Tag Archives: Motherhood

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

 

 

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The Marathons in Life

I’ve completed three marathons and the third was the hardest, not easiest. The first was the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. I was an idiot and ran it when I was completely under the weather, just because I was [am] stubborn and don’t like to give up on my goals, even when it’s wise to. The second was the Walt Disney World Marathon. That was a fun one. Lots of high fives with costumed Disney characters and pauses in front of iconic Disney backdrops (think Magic Castle) for mid-race photos. Ah, to feel young and innocent again whilst putting your body through a gauntletThe third marathon…the hardest marathon…was not your typical road race. It was a 17-month long commitment to breastfeeding. Yup, it was a marathon in every sense of the word; equal parts difficult and fulfilling, challenging yet beneficial for one’s health, and mentally grueling while simultaneously inspiring. Here’s how the lessons I learned from my road-race marathons applied to my commitment to something else. Gotta love exercise-life parallels. I’m all about ’em.

Good Things Don’t Come Easy 

Nursing was not something I was passionate about at the beginning of my journey with it, whereas I have always been very passionate about running. But my experiences running road races (shorter ones like half marathons, 10-milers and 10Ks, too) have taught me that tough commitments can have unexpected rewards. Thus, I stuck out the breastfeeding thing, using my stubborn, marathon mentality to get me through its challenges (of which there were many, including the fact that it was extremely difficult for me to produce enough milk through pumping…in order words, I had to be present around the clock to provide).

Somewhere about a year after my son’s birth I experienced a dramatic shift in perspective; instead of knowing I should appreciate the ability to provide for him in his infancy into toddlerhood, I finally truly appreciated it. It hit me one day out of the blue. I saw how much intimacy we shared, how quick the years ahead would pass us by, how much like a little boy instead of a baby he already was, and I knew. My heart finally understood that it was the hardest and best decision I had made for us both thus far.

Physical Discomfort Makes Us Mentally Tough 

I never knew that bloody heels and almost passing out during my first marathon would be things I would become grateful for. The painful experiences taught me not only to wear more protective socks and to avoid physical competitions when sick, but also that I was capable of enduring pain and moving forward a little bit tougher. This made shorter distances mentally easier in the future, and left me with the reassurance that, for better or worse, my body is capable of anything I might ask of it.

When my motherhood marathon began, I also endured pain…but it was much worse. TMI ahead, folks. In the first few months of nursing I had cracked nipples because of my son’s small mouth and his tongue tie (he was born a month early and we had to wait over a month for an ENT appointment). My hormones were crazy and at the start of every nursing session I experienced unthinkable letdown pain. I would literally cry out in pain or attempt to take deep breaths through tears. Getting through those upfront challenges built up my resolve that no matter what normal challenges lay ahead (nursing strikes, mastitis, maintaining supply) that I could handle it. Mommy’s battle gear was ready!!

The Second Time Around Will Be Easier

If there’s one thing I know it’s that being a novice is tough. Most first-time road runners don’t know how to fuel properly and typically don’t learn proper negative-split and cross-training techniques. But over time and with some effort, runners refine and evolve. They implement strategies to help them run faster while enduring fewer injuries.

Similarly, first-time moms encounter  many challenges that force them to be more strategic and build up their tolerance for future issues. For example, my nursing experience was initially tough, but I have no doubt that it paved the way for an easier experience next time. Aren’t most things easier for mom after the first child? Please tell me yes! 

No one said nursing a toddler was free of complications! Lol.

You Can’t Marathon Straight Through Life

In a study published by the NIH, the Mayo Clinic found that there may be an “upper-dose limit” for endurance exercise. In other words, marathon after marathon and sustained competition at an elite level can have detrimental effects on an athlete’s heart. Think of it kind of like overdosing on a medication…it goes from helpful to hurtful very quickly. Cardiac tissue can have multiple negative adaptations to intensive training, including large-artery wall stiffening, coronary artery calcification, myocardial fibrosis, ventricular arrhythmia and more. These devastating effects of exercising TOO much strip away all the benefits and longevity that come with exercise in moderation (which can increase life expectancy by 7 years!). At some point, we have to intuit when we’ve gone too far, when it’s time to move on from the marathon…for our health’s sake.

Similarly, what I consider the “marathon of motherhood” (i.e. nursing) isn’t intended to be something the mother and child practice forever. At a certain point, life’s demands, the child’s distraction or disinterest, or the mother’s need to focus wholeheartedly on her own health again, come into play. In fact, the volume of milk that a toddler needs goes drastically down after the 12-15-month mark, and too much milk or dairy can stand in the way of getting enough of other key nutrients. To continue “marathoning” the nursing in the same frequency as when the child was in infancy isn’t ideal for the child’s health (that’s not to say that some nursing isn’t still healthy, nutritious and emotionally satisfying for the child). Anywhere between 18-months and 3 years old is when experts say children naturally wean, meaning they lead the process based on their physical and emotional needs.

That said, my son was just under the 17-month mark and I knew it was time to stop pushing us both through our once-a-day nursing that remained; the morning nursing. I had been pushing him to continue for weeks, even though he was showing disinterest. We might get a few minutes of nursing in and that was that. I knew he was gearing up to quit – he loved his sippy cup with whole milk way more than me (well…my boobs) at that point and had recently found new ways to share cuddles and affection with me on/off throughout the day, filling the emotional gap that I was worried would be created by stopping nursing. I could also feel my own hormones and emotions crashing over the whole ordeal. It didn’t feel the same anymore. I felt like after nearly 1.5 years I really needed a few mornings to pass the torch to my husband so I could sleep in and get the rest my body was begging of me.

One morning a couple weeks ago, my son just flat-out refused to nurse. I tried everything I could to get him to and he just wouldn’t. I set him down to play instead and off he went on his merry little way. I knew. That was it. My marathon had ended. And it was actually a good thing for us both, I found.

Was it easy to nurse 17 months? Heck no. But it got easier over time. Was it worth it? Yes. 100% worth it. All marathons are. 

What’s your marathon? What have you been tasked with that requires every fiber of your being to persevere through? Most importantly, even when it’s hard, can you see the potential for the long road ahead to mold you for the better? Hang in.

 

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. It’s that I had the courage to start.”

-John Bingham, American Marathon Runner and Author

 

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

The Similarities Between Parenthood and Personal Training

Happy Spring, WellnessWinz Readers!

I’m officially back from maternity leave! *Deep breath.* Let me tell ya, it has been a whirlwind. This entire lifestyle shift means that I may not be able to blog as much as I would like to for a little bit, but I will do my best to produce meaningful and relevant content when and where I can until a better rhythm is established (and my son is letting me get more than a couple hours of sleep at a time, lol).

To kick off my return to the blogosphere, we have a somewhat humorous post: The Similarities between Parenthood and Personal Training. That’s right guys, I went there. I’m bold enough (or crazy enough) to compare my experiences as a new mom to the personal training experience. It turns out that my little one can be just as tough and demanding as a boot camp sergeant! He is my new little boss man and he kicks my butt. I’m like “No more! Have mercy, pleeeaaasseee!!” and he’s all “You WILL NOT rest until you climb the stairs 50 more times to check on me, change 20 more diapers, and feel like your back is going to break from rocking me!”

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Just following his lead! 😉 

A lot of the lessons I’m learning as a mom parallel ones I have experienced through exercise. For example, oftentimes anxiety over a situation as a mom is worse than the situation itself. For instance, within 24 hours of writing this my husband and I experienced one of the biggest fussy streaks in our son’s life. Every 45-50 minutes (one sleep cycle), he would wake up wailing and would be inconsolable. He did this all day and all night. None of us slept and we were all extra tired and cranky as a result. I began franticly googling all sorts of mumbo-jumbo and determined that he was experiencing a sleep regression. I was so sure of this that I texted some of my mom-friends and asked how on earth they survived such episodes in their children’s lives. I had resigned myself to sleeplessness for the next few weeks and was depressed thinking about the cloud hanging over all of us, bleeding into my birthday week and my first Mother’s Day. A bit selfish, but true.

When the crying escalated to an off-the-charts level, I felt desperate. Surely this wasn’t just something weird about my son’s sleep development, right? I mean, I get it – any change in my sleep patterns and I’m a crazy person. I called the pediatrician and we agreed to have him looked at. It took the doctor all of a couple minutes and a handful of questions to get down to the bottom of this stressful situation: he was constipated. My mind spun a million miles an hour over this simple explanation behind the manic day we barely survived. As I calmed down I realized that the simplest explanation was the right one. It wasn’t a complicated situation with his sleep. It was simply a need to poop. Poor baby. Apparently mama’s milk is so easily digested and turned into little baby parts that pressure doesn’t always build up in a baby’s system to help eliminate waste. 

AEBC2C5C-A537-493C-86D0-A44BC4D0990F Crazy how he went from this tiny preemie …

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…to this happy big boy!

Similarly, a lot of people come to me wanting to lose weight via personal training and pour out all sorts of complicated reasons for why they have been having challenges with it. I get it; losing weight is a physical, mental, emotional and sometimes spiritual process. Unfortunately though, we can get so caught up in thinking of the reasons that we AREN’T losing weight (job, time, family, convenience, etc.) that we bypass the simplest explanations for what WILL help us: controlling our diet and managing an exercise schedule and/or active lifestyle. The anxiety over trying to find some complicated solution for weight-loss troubles can blind people to the simple truth: they put a fork into their mouths one too many times a day and never hit the gym! Not exactly a mind-boggling revelation, right?  If only we could drop our anxiety as parents and/or people looking to feel good physically, then we would see the answers to our problems with more clarity instead of fishing for complicated, far-reaching explanations. Or turning to Google for the umpteenth time.

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Creative ways to stay active! On-the-go napping!

As a mother and personal trainer, I’ve learned that wellness is a balancing act, that change is a universal truth we can’t shake, that hormones are boss, and that your own opinion is the most important in determining what is right for both your body (and baby). Another very tangible lesson is that perseverance pays off…

Moms are encouraged to do “tummy time” with their babies; 3-5 minutes a couple times a day placing the baby face down so that neck, back and chest strength can develop through the baby’s effort of trying to lift his head and press away from the mat. When my son was first born, a month early, he was way too little to even consider trying tummy time. At just over 5 lbs he would just lie on the mat like a fragile little bird fallen out of its nest. At best, he might occasionally lift his head a tiny bit. We’re talking an inch or less. It was hard to imagine he would ever be able to do more.

Like a good personal trainer mom, I kept putting my baby on the gym mat for tummy time a couple times a day. Some days he wouldn’t tolerate it and would squeal and cry until I picked him up and other days he seemed to get the idea. He would attempt to lift his head and look around (complete with grunts and pitiful gasps). Around two months of age he was able to press up and look around while also cooing. Cutest thing ever. And at three months he surprised us one day and decided to roll over! The personal trainer in me beamed with pride over this early accomplishment. Bit by bit he grew before our eyes and today the gym mat is his favorite place during play time. In fact, many times as soon as I lay him down on it, face up or face down, he breaks into a big grin and squeals with joy as he works to grasp toys with his hands and kicks his legs playfully. It’s hard to imagine that this evolution will also turn into crawling and walking one day!

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Tummy time pro!!! 

Isn’t it funny though…that a person (even a tiny one) can accomplish feats they were never physically capable of with just a little bit of effort on a regular basis? Like adults attending the gym or working out, there are days when my son just isn’t feeling tummy time and there are days when he loves it. It’s normal to have days when we don’t feel like exercising, but persistence will go a long way. All we need to do is bite off a little, manageable bit at a time and we will see results emerge.

In my first three months postpartum, I’ve taken a similar approach. I’ve stayed consistent in being active but have taken things gradually. Thanks to having realistic expectations for my physical abilities day by day, I’ve actually been able to exercise 78 days out of 102 so far. That’s only 24 days postpartum without some form of movement. Mind you, a good number of the early days were focused on simple things like going on a walk, doing basic (and safe) core exercises on a mat, and performing yoga balance poses to regain stability after labor and delivery. Let’s not ignore the fact that there were Kegels too…LOTS of Kegels. Around three weeks postpartum, I was able to resume light weights at the gym and light resistances on cardio machines for short periods. Around five weeks postpartum I went for my first run – and wow it felt incredible!! Especially since I no longer had a baby in my belly to carry along! Although these days I do push him along in the stroller and it ain’t easy!!! 

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Stroller workout adventures!

Today, three months postpartum, I’m able to do almost everything I did before pregnancy – maybe even more! I feel like my emphasis on core conditioning (which I used to not prioritize as heavily) has left me stronger than ever in my stomach. Also, I’m shocked at how my cardio conditioning never felt like it took a hit since I stayed active during pregnancy. On my first run I felt like my lungs and adrenaline could have carried me through a marathon (although in reality that’s probably a euphoric disillusion). Staying active has not been easy in the wake of caring for an infant and suffering major sleep deprivation, but exercise has been a life saver, just as it was for my mental and physical health during pregnancy. I would be stir crazy and cranky without it.

When I left the hospital after having my baby I was shocked that I still had about 17 lbs to lose. Today, I only have about 3-4 lbs of that left. The short 30-45 minute long exercise sessions combined with eating about 200-300 calories less a day (than needed for weight maintenance) has helped me shed a few pounds a month. Honestly, it hasn’t felt like the exhausting post-pregnancy weight loss journey I feared. This is thanks to taking things slow and approaching the process with balance – something I’m confident all of my readers can do in their weight loss and fitness journeys if they approach them with patience and perseverance. Any good personal trainer or parent will do the same, approaching things on a daily basis, not trying to rush through rearing a child or getting a client fit. There is a due diligence and process to both. It’s all about the little steps. The small things DO add up – for babies trying to lift their heads up off the ground and for adults trying to see one pound melt off at a time.

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Leaving the hospital 17 lbs heavier than before pregnancy

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One month postpartum

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Two months postpartum

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Three months postpartum thanks to just a little effort adding up!

Happy to be back with you all in the blogosphere!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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