In many respects pregnancy and childbirth are analogous to doing a triathlon, albeit ten times as hard and without the finisher’s T-shirt!
Despite the huge changes that took place – physically, emotionally and practically when we (and I say ‘we’ deliberately as I see this as a partnership between myself and my husband Tom, even though he didn’t feel much of the pain!) gave birth to Esme in December 2015 – we wanted exercise to remain an important part of our lives.
In addition to the personal benefits, we wanted Esme to grow up with physical activity being normalised: for her to love being outside; to be healthy; to be confident in herself; and for her mum and dad to be the role models for this. We felt that doing sport would also make us better, more relaxed and fulfilled parents. It’s not something that’s a luxury, for Tom and I it’s part of being a parent and who we are as individuals – and doing physical activity is not something we feel guilty about, as long as we ensure that Esme remains the utmost priority.
I know that we all experience pregnancy, birth and post-natal life very differently, but hopefully some of the tips below will help you in your bid to remain/get active following the birth of your little bundle of joy.
Start slowly: don’t rush or panic: For someone so used to being outside and getting an endorphin fix, it was hard to be housebound and I felt claustrophobic and a little frustrated at times. I was also (irrationally) fearful of never looking or feeling the same again. After about 3 or 4 weeks I began power walking for up to 60 minutes between breastfeeds but, following the advice of the midwives and health visitors, dutifully waited six weeks to increase the intensity to a gentle run. I kept the intensity low and favoured slightly softer surfaces. Swimming was logistically harder to fit in because the pool opening times didn’t fit with Esme’s breastfeeding routine.
Keep the core: I resumed pelvic floor exercises a few days post-birth to minimise any ‘post-natal-peeing-yourself-when-you-sneeze’ problems – doing them while I breastfed. Having consulted a women’s health physio, I did (modified) Pilates exercises after three weeks.
Get the right clothing: A good-fitting sports bra was (and is, even though my boobs have shrunk somewhat!) was absolutely essential. In the first few weeks I was so well endowed that I wore two bras! I also wore a thin sanitary towel in case of urinary accidents, and donned my maternity sports clothing as it was a bit more comfortable.
Focus on nutrition and hydration: I ensure my nutrition was spot on and that I stay hydrated by having a bottle of water beside me at all times. Snacks are really important to maintain my energy levels, and in the early post-natal months I found myself eating countless plates of corn cakes with peanut butter and honey at night – with Tom playing waiter! We try to prepare large batches of food that we can freeze if necessary and also have easily transportable, nutritious grub – muesli bars, smoothies, bananas, rice cakes with peanut butter, sweet potatoes in foil – that we can eat on the ‘fly’.
Re-prioritise: Esme remains the utmost priority when planning and scheduling any activity. I wanted to be available to breastfeed on demand, and didn’t want my milk supply to be negatively impacted by exercise. This meant that some days I couldn’t leave the house, and on others I adapted my plans to fit.
Get sleep when you can: In the first 6 months or so it was frequently more important to have that 20-minute nap than it was to spend the equivalent time pounding the pavements, so I often opted to rest rather than get my sports fix.
Focus on what you can do: There are ways to combine motherhood and exercise. For example, with a running buggy, a bike seat or bike trailer. Some mums put their baby in a chair or on a mat beside them when they turbo or use the cross trainer at home. Doing long walks with the buggy or baby carrier are great ways to be active outside. Exercise videos make it possible to train at home and there are also parent–baby yoga and Pilates classes. I have also exchanged childcare with sporty mothers; they look after Esme while I run and I reciprocate. Some friends have joined gyms with crèches to provide the childcare while they workout.
Time efficiency and organisation: I seize small windows of opportunity with both hands. If it’s pouring with rain I still get on my bike. And it’s worth going for a run even if I can only do 15 minutes. In terms of planning, Tom and I tend to sit down together, look at our typical week and carve out slots that we can certainly allocate to training, and then look at secondary times that may provide additional training opportunities. Of course, it will be important to adapt our schedule when needed; abbreviating and shortening sets or sessions, or dropping one altogether. We try to make hay while the sun shines (or doesn’t, as the case may be). If we have time to train, we use it and don’t waste time faffing, ironing a T-shirt or deliberating about what energy bar to eat.
Multitasking is useful: Tom and I work from home but there could be the option for mums (and dads) who work to run or bike the commute. A good set of lights can make nocturnal journeys possible.
Join a group and lean on others: I couldn’t have done this without Tom’s empathy and unwavering support, emotionally and practically. We are a team – and now a family, and he helps facilitate my sporty urges which I really do appreciate! Being part of a supportive community is also great – that’s why TMRs is so valuable and successful. Myself and a few crazy, endurance-athlete buddies have set up our own little informal ‘Fitmums’ WhatsApp group where we arrange get-togethers to talk about sport, nappies, sleep deprivation, crying, teething and what races to enter – all over good food and a glass of wine. They have helped motivate and convince me that you can be so much more than simply a mum. You can be a This Mum Runs ‘fit mum’ and help inspire the next generation as you do so.
Good luck and never stop believing in yourself and all you CAN achieve!
Chrissie Wellington is a four-time World Ironman Champion (a race that comprises a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile cycle and then a marathon), and holds the current world record for the Ironman distance .
If you enjoyed reading Chrissie’s blog above, then you’ll be pleased to know that you will be able to buy Chrissie’s new book, To The Finish Line, in our online shop very soon.
This book is super accessible and aimed at anyone who’s set themselves an athletic goal – whether it’s to complete 5K or to run a marathon. It is packed with practical advice, information, musings and anecdotes,
informed by Chrissie’s own incredible career, and has a whole chapter dedicated to pre- and post-natal pregnancy. Look out for our posts letting you know when it’s arrived!