Bouncing Back After Baby Arrives
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
In her book Bouncing Back from Pregnancy (Nelson Books, 2005), chiropractor Dr. Sheri Lerner gives nutrition, exercise, and stress management tips for pregnant women and new mothers based on her personal experience of giving birth for the first time at age 36.
Why did you write this book for women?
DR. SHERI LERNER: The biggest thing after I had Nicole was managing time. I was 36 when I had Nicole and had been single my entire life not being a mom. I was the only one who had to fit into my schedule, so the world pretty much revolved around what I needed to do. And that was just a real rude awakening – not just from a time point of view, but I was a little overwhelmed in that I had only ever had to take care of me. I knew exactly what I needed. If I wasn’t doing OK, I knew what I needed to do to fix it. And all of a sudden I had a little baby, and I was like, “Oh, my word! Is she hungry? What does she need?” I was overwhelmed in the beginning, as I am sure many other mothers are.
I was completely overwhelmed with feeling just completely inadequate. I had cared for people for the last 15 years, including so many children, and all of a sudden it’s your own and it is completely different. I have a great idea of what kids need because I am a doctor and have been taking care of them and I was still overwhelmed. I was never the one up all night when they were crying. For sure it has made me a better chiropractor as far as knowing what to say to moms and dads who do have issue with their children. I have a much better idea of what they are going through.
I think a lot of mothers struggle to find time for themselves and for their husbands while starting a family. That’s what we really wanted to help moms with is finding time for yourself and still being committed and dedicated to your family.
One big concern for women who have given birth is whether or not they will get their figure back. Is there a way to do that, and is there a way to do that healthily?
DR. SHERI LERNER: I was a gymnast growing up. Spent 13 years as a gymnast and got weighed just about every day, so I always say to people that I am a recovering gymnast. Looking in the mirror to me has always been a traumatic thing. Through God and my faith, that has gotten a lot better. I see myself now as Christ sees me. It has taken a lot of work. So when I was pregnant, I was horrified. I really, truly was. I didn’t gain all that much weight, and as far as pregnant women, I wasn’t huge when I was nine months pregnant. There is a picture in the Body by God book of me showing my belly two days before I had Nicole, so comparatively, I wasn’t absolutely huge, but for me, I was like, ‘ Oh my gosh, there is cellulite on every part of my body.’ You think, ‘Will it ever go away?’
The truth of the matter is, yes, you can absolutely get your figure back or even a better one. If you had trouble in these areas before you were pregnant, there is a very specific, healthy way to do it. It is partly nutrition, but even more so, exercise. We teach in the Body by God program that people who exercise but don’t eat well are still healthier than people who eat well but don’t exercise. Exercise is definitely the more important of the two things. Between cardiovascular exercise and weight lifting, I actually got thinner and more fit than before.
If I had just given birth, I would be concerned about whether I should start exercising right away or whether I should give my body time to adjust. When do you recommend that women start exercising after they have given birth?
DR. SHERI LERNER: They need to check with their doctor and be cleared by their doctor before they begin exercising. It is really going to vary. Some women will have had a C-section, so they are going to have a longer healing period.
For me, I was terribly anemic after Nicole was born. I couldn’t figure out why I was dizzy every time I went up the stairs. Then I found out. So I needed to get myself healthy first.
Generally, at least four weeks is a good rule of thumb, but women need to check with their doctors first. If you have had a really rough time and you aren’t feeling too well, it could be longer than four weeks.
I wanted to exercise at two weeks, but I knew that I wasn’t well enough. I started probably at about four weeks by walking, and then gradually worked my way up to a little bit more. Nicole was born in February, and the following January, I ran a half marathon. There are women who four months after they give birth run a marathon. I have a cousin who has done that.
I worked out pretty much through my whole pregnancy. By the end, I couldn’t run any longer. I started from where I left off: I finished with my pregnancy walking, and that’s where I started.
You don’t want to cause premature birth, so I am just wondering, when should someone stop exercising before they give birth?
DR. SHERI LERNER: Really, so long as you are healthy and you are being checked regularly by a midwife or an obstetrician, it is safe to exercise throughout your whole pregnancy. They even say that running is safe through your whole pregnancy. It is safe to exercise throughout your whole pregnancy as long as there are no complications and you are being monitored.
If you are not exercising when you get pregnant, it is not good to start something new. The heart rate is the biggest thing. You have to keep your heart rate within a safe range in order to keep blood pumping properly to the fetus. If you are not in good cardiovascular shape when you get pregnant, you are going to have to be really, really careful with your heart rate.
A lot of women don’t want to strength train because they think they are going to look like the incredible hulk.
DR. SHERI LERNER: I love to run; I do not like to lift weights. I thought the same exact thing – Oh, my gosh, I am going to get big. This is going to make me huge. Three months after Nicole was born, I was starting to run quite frequently and pretty long distances – at least an hour or so. I had lost just about all my weight, but I still had baby fat around my belly. Ben [Sheri’s husband] hears me on the phone calling every girlfriend that I know that had a baby and got back into shape, ‘What did you do for your stomach?’ Finally, after about four months, he goes, ‘When are you going to ask me? I wrote a book, for crying out loud!’ I am like, ‘Oh, I never thought of that.’ So I am like, ‘What do I need to do to get rid of this stomach?’ He is like, ‘You need to start lifting weights. You will never tone. You can run and run, but you will never tone unless you incorporate the weightlifting.’
So I did, and it was amazing. The upper body workout – and this is not research-proven theory, this is my Sheri theory – if you are working out your upper body, you are taking all of the fat from your arms, and I really believe it pulls fat from your stomach. Even today, I work out faithfully with weights twice a week. If I miss, I will start seeing my stomach loosen up right away.
The weight training, especially if you are doing it properly, the way that we recommend in terms of the amount of repetitions that you do, the weight that you use, you are not going to get big. We typically recommend different things for men than we do for women.
I have been doing it for two-and-a-half years now faithfully, and I am not one ounce bigger than I was when I started. I am definitely more toned. When you look at me, you can see my muscles now, but if you measured me, I am not any bigger.
You also recommend some nutrition information for women who are pregnant. Obviously, pregnant women have got different needs. Could you talk about that?
DR. SHERI LERNER: We definitely want to make sure that we get lots and lots of food by God, which are your green, leafy vegetables, good, clean sources of protein, lots of grain, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids. The most important thing when you are pregnant is the Omega-3 fatty acids because they play a critical role in brain development. Those are the building blocks of your nervous system, so you want to make sure you are having enough of that. Obviously, you want enough when you are not pregnant, but that is going to help in the health and development of your baby. We recommend supplementing with B-6 and folic acid. That also helps with nervous system development. Omega-3 fatty acids are a little tough to get. You can get them in avocado, walnuts, salmon. Not being so certain that our water is clean, we recommend supplementing with a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Also, you talk about breastfeeding, that it is not just good for the baby, but it is good for you and it is good for weight loss.
DR. SHERI LERNER: Breastfeeding will help your uterus, all your organs to shift back into your normal position. When you are pregnant, your body produces a hormone that allows your ligaments to get lax because that allows your pelvis to separate as you deliver. Breastfeeding will help everything to firm up, to tighten up.
Also, it boosts your metabolism. The most beautiful thing for me with breastfeeding was that I could eat so much more than I normally would be able to and I stayed so thin. The next time I have a baby, I am going to be a wet nurse. I will pump forever! I could eat dessert at every meal, and I got away with it. I definitely don’t get away with it now.
Besides the fact that women don’t want to look bulky or are worried about hurting themselves, the other issue is time. How do I fit this in? I have this new baby who is crying all of the time, not sleeping through the night, I am really tired. How does a woman do that?
DR. SHERI LERNER: You would be really surprised in that it doesn’t take gobs of time. If you can fit even 20 minutes of cardiovascular in three times a week and 10 minutes of weight lifting two or three times a week, that’s enough. Obviously, depending on what level of fitness you want to achieve, you may need to do more. But you can get back into shape with as little as 20 minutes three times a week of cardio and 10 minutes two or three times a week of weight lifting.
It doesn’t have to be leave and go to the gym. You can do all this stuff at home. For example, when you are waiting for the baby food to heat up or you are waiting for the bottle to heat up if you are not breastfeeding, you can take a weight and in three minutes do one body part. You can exercise your biceps in the time it would take to heat the baby’s cereal up. It doesn’t have to be all at once. If you get three minutes here or there, go ahead and use that three minutes.
I was fortunate in my first three months I wasn’t working. Most women have at least six weeks. I really utilized nap time. You can use a piece of home gym equipment or you can get a videotape to watch on your TV and do a step class or pilates. We just came out with a Body by God exercise video that you can do at home. Little handheld weights that you can get at Sports Authority are not really expensive, and you can do the whole program at home.
The other thing when I wasn’t working was I had a jog stroller, and I took Nicole with me. We try to incorporate Nicole as much as we can. She is almost 3, and even now, my time up in the gym is time with her. We are fortunate that we have that at home. Anybody can have it at home. It’s just a matter of buying a couple of weights. We have a little one-pound weight, it might even be a half-pound, but she pretends she is doing it. Sometimes Ben uses her as a weight, which is also another option. Do some lunges while you are holding your baby.
As best you can with exercise, it is going to have to be scheduled. If your baby is on a schedule, schedule your exercise around that. I know it is never going to fit unless I do it before I go to work and before Nicole gets up, so I do it first thing in the morning. That means I have to get up at 5:15 a.m., but it is just that important to me. It is all a matter of schedule. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t ever happen.
Well, do you have any last thoughts?
DR. SHERI LERNER: I think the biggest thing is to be gentle with yourself, especially after you have had a baby. There are a lot of changes going on physically, emotionally, and with your schedule, so be encouraged. It is not a game of being perfect. And if you are struggling, the first thing always is to put God first. Ask God for help. Ask God to show you a way. If you are not finding time to fit Him in or to fit your exercise in or healthy nutrition in, the first thing is to say, ‘Help me! God, show me the way.’
All women are different. Some women can bounce back really quickly, but another woman might take a little bit longer.
DR. SHERI LERNER: What discouraged me after I had Nicole was that I had a handful of friends who all were in their regular clothes within three weeks. And I was like, OK, what’s wrong with me? The truth of the matter is that everybody is different, and there is nothing wrong with me. I bounced back. I didn’t lose it too quickly. I stayed healthy, and so did they. But I wasn’t them. They were just different than I was, and that’s OK. Be patient, and if you get off track one day, that doesn’t mean you stay off track. Just get right back on that horse and keep plugging away.
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