It’s no secret that pregnancy is a taxing process on the body, but it’s also an amazing time of growth and transition. The months leading up to birth are full of beautiful moments in anticipation for the arrival of your new baby (and perhaps equal parts nausea, anxiety and crushing fatigue).
When you give birth, there are so many wonderful things waiting for you: bonding with your sweet babe, learning how to feed and bathe them, adjusting to being a new parent.
And you’ll do these things while recovering from the physical strain and trauma of pregnancy and childbirth… while your hormones are raging and your mood is doing gymnastics.
A major thing that can improve your experience and help you cope with the competing demands of postpartum is training your focus on so-called “Big Rock” healthy habits.
Big Rock Habits
Consider a large mason jar. Now let’s consider you want to fill it with rocks. You have a handful of large golf-ball sized rocks. And you have a bag of gravel.
If you pour the gravel into the jar first, you won’t be able to fit the large rocks in the jar.
But if you put the big rocks in first, the gravel will easily fill the space around the big rocks and everything will fit.
“Big rock” habits are the most important things you can do for yourself. For new parents, this could mean being extra mindful of nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management and pelvic health.
The gravel is everything else.
Take care of the big rocks first. Your big rocks are the healthy habits that come with the most bang for their buck.
Your Big Rock habits support your postpartum recovery
After pregnancy, your body is working hard to recover from childbirth and adjust to parenthood. Choose “Big Rock” healthy habits to support strong muscles, help with the healing process post-birth and help ease mental stress of being a new parent.
Here are some Big Rock habits that you could adopt during your own postpartum recovery:
1. Drink lots of water:
Water makes up 2/3 of your body and it helps regulate your body temperature, fight infections, digest food, maintain muscles, brain function and more.
Beyond these generic benefits, drinking lots of water also helps your body heal from pregnancy and childbirth. If you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding, you’ll need to be extra aware of your hydration since you’re hydrating for two.
According to the National Acadamies of Sciences, Engineering and Medecine, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for 3.0 L total water (2.3 L from beverages) during pregnancy and 3.8 L total water (3.1 L from beverages) when lactating.
2. Eat your protein and produce:
Postpartum nutrition has everything to do with fueling your body to heal after pregnancy and childbirth, support lactation and optomize your energy.
Consuming enough calories is the first priority. The next priority is eating enough protein, fruits and vegetables to provide your body with the essential building blocks it needs to do the things it needs to do.
It’s not necessary or advantageous to micro-manage one’s diet during the early stages of postpartum (or parenting). Rather than thinking about absolute quantities of nutrients, focus on including a protein source and produce in every meal or snack.
If you want a fun challenge with lots of wiggle room, I like to shoot for eating 30 plant-based whole-foods a week. The number isn’t magic, but if you’re eating a wide variety of plant based foods each week, you’re likely to cover a lot of your micronutrient needs. It’s also a fun goal to rope any bigger kids into keeping track of.
3. Get enough sleep:
Sleep is vital during postpartum recovery, as all of your muscles are still healing from childbirth. Deep sleep is where that healing happens. Getting enough sleep will help you more easily cope with the challenges of new parenthood.
During the first months with a newborn, getting sleep is easier said than done.
Do your best. Of course, you will have to be up to feed and tend to your newborn.
Prioritize sleep where you can. An extra hour of Netflix or an extra hour of sleep? –> Sleep! A workout or an extra hour of sleep? –> Sleep!! Until you are routinely sleeping 6-7 hours (or ideally, 7-8 hours a day!), do your best to prioritize sleep over all else.
4. Practice stress management techniques:
Dealing with stress during postpartum recovery is important, as stress can have many negative consequences on your body.
– Physical activity (including discrete “exercise” sessions and non-exercise movement such as casual walking)
– Deep, slow breathing exercises (Try a diaphragmatic inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds)
– Creative expression (writing, drawing, knitting)
– Call a friend (don’t underrate social connection!!)
Stress is real and stress management is not trivial. Truly, it’s a complex area that deserves it’s own post (it’s in the pipes!). So please know, I’m not downplaying the very really stressors of the postpartum period and I’m aware that deep breathing won’t manage your response to them all. But it can take the edge off and in the moment, that can make all the difference.
Give these simple strategies a try and see if a few of them resonate with you.
5. Make time for movement:
Physical activity helps strengthen muscles, reduce stress and manage pain after birth.
Movement comes in 2 categories: “exercise” and “non-exercise” movement
“Non-exercise” movement is typically unstructured, low intensity activity. For myself and most of my clients, non-exercise movement comes in the form of walking. I recommend working up to at least 30 minutes of walking a day, regardless of whether you are engaging in more formal exercise.
“Exercise” is the structured activity we are most familiar with. It’s the workout with discrete exercises we package into a 30 or 60 minute session. Exercise is wonderful for building muscle and serving as a laboratory for experimenting with your changing body.
During the immediate postpartum period, non-exercise movement will be more appropriate than structured exercise. But as the weeks tick by, you’ll be able to add structured exercise back into your routine.
For a deeper dive into returning to exercise after pregnancy, visit this post:
Exercise After Pregnancy: A Guide to Fitness in the Fourth Trimester
6. Address your pelvic health.
Pelvic pain, heaviness and incontinence (leaking of urine, stool or gas) are very common postpartum and they can have a major impact on your quality of life.
Fortunately for you, there are resources to help you address any and all pelvic health concerns.
Make an appointment with a pelvic health physical therapist around your 6 week OB check-up. Address these issues proactively and you’ll have a stronger, more comfortable postpartum-recovery.
For more information on pelvic floor physical therapy, visit this post:
A Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Primer: What Is It? Who’s It For? What Should You Expect?
Do these things consistently
Okay, I’m sneaking in an unofficial 7th habit- and it’s the toughest one: you’ve got to practice the hydration, nurtrition, sleep, stress management and movement consistently. It takes time to recover after giving birth, but you’ll get through it!
Tips on how you can make your transition back into the world easier and less stressful
You might be in for a little bit of an adjustment period when you start to get your life back. Adjusting after having a baby can be hard because you probably won’t feel like yourself for a while. That being said, there are some things you can do to make the transition a little easier and less stressful.
– Get help from family or friends so that you don’t have to go through this alone if possible. Having people around who understand what’s going on will make coping with postpartum recovery much easier.
– Take time for yourself after birth, whether it’s by taking a bath, getting a massage, or just cuddling up with your baby.
– Find someone who can watch your baby while you’re getting a much-needed nap.
– It’s OK to say “no” sometimes. It’s OK to not have everything together and it’s totally normal for things not to go as planned. You can’t be perfect all the time, so don’t beat yourself up if you miss a deadline or need help from someone else.
– Be patient with your body. It’s been through a lot, so you might have to wait a little while before you start to feel strong again.
– Try not to compare yourself to other people. Everyone recovers differently and everyone has a different experience after giving birth. There’s no “normal” way to get your life back together, so just do what you personally need to get yourself feeling better.
It’s important to adopt healthy habits for a strong postpartum recovery so you can get back into the swing of things as soon as possible. The Big Rock habits described here are a great start!
Read more about postpartum recovery:
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Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I also offer personal training services and consultations to folks locally (Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland) and online.