Category Archives: Motherhood

How I Lost the Baby Weight (Again)

It’s important to start off by saying that my ability to lose the baby weight within the first six months postpartum has very little to do with the fact that I’m a fitness professional. I haven’t used any voodoo magic for my body or resorted to any intensive training programs to lose weight. I also haven’t done any formal diets or eating plans to lose weight. You might be wondering how this is possible then…how does a woman lose the extra pounds after baby is born? Here are my three main guiding principles when coaching postpartum women back to pre-baby health (I use them for myself too):

  1. Be gentle and give yourself LOTS of grace
  2. Stay consistent (when possible) and remember that there is no perfect day for exercise, only the determination to make time for it
  3. Find eating and exercise habits that jive with your lifestyle and that are enjoyable to you 

There are many approaches to losing the baby weight and the only one that is “right” is the one that speaks to you. This is why I customize every single workout plan and session according to each mother’s individual needs (PS – if you need any prenatal or postpartum support feel free to check out my Services).

 

 

Some women enjoy structured eating and exercise plans, and that’s fine too! Many of my clients desire a well laid-out program so they know what they’re working towards. The only caveat is that the first 6-12 months of motherhood are anything but predictable. Each month brings unique health and schedule challenges/milestones so it’s important to stay flexible and pivot when necessary. For this reason, I don’t personally put the pressure of any structured weight loss plans on my own postpartum agenda but I still aim to drop weight.

The following lays out my approach for postpartum weight loss after baby #2. As you will see, it’s very gradual, progressive and flexible, adapting month to month as my postpartum needs and energy changed. Perhaps this will help you remove a little bit of stress from your own postpartum weight loss journey or will inspire you to realize that it doesn’t have to be very formal or complicated.

 

Background: My Postpartum Life

I want to briefly share about my first six months postpartum as a mother of two. It has been unspeakably hard at times but not impossible. I know lots of moms have things way harder. That said, my baby has had multiple health complications including subluxating hips. He had to wear a rhino hip brace 24/7 during his second month of life. It affected his latch and caused my milk supply to tank so I had to get a LC and milk donor’s help for a while. At month three, right when life started to feel a little normal again, I had to return to a newborn nursing schedule. So, I’ve basically been on a newborn feeding schedule of every 1.5-2 hours for half a year. Thank heavens he finally dropped down to 7-8 feedings/day! #momwin

My baby also [still] has torticolis which has affected his neck positioning for nursing and sleep. I take him to a chiropractor every week and monthly physical therapy along with daily home exercises. In addition, this poor child has reflux that coats everything within a close radius. It’s a rare hour of the day that I’m not wearing something covered in colorful spit ups (yaaayyyy solid foods…ugh) All of this is the big stuff, to say nothing of the little challenges or oh yea, continuing to parent a strong-willed three-year old. Side Note: The threes are when things get painfully real. Anyone else?

Why do I mention this?

To show you that my life isn’t perfect. I don’t have tons of time on my hands and there are many days that I would rather just throw my hands up in the air and surrender. But I’ve continued to commit to my health and bite off small workouts and healthy meals/snacks where and when I can. That’s all. That’s the secret: Commitment. That one simple commitment to myself, even on the hectic and sleep-deprived days, is why I’ve been able to lose the baby weight. And you can too!

I’m at my goal weight now. It’s not my skinniest size but it’s my pre-pregnancy weight that is easy to sustain and which keeps healthy stores of fat and nutrients for my body as it continues to provide fuel (aka mama’s milk) for another life. If I gain or lose a couple pounds then I’m still in a happy place. Stressing about getting to my “smallest” would be too much pressure right now and would likely compromise my immune system and milk supply – neither of which is ideal or necessary during the first year.

 

 

The First Month Postpartum – Recovery Mode

The first month of motherhood is filled with almost as many trips to the bathroom as the third trimester, except that the process takes way longer (moms, you feel me). The graveyard shift with baby is exhausting following labor or a C-section delivery and life is forever altered for couples who were formerly childless and big siblings who have to learn what it means to have a new family member hogging all of Mom’s attention. The first month is such a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and emotions that it’s remarkable when women make it past their home’s front step. There should be zero pressure to get back into shape or to resume exercise so soon after baby. But…

If you exercised during pregnancy or even if you didn’t but feel stir-crazy or the baby blues, some light walking and exercising is generally fine if the mother isn’t suffering from complications. Taking things at a very slow pace is critical though. Your body will tell you in more ways than one when you overdo it that first 4-6 weeks. A simple stroll around the neighborhood or gentle stretches and exercises on your bedroom floor are the way to go.

Exercise:

I enjoyed getting outside for a few walks with my three-year old during our unseasonably warm end of winter. It gave my legs a chance to stretch and it was a great opportunity to show my oldest that I was still able to spend quality time with just him. On days I didn’t go on a walk I usually did anywhere between 5-20 minutes of gentle movement before hopping in the shower. That movement plus the shower became my “me time” and helped me feel rejuvenated each day. I kept things very simple and focused on stretching, gentle flow-based yoga, deep breathing, modified core exercises and planks, and hip stability exercises such as bridges and clamshells. The goal was to support my loose ligaments and open up my posture following the stress of labor and breastfeeding.

Diet:

During the first month there were zero food restrictions – nor should there be, in my opinion! You just had a freaking baby!! I allowed myself to eat to my personal delight and satisfaction. I enjoyed each and every home-cooked meal and baked good that friends and neighbors dropped by and ate a several-hundred calorie snack in the middle of the night each night to satiate my ravenous appetite! It was glorious even though I knew it wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t last that way for long.

 

 

Postpartum Months 2-6

Exercise:

As I regained stamina and strength, I gradually increased the intensity of my workouts. During months two and three I began to incorporate low-impact exercise on cardio equipment at the gym for short periods of time and low-resistance strength training. Once I felt I had the hip, core and pelvic floor strength necessary was when I finally let myself go out for a brief and very slow jog. I refrained from running during my second pregnancy so that first postpartum jog marked the end to the longest period of time in my entire adolescent and adult life combined without running. And ohhhh my goodness….everything hurt. The next day I was so sore that – *confession time* – I popped one of my postpartum pain pills to go to sleep that night. Yikes! Thankfully it didn’t take long to feel better but I did limit myself to just one run a week until month four, for the sake of my pelvic floor health (and I would encourage a lot of women to consider doing the same).

Around month four I allowed myself to run a little more and I began to increase the intensity of my workouts across all fronts. I let my heart rate go higher when I had the energy for it and I let the weights get heavier. I will admit that I had a few setbacks due to low back pain but most of it was due to a lack of spinal rejuvenation during sleepless nights and poor breastfeeding posture around month three. I continued to refrain from HIIT workouts and anything too strenuous that could compromise my immune system. My goal was to exercise four times a week, sometimes five, for anywhere between 30-45 minutes at the most. At least two days were dedicated to full recovery every week. We’re talking extra sleep (thanks to my husband) and lounging on the couch for a breath or two before one of my small humans made demands of me.

As you can see, this exercise approach was gentle and progressive. It allowed me to pick which days I had energy to go for a run and when I just needed 15 minutes of yoga and a hot shower. It was simple and low pressure, and I believe those are the reasons it worked. Being a mom is pressure enough without an overly prescriptive weight loss plan on top!

Diet: 

I stayed as flexible as possible about my postpartum diet, pivoting my approach to eating month to month. As mentioned, I ate like a happy cow during the first month but eventually I could tell my appetite wasn’t that strong anymore and I was only eating larger portions out of habit. I decided to cut back portion sizes and tossed a few leftover baked goods in the trash. I found that I was comfortable cutting my middle of the night snack in half and it was rarely necessary by the end of the second month.

I got a little bit discouraged when month three rolled around. The weight wasn’t dropping off as much as I would have liked and certainly not as fast as it did after my first baby. I had 12 lbs left to lose compared to only a few pounds at that point after my first baby. I decided to watch my macronutrients. I was honest with myself about my carb intake being too high so I focused on having protein-based snacks in the morning and afternoon to fill me up and keep me from mindless snacking. I also ramped up healthy fats in my diet.

Watching my macros helped me drop about half a pound a week. By month four I was feeling a little impatient so I turned to the tried-and-true method of calorie counting. I never had under 2000 calories/day because of breastfeeding and exercising but I made sure I wasn’t eating say 2500-3000+ calories (except maybe one day of the week because we went out to dinner and I let myself eat a big meal and have a couple glasses of wine). The weight started to come off at a faster rate of about a pound a week. By month 6 I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling happy with my figure again. That said, my belly button still looks stretched out and I’m carrying a little fat around my middle that I know from experience won’t fall off until I’m better rested and my baby has weaned. But I’m happy!

I never did anything too drastic or cut out any food groups or treats. I basically eat dessert every day, enjoy carbs and relish in my weekly allotment of a couple glasses of wine. I’m a normal person! And that’s all there is to it. If you accept being normal (flaws, cravings and all) and let the process be organic then you may be surprised at how much weight you can lose and effectively keep off. You win a million times over again when you tweak your exercise and diet plan according to your own needs and lifestyle.

 

My little critters deserve a mom who prioritizes her own needs too!

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Foods

When I take a step back to look at my diet I guess you could say it’s mostly a Mediterranean style of eating. I enjoy a lot of fish, fruits and vegetables (and olives!). I’m not sharing these lists to say that you should eat these foods too. I’m just trying to help spark foodspiration! In my opinion, eating should be pleasurable! Find what foods and style of eating work for you.

 

Carbs I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rolled or Steel-Cut Oats, Banana, Apple, Raspberries, Blueberries, Salad Greens, Sweet Potatoes, Fresh Raw/Steamed/Baked Vegetables (Favs; brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, kale, carrots, arugula, broccoli)

 

Proteins I Eat & Love Every Day:

From Land (chicken, turkey, pork or beef) – OR – From Sea (usually salmon, cod, tuna or shrimp), Also; Hardboiled eggs or egg whites, Whey protein isolate or Pea protein powder once a day

 

Fats I Eat & Love Every Day:

Rotation of Almonds/cashews/peanuts/pistachios, Avocado, Olives and/or olive oil, Ground flaxseed

 

Daily Indulgences for My Sweet Tooth:

A.M. – Mug of coffee with coconut creamer and organic stevia, P.M – Mug of unsweetened chocolate almond milk with a square of 95% dark chocolate

 

I hope you can see that I’m not doing anything dramatic or challenging. I’ve simply found healthy foods I enjoy in a variety of food groups and portion control them in my diet. I enjoy exercise on the majority of the days of the week but I play things by ear according to my energy and sleep needs too. There’s nothing wrong with following a weight loss program (heck, I’m even happy to be the one to design it for ya!) but there’s also nothing wrong with living mom life and accepting imperfect plans while loving on your perfect and new little person.

 

Yours in health and wellness,
Maggie

What I Did Differently in My 2nd Pregnancy (and why)

As a fitness professional, I’m hyper-vigilant about documenting little details regarding my wellness and changing body. I have charts and notes recording mileage and training plans from various marathons, bulking/cutting programs, my bridal workout plan, and both pregnancies, to name a few. I’ve come to appreciate these notes, even while admitting they’re a bit over the top. Referring to them has led to some helpful insights, especially in regards to my first pregnancy.

I kept detailed notes on every week’s symptoms throughout my first pregnancy (with my son Carter, now a true “threenager” whose favorite angsty response to questions is “nothin”). That pregnancy ended abruptly when I experienced PROMS at 36 weeks 2 days (Premature Rupture of Membranes – aka my water breaking before full term). My mom had my oldest brother at 6 weeks early, for no apparent reason and without any strong risk factors, so I suppose I had filed away the possibility of an early baby in some remote corner of my mind, but it still shook my world. I didn’t have any risk factors for preterm labor outside of my mom’s single experience (the rest of us kids were full term). So, when approaching the preconception planning of a second child I was torn on whether or not to accept the advice that OB after OB gave me; to receive weekly progesterone shots throughout the pregnancy to reduce the risk of preterm labor.

 

 

If I had given birth a few weeks earlier than 36 weeks (which is considered “late preterm”), then I think I would have accepted the progesterone shots without question. But I felt like I was so close to full term that maybe…just maybe…if I looked back over my pregnancy notes and did copious amounts of evidence-based research, I could consider alternatives. As it turned out, my notes were very revealing and made me realize a couple of things; 1) my cervix is very sensitive when pregnant so internal checks and even sex can trigger changes more rapidly for my body than other women’s, and 2) my signs of preterm labor began around weeks 34-35, a time when progesterone temporarily dips down in pregnancy before jumping back to new highs in the last month.

I had to ask myself a difficult question:

Could I risk going against doctors’ advice and try natural approaches for preventing preterm labor and increasing progesterone throughout all 40 weeks of gestation? Could I live with myself if my actions didn’t work out? Could I live with myself if I didn’t try to let my body self-regulate with a little extra TLC from a healthy lifestyle? 

I decided to give Mother Nature one more shot… and I delivered my second baby at exactly 40 weeks. I can’t be sure that my actions deserve credit for a full term birth – it might just be happenstance or luck. And I can’t recommend that women at risk for preterm labor do the same. But I can share my story a bit and help women consider all the ways we can help our bodies along, regardless of whether we’re also using additional medical interventions, like progesterone treatments, to prevent preterm labor.

To start, let’s talk a bit about what preterm labor is and how to identify it…

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are not medical advice. If you have concerns about preterm labor you should contact your medical provider to discuss your risk factors. If you believe you are currently experiencing symptoms of preterm labor contact your medical provider or call 911 immediately.  

 

36 weeks 2 days…aka day one of my oldest son’s life

 

Preterm labor

*All information in this section is quoted directly from the March of Dimes.

Definition: Babies born before 37 weeks.

According to the March of Dimes, signs of preterm labor in a pregnant woman may include:

  • Change in your vaginal discharge (watery, mucus or bloody) or more vaginal discharge than usual
  • Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
  • Constant low, dull backache
  • Belly cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. The contractions may or may not be painful.
  • Your water breaks

 

 A few of the top risk factors for preterm labor include:

  1. You’ve had a premature baby in the past.
  2. You’re pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more).
  3. You have problems with your uterus or cervix now or you’ve had them in the past.

 

Medical risk factors before pregnancy for preterm labor and premature birth:

  • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy. This can include having an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia.
  • Having a family history of premature birth. This means someone in your family (like your mother, grandmother or sister) has had a premature baby. If you were born prematurely, you’re more likely than others to give birth early.
  • Getting pregnant again too soon after having a baby. For most women it’s best to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. Talk to your provider about the right amount of time for you.

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #1 (my son Carter)

 

Things I Did Differently in My Pregnancies

Although I did a lot of things differently in my second pregnancy, there are a few things I did the same that I feel are worth mentioning first. In both of my pregnancies I avoided smoking and alcohol. Some moms feel like by the third trimester the baby is “fully baked” and an occasional glass of wine or beer won’t do any harm. I can see the logic, and to each their own, but I feel that the evidence regarding baby brain growth accelerating in the third trimester (the brain triples in weight!) is enough to confirm that I don’t want to flirt with any toxins beyond an occasional “taste sip” of someone else’s beverage.

In both pregnancies I followed a healthy diet, eating plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats (plus a daily sweet indulgence after dinner!), and maintained an exercise regimen focusing on lots of hip and core stabilization. Lastly, as is my nature, I nested like a crazy person both times. My husband may be experiencing PTSD from my latest “honey do” list that had him scrambling up ladders, re-caulking our kitchen, and car shopping for a new vehicle. 

The things I did differently the second time I was pregnant were primarily actions driven by the desire to avoid another preterm labor. As mentioned, it’s impossible to say whether these actions influenced my body’s ability to get to full-term this time around or if I was always going to have a second baby at full term. Either way, these natural approaches to preventing preterm labor are ones any woman can incorporate into her prenatal care after talking to her OB about her personal risks for preterm labor and whether or not progesterone shots are strongly encouraged for her…

C-Reactive Protein

This protein can be high in a mother’s bloodstream because of acute or chronic infections, and may be the reason why women with urinary tract infections during pregnancy are more susceptible to preterm labor. C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation but it can be lowered and controlled by a Mediterranean diet, adequate vitamin C, and probiotics. Hence, I tried to eat fruits higher in vitamin C during my pregnancy (kiwi, strawberries and citrus), started a new, higher CFU probiotic designed for prenatal health, and made sure that I ate the maximum allowance of low-mercury fish for pregnant women alongside other healthy fats like nuts, flax, avocados and olive oil.

Omega 3s

There is some evidence that an increase in Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of preterm labor primarily thanks to their effect on balancing prostaglandins (which help the cervix ripen in preparation for labor and help the uterus contract – hence a better balance of this hormone would do the reverse and slow down physical preparations for labor). Thanks to this research, I made sure to bump up my Omega 3s, starting with adding a serving of ground flaxseed to my morning oatmeal.

 

Mega-Hydration

Uterine irritability can be triggered by dehydration. I was informed of this when I went in to the labor and delivery unit at 24 weeks with pregnancy #2. I was throwing up uncontrollably thanks to a virus that my toddler and husband had been ill with just a couple days prior. They only suffered a fever and lack of appetite whereas my body went into full-blown chaos; fever, chills, violent vomiting, etc. While I was getting treatment for an anti-nausea medication at the hospital the nurses hooked my belly up to monitors to assess potential contractions. Extreme dehydration can throw some women into preterm labor or labor because uterus begins to experience contractions. My belly wasn’t contracting in full but it was “irritable” – aka experiencing an abnormal amount of tightening that could potentially progress to contractions. The nurse who was caring for me sent me home with one of those giant hospital cups that has a handle and straw, and that holds up to 32 ounces when full. She told me to drink 3-4 of them a day in addition to my other beverages. I was a bit shocked by the volume but took it to heart and can say with certainty that I stayed better hydrated in my second pregnancy than my first.  (Summary:  To prevent uterine irritability and contractions drink at least 10-12 cups water/day.)

 

Coming home from the hospital with baby #2 (my son Colby)

 

Dental Health

Believe it or not, it’s true; challenges in dental health (ex: gingivitis) can contribute to preterm labor. Say whaaaa? Yup, bacteria from the mouth actually migrates to the placenta and can cause inflammation that can trigger preterm labor. Most women who experience a direct correlation between poor dental health and experiencing preterm labor are women who haven’t had proper dental care, but that being said, it never hurts to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. This is why, despite not having any former dental problems, I became extra diligent about brushing my teeth for a long time and flossing each day during pregnancy. Admittedly, my flossing habits were in need of some improvement.

 

No High-Intensity Interval Training

We’ve known for a while that exercise can impact hormones. It helps women who are estrogen dominant become more balanced and it releases feel-good hormones like endorphins. Men and women benefit from a boost in testosterone during exercise too. Changes in body composition in response to exercise bring additional benefits for the endocrine system. As it turns out, progesterone is yet another hormone that can be impacted by exercise…more specifically, it can be lowered by high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

During my first pregnancy I did a couple HIIT workouts each week – it was my jam. I always kept my heart rate within safe ranges and I knew how to modify high-impact and intense exercises for safety. It felt like I was doing no harm. In retrospect, maybe that kind of exercise wasn’t the best. If nothing else, it didn’t kill me to put it on the back burner during my second pregnancy, plus I think my pelvic floor enjoyed a rest from high-impact moves – and for that, my body is already saying thanks (and I’m only 2.5 weeks postpartum!).

 

Lowered Physical Stress

Studies show that women who spend 5+ hours on their feet each day are at a higher risk for preterm labor. This is a tough pill to swallow for a busy body like myself who works in fitness. With this knowledge in my back pocket, I worked to lower physical stress during my second pregnancy. I took more naps and got off my feet when I was fatigued instead of powering onward in my stubborn determination to get stuff done. It was difficult to discipline myself at first but with a toddler to care for, this may have ended up becoming my saving grace.

 

Delayed TTC

Women who wait 18 months from giving birth to one child to conceiving another are at less risk for preterm labor. In other words, any woman who gives birth to or gets pregnant with subsequent children in under 1.5 years is at a higher risk for a preterm baby. Hence, I took my time gradually weaning my son around a year and a half old and let my hormones stabilize for a few months before jumping into the TTC roller coaster for the second time.

 

Right to Refuse Internal Prenatal Checks

It’s hard to feel like we have a right to deny basic prenatal routines like internal cervical checks in the third trimester – but as mothers, we totally can reserve that right! You have full control over the process and no one can force you to do something you’re not comfortable with. I was thrilled when I told my OB that I was concerned internal checks might cause my water to break early again (it broke a handful of hours after an internal check in my first pregnancy). Thankfully, my OB understood my concerns and said that internal checks don’t do a lot for most of the third trimester except satisfy curiosity. I was blissfully in the dark until 39.5 weeks when I got my first check and discovered I was already 4 cm dilated! (So *that’s* what the random back pain and cramps were at 38 weeks – early labor contractions!).

 

 

Visualization

I’m not sure if there’s any science to pointing to visualization helping you get to full-term in pregnancy but I will hang my hat on how a difference in my mindset facilitated a healthier and longer pregnancy the second time around. I was so anxious and ready to be “at the end” in my first pregnancy. Perhaps that caused me to have higher inflammation, push harder, ask for more internal checks and more. There are a number of ways this could have caused me to treat my pregnancy differently. I’m so glad that I wanted nothing but to be extremely (even painfully) pregnant instead of having a preterm baby in my arms. This mindset drove small daily actions that I believe added up and helped me achieve a healthy pregnancy.

 

I did a few other things differently in my second pregnancy too, like avoiding most decaf coffee brands due to how the beans are decaffeinated using chemical solvents and requesting that I be allowed to drink an organic fruit juice drink for my prenatal glucose screening instead of that nasty, unhealthy orange drink they offer in the office. I also stood my ground in labor and delivery, electing to avoid pitocin and an epidural and marveling in shock (and pain) when my natural labor efforts jumped me from 6 cm dilated to 10 cm in one contraction (in a warm bathtub!).

It wasn’t always comfortable trying to do things differently for my second pregnancy but it was well worth it (just check out the sweet, healthy glow of my full-term baby boy Colby!).

 

Worth the wait for this little sweetie

 

(Please forgive any typos…still only a couple weeks postpartum over here! See y’all in a few months for some fresh content…okay…maybe even longer…we’ll see how mothering two headstrong boys shakes out.)

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 2)

Life has a really funny, not-so-funny way of putting you in your place, doesn’t it? In the first half of this two-part pregnancy article, I expressed pride about my pregnancies being relatively pain-free. Well, life thought that was just hysterical enough to knock me off my feet. I’ve spent the last couple weeks miserably sick and aching every which way. Just a personal reminder not to make anyone out there think for a second that I don’t go through challenges too (because I do…and if a toddler with a 5-day fever on breathing treatments coupled with a mama violently throwing up isn’t convincing enough, I don’t know what is.)

Nonetheless, I stick by what I said: There are plenty of comfort and health measures women can take to help the pregnancy journey feel a little less bumpy. Minus the one large and necessary bump, of course.

For Part One of this article Read Here.

For the next five pregnancy-related suggestions, read on…

 

 

6) Posture Support and Chest Stretches

As both belly and bosom get bigger, a woman’s center of gravity changes. Pregnant women often find themselves slouching and feeling “off” when these body changes take off, typically in the second trimester. It’s important to correct and support poor posture, especially since it will continue to be challenged once baby arrives from around-the-clock feeding and snuggling. Proper posture and strong back muscles help alleviate neck and back discomfort, and chest tightness.

Prenatal back exercises are best done on weight machines or with light-to-moderate free weights and resistance bands. Helpful exercises include the following: Reverse Flies, Rotator Cuff, Lat Pull Downs, Rows and Modified Back Extensions. Chest stretches with the arms behind the back or in a door jamb are also extremely effective at helping keep the front of the body open and comfortable.

 

7) Prenatal Probiotics & Antioxidants

Microbiome. It’s one of the 5 Health Buzzwords in 2018 that I blogged about at the start of the year. And so here we are again, revisiting what this word means for expectant mothers…

Our body is made of more bacteria than cells. Bacteria outnumber cells by 10 to 1! Not only is this large colony of bacteria (aka the microbiome) the foundation of mom’s immune system but it also largely influences the developing immune system in the baby. For a long time it was thought that the baby got exposed to its first bacteria as it passed through the vaginal canal and then again through skin contact and breastfeeding, but now scientists know that mom’s bacteria migrates to the placenta to support the fetus before birth. (And most of this bacteria has made its way there from mom’s mouth!!!)

Mom’s diet and gut health can affect her immune function during pregnancy making the ride easier vs. harder. But equally important is how a woman’s diet affects her baby’s gut health. So, expectant mamas – consider investing in a monthly prenatal probiotic that has both probiotics and prebiotics (my favorite: Garden of Life Prenatal) and eating a diet rich in antioxidants (ex: berries, sweet potatoes, pecans, black beans, apples, spinach, kale and more). You may have an easier time fending off pesky colds and runny noses that plague prenatal life. You may also reduce your risk of preterm birth and boost the odds that your baby has a happy tummy (there are babies who are happy tooters and fussy tooters…trust me, you will want the former…I’ve had the latter).

 

 

8) Sleep Quantity and Quality

Sleep is even more important when pregnant and can make or break the rest of mom’s day. Both long nights of sleep and quality rest are crucial for helping mama feel her best. Alas, pregnancy has a cruel way of trying to wreck both as moms toss and turn due to changing hormones, aches from all the stretching, and/or racing minds.

One thing you can do to support your sleep (literally) is use pillows. I’m not a raging fan of the traditional, long pregnancy pillows for a couple reasons – they run the length of mom’s body and cover her tummy, increasing her core temperature and potentially making sleep more difficult. Also, the length of the pillows makes it tempting for some moms to sleep with their hips askew, throwing one leg farther in front of the other, which can cause a lot of back and hip discomfort. My personal preference and recommendation for prenatal clients is to simply use one or two regular pillows and save the cash on an expensive pregnancy pillow for a spa day or something. One pillow can be used between the legs for hip support in a side-lying position – be sure to keep legs on top of one another for relief and comfort. The other pillow can be used on nights when your upper back is aching or chest is feeling tight. Simply hug it under the top arm while you lie on your side to offer support for the shoulders and upper back.

 

9) Braving the Neti Pot

So many people are timid about using the neti pot and okay, it can feel weird at first. Sending salt water up your nose isn’t exactly the most exciting concept. I get it. But during pregnancy women are prone to congestion that can drag down their energy and/or spiral into a sinus infection. Stay comfortable by using this time-tested nasal cleanse to keep breathing easy and clear. It may also help you avoid having to turn to pharmaceutical drugs for congestion and antibiotic use for an infection that won’t clear on its own. All good things.

 

 

10) Adjusting Footwear

It’s not a surprise that all the changes in hormones can result in growing feet too! If mom doesn’t recognize the need for new footwear during pregnancy, a number of discomforts can arise (and they don’t have to!). Avoiding high heels most of the time, if not all the time, is a good start. But you may notice the need for a half or full size larger in tennis shoes. This is one area where you shouldn’t draw your purse strings tight. Go ahead and invest in the bigger shoes – there’s a strong chance your feet are staying larger after pregnancy. Having the right, comfortable footwear impacts how every other joint in your body functions during both exercise and normal everyday movements. It’s critical to treat your feet to some TLC since they’re what you use to get around the world!

 

Here’s to happy and healthy mamas!!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

10 Ways to Make Pregnancy Physically Easier (Part 1)

I’m right there in the middle of pregnancy challenges, like any other woman on the verge of entering the third trimester. Overall though, I’ve found most of pregnancy (both this one and my first) to be relatively pain free. It’s not that I don’t have discomforts. I do. But I have the tools to address them head-on so they don’t spiral out of control. And I never assume that pregnancy has to be an uncomfortable time in life. It both is and isn’t. There’s so much that women can do to help manage all the crazy, exhausting, frustrating, incredible, unbelievable bodily changes that take place.

*Please take a look at these suggestions if you’re pregnant, planning to be pregnant, or know someone who could use this guidance for their prenatal wellness.*

Oh yea – and skip to the end to learn why I’m diaper bag modeling in all this post’s pics (lol).

 

 

1) Chiropractic Adjustments

The nervous system is fascinating. I recently touched on this subject in my post The Vagus Nerve: Lose “The Last 5 lbs.” As mentioned in that post, nerves innervate our organs. They can also influence hormonal function and inflammatory markers. For these reasons, The American Pregnancy Association recommends chiropractic care for women struggling with fertility. The association states that “in many cases, fertility issues may be associated with improper nervous system function” and that “chiropractors are nervous system specialists.” So, from the outset, chiropractic adjustments may aid the fertility process. At the very least, they won’t do any harm and may help you feel more balanced in your body.

But let’s jump ahead and say that you’re already pregnant…chiropractic adjustments are *immensely helpful* for women undergoing nonstop physical and hormonal changes. I speak from firsthand experience! All throughout pregnancy, the body releases mega-doses of relaxin and progesterone hormones which help to “soften” and stretch the body’s muscles and ligaments to make room for baby and prepare for labor. The uptick in these hormones means that the spine and hips are often sliding in and out of alignment. But your back and hips aren’t the only joints affected – your wrists and ankles can get out of whack during pregnancy too! Many women also experience neck pain from misalignments caused by changing hormones and even changing vision, in some expectant moms. Say no to nagging back and neck pain!  

Need more incentive to commit to a chiro? Chiropractic adjustments may help some pregnant women with heartburn! Oh yea – and, towards the end of pregnancy, those sweetly stubborn breech babes can sometimes be flipped by a chiropractic adjustment called the Webster Technique (NOTE: This is different from a version). The Webster Technique helps adjust the mom’s sacrum and reduces torsion in the uterus, optimizing the chances for a baby to change positions on its own AND reducing the incidence of dystocia (awkward positioning on the baby) during delivery. Sign me up! 

 

2) Regular Exercise Routine for *INCREASED* Energy

Yea, yea…go figure. The exercise physiologist/personal trainer recommends exercising during pregnancy. No surprise there. But let me tell you this…not only do I make recommendations on prenatal exercise guidelines but I also follow them myself. Without a doubt, exercise made my first pregnancy way more energized. I wasn’t awake each day until I got moving and then *most* of my regular get-up-and-go energy would hit me. In my second pregnancy I didn’t feel as big of an energy return from exercise…well, at least so I thought.

Last week, I was put on modified bed rest by a very nice doctor in a scary labor-and-delivery room experience that I didn’t see coming. She told me I needed to stay off my feet for a week. This marked one of a few times in the last 15-17 years that I went an entire week without some kind of hard or easy exercise. (The other times I skipped exercise for a long-ish period were the first two weeks postpartum after my first child’s birth and when I was on my honeymoon in Europe. Yup. That’s it.) Throughout the week my energy tanked and my body started to ache something fierce. Now that my brief bed rest has been lifted and I’m two light exercise days (and one chiropractic adjustment) back in, I’m feeling pain-free again and far more energized. Incredible the difference a little movement can make.

 

 

3) Stabilizing the Core

A lot of women avoid core exercises or drastically reduce how they exercise their core muscles during pregnancy. I understand the need and want for caution but under-utilizing these muscles can contribute to back pain and overall weakness.

I have zero intentions of contributing to diastasis recti for any of my clients, friends, readers, and self. But the key for preventing this condition of abdominal separation and weakness is staying mobile and strong in the midsection. For this reason, I highly recommend all pregnant women engage their transverse abdominus during balancing exercises, lifting exercises with weights, and core-focused movements. I also strongly recommend staying mobile in all three planes of motion – that means that abdominal twists and side bends *when done safely* can be effective for keeping the core strong and preventing splitting. If you’ve never had a professional show you how to create a “bracing effect” with the muscles of your lower abdomen then now is a great time to schedule a quick personal training or physical therapy session. Invest a little time to learn now and save yourself potential pain and hardship later.

Side note: Crunches are generally unsafe for the core muscles once the belly begins to expand, typically at the beginning of the second trimester.

Check out @maggie_winz this week for a real demonstration of how to engage the transverse abdominus during pregnancy. You’ll watch my belly go from giant to just really large (hah) as I show you how these muscles can stay active and engaged despite growing size!

 

4) Stabilizing the Hips

The number one mistake I see soooo many pregnant women make is focusing on hip stretches during pregnancy. I’m not saying a little stretching isn’t good for pregnant women, because it is! But lots of hip stretching is often futile. With so much relaxin in our systems, pregnant women are getting A LOT of natural stretching and need to balance much of that with stabilizing exercises.

You see, the aching feeling in a pregnant woman’s low back and hips – you know, the kind that wakes you up and gets you out of bed in the third trimester – is often from those areas feeling strained from all the stretching that is happening. Women will often respond to these aches by stretching more (glute stretches, piriformis stretch, abductor and adductor stretches, etc). This creates the feeling of temporary relief because of increased blood flow to the muscles but doesn’t address the problem or get rid of the ache for long (if at all).

The key to hip stability is to take all those muscles I mentioned that women stretch (glutes, piriformis, abductors/adductors) and stabilize/strengthen them instead. It will feel mentally painful at first to get out of bed and exercise at 3 am, but it will leave you feeling relief that will allow you to slip back into that much-needed slumber before sleepless nights with a newborn begin. Some great go-to exercises: Squats, Side Lunges, Clamshells, Side Leg Lifts, Hip Bridges, and Squeezing Ball/Yoga Block/Pillow with Inner Thighs. If you still feel tight then try to stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors or do some light foam rolling in addition to the hip exercises. You’ll thank me for telling you to stabilize instead of stretch. Promise. 

 

 

5) Purse/Bag Carrying Techniques

Wondering why I’m modeling these beautiful diaper bags that look like designer backpacks?! Well, first off, Mina Kay Bags is owned by a local mom I recently met and I think it’s pretty awesome that she put her architecture degree to work designing something other than building structures – she designed every one of her handbags and mommy bag/bagpacks by hand because she got fed up with the missing features and functionality in ones she owned herself. These bags are truly gorgeous, fashion-forward AND exactly what women need…especially moms. Secondly, I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I owned my own Mina Kay backpack (the new top-zip design in Camel).

You see, I’ve toted a shoulder-carry diaper bag for a few years now. It gets weighted down by all the regular mommy gear but then is extra heavy and cumbersome when I try to shove my son’s water bottle and my own in it. I have to remind myself to switch shoulders when I’m carrying it because it can throw my back off so much to lug it around on one shoulder all day at a park or while running errands. So, I knew I was in the market for a bag with backpack straps once kiddo #2 comes around. I need something I don’t have to think about as I manage a second child and my extremely mobile, wiggly, toddler-turning-teenager-any-day. But when I received my Mina Kay backpack at 6 months pregnant I decided to go ahead and try it on for size before my second son’s debut.

Wow. I feel SO MUCH BETTER wearing a backpack during pregnancy than a heavy shoulder bag. Legit. It’s changing my life…and making me feel slightly less desperate for my aforementioned weekly chiropractic adjustments. The thing is, when you’re pregnant, balance and symmetry for the body is key to keeping the body pain free. I strongly suggest switching to a diaper backpack if you already have a kid or two, or a regular backpack if you’re pregnant with your first and on your feet for your commute or errands. I wish I’d done it sooner. And, as mentioned, function doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice in style.

Psst: You can have 25% off Mina Kay bags while supplies last with this code: HAPPY25

 

Part 2 coming next week! Because mom life and pregnancy are “winning” and I don’t have time to wrap this up all at once.   

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Balancing Female Hormones with Food

Perhaps it’s TMI…but this past summer after weaning my son, my hormones went bonkers. Not just for a month or two. For a while. And it drove me INSANE. Per usual, frustrating experiences with my health cause me to dig my feet into the ground a little harder and push like a bull-headed Taurus (which I am) to find information and natural remedies to help my body. The experience catapulted my understanding about several female hormones and how we can help them normalize.

Upon opening up about my own experiences, I discovered a trove of women dealing with equally pesky ups and downs with female hormones. And not all of them were moms who had recently stopped breastfeeding. Some of these women were trying to conceive and others were simply adjusting to new norms as they inched closer to 40 or 50 years old. Still others were feeling the uncomfortable symptoms of severe menstrual cramps, bloating and acne every month, or extremely long and heavy menstrual cycles. All of these women, in different walks of life, made me realize that very few of us actually know how to help our bodies find hormonal balance and wellness. While it’s true that we can’t control every aspect of our hormones, there’s still a lot we can do to take over the reigns. (Frequently, this kind of holistic advice isn’t readily available or discussed. We have to go hunting for it.)  

So, here are the three hormones that can cause us woes and foods we can eat to help them find balance in our bodies:

 

Prostaglandins

These hormones play a major role “in a wide range of body functions such as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, control of blood pressure, and modulation of inflammation.” Prostaglandins are also involved in the start of labor for pregnant women, causing the uterus to contract. In fact, semen contains a lot of prostaglandins in it and may be one of the reasons that sex around the timing of one’s due date is said to jump start labor for some women. Forgive me, I had to throw out that weird but interesting factoid. Lastly, prostaglandins play a major role in inflammation in the pelvic region, especially. An imbalance of the different types of prostaglandins (PgE1, Pg E2 & PgE3) can lead to increased local inflammation and heavy menstrual cramps.

Prostaglandins can become out of balance and cause pesky, painful PMS symptoms when fatty acid supplies are too low. Essential fatty acids include both Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids, and they operate best in our bodies when they’re in balance with one another. When fatty acids are available within the body, The Center of Genetics, Nutrition and Health (based in Washington, DC) has found additional benefits for the reduction of breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma! This is pretty mind-blowing and awesome (to me). So, even if your menstrual cycles are pain free and regular, there are still many benefits to eating a diet with plenty of fatty acids of both kinds. But note: Most people are deficient in Omega-3s and need to eat more foods chocked full of them. This begs the next question; Where can we find these foods?

 

Omega-6 Fatty Acid Foods

  • Flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, flaxseed meal
  • Hempseed oil, hempseeds
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Seeds such pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds
  • Nuts, including pignolia (pine) nuts and pistachios
  • Borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant see oil
  • Acai
  • Corn
  • Sunflower
  • Soybean
  • Cottonseed oil

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Foods

  • Salmon Fish Oil and Alaskan Salmon (wild-caught)
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Walnuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Ground Flaxseeds
  • Albacore Tuna
  • Hemp Seeds
  • White Fish
  • Anchioves
  • Egg Yolks

If you’re hesitant about adding any of these important Omega-3 foods to your grocery list then you can check out one of two convenient options for an Omega-3 boost to your system:

  1. Oatmega – a protein/snack bar full of fish oils that comes in a variety of flavors (don’t worry, you can’t taste the fish oil)
  2. Daily Harvest – a monthly, smoothie-delivery company that has creative, delicious and healthy ingredients, and several smoothie flavors that include omega-rich foods (I’m debating stocking my freezer full of these yum-yums)

 

 

Estrogen

For a long time women have naturally assumed that the aging process is accompanied by a precipitous decline in estrogen as we creep towards menopause (or sometimes fall headfirst into it). We hear that the older we get the less estrogen we have. In fact, by about 50 years old, women have approximately 35% less estrogen than they did in their “younger years.” But that’s not the full picture of what’s happening in our bodies…

As the female aging process begins around 35 years old (i.e., when fertility shifts due to changing hormones), women experience a much more dramatic dip in progesterone than estrogen. Progesterone actually drops by approximately 75% (!!!!!!) in the same amount of time that estrogen drops by 35%. This creates an imbalance in the two hormones that unfortunately leads to estrogen dominance. And “ED” isn’t any fun. Trust me, after weaning my son my hormones swung hard one direction (low estrogen) and then right back the other way (high estrogen). Both ends of the spectrum feel pretty crappy. Let’s just be honest.

You see, estrogen is kept in check by progesterone, especially in the latter half of our menstrual cycles. When estrogen is allowed to “run rampant” it likes to take our bodies on a wild ride. Large spikes in estrogen (both right before ovulation and a handful of days after) can leave us experiencing all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms.

*Some* Signs of Estrogen Dominance:

  • PMS
  • Hot Flashes
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased libido
  • Increased weight gain, especially around the middle
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Headaches
  • Excessive/heavy/long menstruation
  • Thyroid problems
  • Depression
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances

*Other Conditions That Science Suggests May Be Caused (in part) by Estrogen Dominance: Endometriosis, Fibroids, Fibrocystic Breasts, Cervical Dysplasia, Breast/Uterine/Ovarian Cancer.

Foods That Can Boost Estrogen

(*remember, this is typically the opposite of what people need)

  • Farm-raised, non-organic eggs, meat, fish and dairy products
  • Sugary and processed foods – caloric overload in our diets increases fat mass in the body which leads to estrogen overload (same applies to overeating any foods but sugar and processed foods often have “empty calories” that add up quickly)
  • Produce that has been sprayed with heavy pesticides
  • Soy products, especially when processed
  • Drinking from plastic water bottles – a recent widespread study was conducted investigating major brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Nestle, and found on average 15 free-floating plastic particles in each bottle (I don’t want to drink plastic! If only I could find a crying emoji to put in here…)

For foods that help keep estrogen in check, read on to the next section…

 

 

Progesterone

If you read the section about estrogen, it becomes glaringly apparent why progesterone is so important for women’s health. You’ll also remember that we discussed how much progesterone drops at a ridiculous rate as we women age. Why must every stage of life be complicated as a woman? Seriously. But the good news is that there are LOTS of foods that can help boost progesterone – and they come with a plethora of other health benefits, too.

Please note that progesterone can be too high for some women, although this is a bit less common than estrogen dominance which afflicts many women who are overweight, over-stressed and/or between the ages of 35-60.

A few signs of progesterone dominance include:

  • Weight fluctuations
  • Feelings of sadness or anxiety
  • Sleepiness
  • Bloating
  • Dizziness
  • Waking up feeling groggy
  • Not feeling like you

Foods that Boost Progesterone:

*Note: None of these foods contain progesterone per say, but they have the nutrients required for supporting the hormone’s production in the body, and many of us could use MORE of this particular hormone.

Meats:

  • Red Meat
  • Turkey
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Shellfish

Fats:

  • Olive oil & olives
  • Coconut oil or butter
  • Eggs
  • Avocado – also on fruit list

Veggies:

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Russet potatoes

Fruits:

  • Avocado
  • Kiwi
  • Banana
  • Prunes
  • Lemon

Nuts, Legumes & Seeds:

  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Walnuts
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Flaxseeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Grains:

  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Millet

Misc:

  • Cacao
  • Yogurt

 

I hope this is helpful information for you whether you’re a woman hoping to be expecting some day or a woman trying to understand the yo-yo of hormones that IS perimenopause. Godspeed to us all! 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

 

 

 

The Controversy Over Fit Moms

Whether you love ’em or love to hate ’em, there’s little doubt that a big splash has been made in the blogosphere and on social media by self-professed “fit moms.” The cliche image of a fit mom is that of a woman stripped down to her sports bra, wearing tight-fitting spandex, working out while her little ones run around her, sit on top of her, and tag-along as she does her errands and chores. Why the fuss over these healthy mamas? What is it about them that’s so alluring, intimidating and inspiring all at once?

 

Here’s the truth about “fit moms”…they’re NORMAL. Yes, I promise. They are.

They’re normal women who are trying their best, through controversial posts and all, to inspire other women to improve their health. And even though their posts might look picture *perfect* their lives most certainly are not, and neither are their bodies, regardless of the glam poses they strike while they flash their six-packs. Every mom, dare I say every WOMAN, is imperfect, even when striving to appear the opposite way.

There are thousands of Instagram celebrities who strut their hot stuff while manipulating their body angles to look their best, deleting all the flawed and REAL trial runs before selecting the most flattering video or picture for a post. This is all phony, it’s true. BUT, I will also say that *most* of these women (although certainly not all) are trying to figure out how to inspire others. The problem is that not every woman is positively influenced by these images.

As a fitness professional, even I can feel intimidated and shamed by these posts when I’m having a bad day. Or even a good one. I can feel self-conscious, wondering if I should be working out harder even though I have vowed not to overdo it on exercise during years of my life where childbearing and a healthy balance for my body are essential. But then I take a step back and ask myself what these feelings say about ME instead of “THEM.”

 

 

The thing is…in our society, and particularly in all forms of media, image is glorified. Obviously. But when I ask myself who I am without my image, and without the typical titles of wife, mom, daughter, fitness professional, writer, UVA and Georgetown graduate, and lover of interior design, I come up with something more authentic. When I strip away the materialistic, the aesthetics, and the titles, I’m so much more. And so are you.

I’m a spiritual being. I’m positive energy. I’m a woman who pours out her heart to strangers because it seems better to connect than disconnect. I’m a listening ear because I believe everyone has a story to tell. I’m a believer in God, even when there are a thousand reasons to doubt and buy into all the lies this world tells me about who I am and who I should be. I’m a hopeless romantic because I believe wholeheartedly in love itself rising above all things. I’m a constant giver-to-others who has been learning to return some of that love to herself….by reminding myself who I am, not relying on the world to do it for me.

 

 

When we only look at the surface of fit mom posts we see the following…

Amy Updike

A fit mom who competes in beauty/fitness pro competitions, baring her sculpted, bikini-clad body before judges to be pitted against other ripped and lean women.

When we look deeper and listen we see…

A woman who desired to live a healthy lifestyle through fitness competitions and who was faced with feelings of stress when she began competing with “deflated” boobs post-breastfeeding her first child. Amy explains that her chest wasn’t just flat but wrinkled too, making it impossible to “push up” anything in her bikini competitions. Amy states that she actually liked her athletic-looking body (flat chest and all) and enjoyed the freedom of lifting weights without her chest in the way, but felt pressured by her competitions to take action. She decided to get implants and underwent multiple surgeries that caused complications and ongoing pain. Amy finally decided to “explant” and tell her network about the news. Amy explains in a video confessional that she knew the implants were for shallow reasons but she thought it would make her feel a little better about herself. See…even people who win bikini competitions can be self-conscious at times.

Sia Cooper

A mom of two whose Instagram following is gigantic and who is sought-after for endorsements. Sia’s beach life and abs are swoon-worthy but there’s more to the story…

When we look deeper and listen we see…

Sia is a woman who has overcome a tough childhood and a mother telling her that she was never good or pretty enough. She is a woman who has suffered from body dysmorphia, depression and gender disappointment. She is a woman of grit who is trying to prop up others through honesty and humility. And yes, maybe a little oversharing, but when you have 630K+ followers…that’s what they demand. So they can’t complain! Plus, oversharing the bare truth is where we find meaning and empathy.

Maria Kang

Mom of three boys, Maria was slammed for posing for a picture in a sports bra alongside her sons as babies/toddlers (3 yrs, 2 yrs, 8 months), with a caption over the photo saying “What’s Your Excuse?” To some people, the photo appears intimidating and arrogant, until you learn more…

When we look deeper and listen we see…

Maria has suffered from depression and bulimia, and was filled with fear when she was unemployed, lacking health insurance and pregnant with her first child out of wedlock. She experienced all the feelings you would imagine for a woman in this position, but as she started pushing forward and hoping a little harder, her fear gave way to perseverance. And a self-created mini empire for fitness fanatics. 

 

 

You see…just like Maria Kang’s burning question, “What’s Your Excuse?” all of these fit moms are confessing to be filled with the same excuses, fears and challenges as the rest of us are, yet they find a way to harness their self-doubt and become proactive for their health. None of them has a perfect life or perfect body. Heck, I’m sure many of them battle old demons regarding their body images, but they still try. They still try to find “healthy” in the middle of their snot-smeared, toddler-tantrum, sunrise-to-sunset days.

When I ask myself if I’m a “fit mom” I guess the answer is yes. I may not have a million followers…or even feel entirely comfortable with social media, to be honest…but I’m proactive about taking care of my health, in and out of the gym. So yea, in addition to being a fitness professional, I’m also a fit mom, a tired mom, a reaching-for-a-glass-of-red mom, a bath-time-singing mom, a trying-hard-to-work-hard mom, and a NORMAL mom. Just like ALL of us. Toned abs or not. And the sooner we lift each other up, instead of size each other up, the faster we all rise.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

The Reason I Avoided Ab Exercises During Bikini Season (Pelvic Floor Health)

Let’s dive into an awkward subject, shall we? In fitness, we’re accustomed to discussing our hamstrings, glutes, biceps, the like. We explore the ins and outs of the large muscles in our body because they’re familiar and frankly, easy to feel (and sometimes see) during exercises. We’re less apt to talk about the small muscles deep in the pelvis because it typically involves discussing the big “V-word”…that’s right, VAGINA. I said it. Now let’s embrace the elephant in the room. 

Many of us are hesitant to talk about incontinence, leaking, prolapse and pains “down south.” We hear that mysterious exercises called “kegels” help, but we wonder whether we’re doing them right or not. Beyond that, we’re left in the dark. We assume that surely, these issues only happen following childbirth or into old age as we decline in fitness, but that’s not the case. Women can suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles at any age, with or without having given birth, despite high or low levels of fitness, and even when knowing how to perform kegels. Sounds a bit daunting, but fear not… 

Confession Time

Take me, for example. I was at the gym doing a HIIT workout a few months ago when BAM. A gush of fluid rushed out of my “V-word” during a squat jump. I felt my face flush. What the ****??? I scaled down my workout that day and was nervous to run or jump during my next couple workouts. I wasn’t having any more leaking following that incident but I felt an increasing urge to pee, like all the time, for the next few days. And my girlfriends who have road-tripped with me already know about my notorious “tiny bladder” and its pit-stop needs. 

It was about four days later and my body still felt off. My husband and I decided to spend that Sunday evening taking our toddler to the grassy park overlooking Reagan National Airport to watch the planes coming in to land. Our son was giddy with excitement, having seen these planes many times from afar. Everything felt blissful and I was entranced by my child’s smiles. We were walking back to the car to head home when I felt a very sudden and very alarming feeling. It was as if something had fallen out of my vagina. It freaked me the heck out. Big time.

When I followed up with my OBGYN, I was told that my bladder was slightly lower than normal but that I wasn’t even a stage-1 level of pelvic organ prolapse. I was shocked because I thought certainly this feeling had to be associated with a more extreme condition. I was told to go home and do more kegels. That just wasn’t good enough for me, though. As a fitness professional, I know to always question one-stop-shop solutions, even healthy ones like performing kegels more regularly. That just couldn’t be enough, I thought, especially if I’m at a higher risk for developing true pelvic organ prolapse moving forward.

Let me take a step back and give you a little background as to where my body was at the time:

  • It was almost 1.5 years after giving birth to my son and I had recently finished breastfeeding
  • I stayed in shape during my pregnancy and postpartum, and was still regularly exercising
  • I had experienced zero issues with my vaginal health as I returned to pre-pregnancy fitness levels following childbirth – no vaginal tears (wowzers, I got lucky there) and no leaking or issues with bladder control
  • I was confident that I was doing kegels right but, admittedly, hadn’t done them as much following the first 6 months of the postpartum period

I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me at this point in time, so late after giving birth to my son, and with no warning signs. I knew there had to be a professional who could shed more light on the situation…and there was.

The Pelvic Floor 

I met a fantastic professional named Dr. Jennifer Nelson (PT, DPT, COMT, CMTPT) with Therapydia in Washington, DC, and she was the one who helped me get to the bottom of why this could be happening to me…and let me tell you, the answers were completely unexpected, but perfectly logical, at the same time. Here’s why she believed *my case* of near-prolapse occurred:

  1. Overly TIGHT muscles, not weak ones, particularly in my abdomen.
  2. Years of being in the fitness industry, sucking every core muscle in unnaturally, shifting the tilt of my pelvis under muscle tension and creating excess intra-abdominal pressure.
  3. An accident from nearly 10 years ago that caused my left piriformis to stay cramped up, causing a chronic stress on my pelvic muscles (this was something that could only be released through INTERNAL, manual palpation…that’s right, through the vagina).
  4. Caffeine consumption irritating the bladder and causing it to become hyper-reactive and perhaps inflamed (ahem…yes, I confess I was drinking more coffee than I should have been due to normal mom-fatigue). Apparently artificial sweeteners and alcohol can cause similar irritation.
  5. Hormones adjusting back to pre-pregnancy levels following the natural weaning of my son. In other words, breastfeeding hormones can keep joints and muscles more loose and tender, just like during pregnancy, so my body’s sudden, enhanced tightness may have been from hormones acting like a roller-coaster.

Every woman’s experience with prolapse symptoms, whether they’re full-blown or not, is different and brought on by unique causes.

 

Reality Check: Prolapse is Common (albeit not talked about)

While learning more about my own experience with these sensations, I discovered how common pelvic organ prolapse is. Prevalence in post-menopausal women is over 40% and in younger, pre-menopausal women, who have given birth to one child, mild to moderate prolapse has been discovered to be quite common as well. While weakened pelvic-floor muscles are thought to be one of leading causes of prolapse, there is still more being discovered.

 

Running, Lifting & Pilates

There are some researchers who suggest that increased abdominal pressure, created from lots of endurance running, heavy lifting, and/or Pilates and core exercises, contributes to prolapse issues. This begs the question: Are we hurting our bodies through modern exercise?!? 

My thought is that we are doing our bodies GOOD through modern exercise, but that we need to increase our awareness of the excess pressure we create in our core which contributes to the “downward push” of our organs, when not kept in check. We also need to keep in mind that just because contemporary images of beauty align with a flat stomach, devoid of any of the natural roundness which has marked beauty and women’s bodies for centuries, doesn’t mean that standard is right. Modern women are sucking in their tummies at the expense of their vaginas. That’s the unfortunate truth, ladies.

 

How Do Women Prevent Prolapse?

For starters, it’s important not to ignore those good, ol’ trusty kegels. They help maintain the integrity of the small, but oh-so-crucial, pelvic floor muscles. The key is to practice these regularly (I know, I know…not the first thing most women add to their to-do list at the start of each day) and to hold the contraction for the appropriate amount of time; 10 seconds per kegel. Focusing on the release of the muscles from the contraction is just as important as the tightening of them. This is a good rule to apply to gym exercises too.

Another way to stay on top of preventing prolapse is to take a gradual approach to getting back into shape following childbirth. Upcoming app Matriarc is a great place to start. It helps women regain fitness during the postpartum period with a heavy focus on SAFE core and pelvic exercises.

Additionally, allowing the stomach to be soft and relaxed, in its natural state, is important. Frankly, it sucks to think about the damage our egos (mine included) could be causing to our bodies. So, let’s all be confident women in the shapes we possess rather than twisting and contorting (and sucking in) to conform to society’s “norms.” Our bodies are pretty awesome without all the [intra-abdominal] pressure. 😉

*Please note that this list of suggestions is not all-inclusive. If you’re concerned about your risk of pelvic organ prolapse or are experiencing leaking, incontinence or a feeling of pressure in your vagina, please contact your OBGYN right away.* 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie