training over sleep at times. 

If you didn’t do it before pregnancy, you shouldn’t take it up during (with the exception of gentle pre-natal fitness classes).  Swimming post-pregnancy is great.  I didn’t swim during pregnancy as I didn’t feel like getting in the sea and I had read about the undesirable effects of chlorine on foetuses, but I know women who loved their aquafit classes.   

The early days go by fast.  Although it felt like forever as there was little sleep ;) I do miss those days, a bit.  Not enough to ever do them again though. Ever.

Ever ;)

Any questions or comments please post below :)

Hannah-Marie

I'm a Yoga teacher and mother to 5-year old twins, with an interest in health, wellness and movement. In addition to articles on here, my work can be found by searching on Elephant Journal for my name, which will bring up recipes and mindful living articles. Thanks for reading :-)

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