Bettina’s postpartum fitness parade, part 1: MommaStrong

This is the first in a series of posts on my postpartum fitness shenanigans. Next up: postpartum gymnastics.

Once I’d given birth, I was quickly itching to move physically. Not because I wanted to get back in shape or get my pre-pregnancy body back, which is a strong motivator for many women, and it’s complicated. I definitely get wanting to feel “like yourself” again, but there’s an unreal amount of societal pressure around postpartum bodies and weight loss that doesn’t sit well with me at all. I wanted to move because it makes me feel good, and it’s part of my identity. Honestly, in the first weeks after childbirth I struggled a bit with this complete shift of my identity to “100% mother”, and I clung to the hope that working out would provide a feeling of “I’m still me”.

Alas, you’re not supposed to work out when you’ve just given birth, and much less so if you’ve had a c-section. My midwife showed me some exercises I was allowed to do – one of them was lying down on the floor, lifting my arms, then putting them down again. Another was pelvic tilts. Not pelvic lifts, oh no. My bottom was not to leave the floor. Not really a “workout” in my book! I needed to completely redefine what “counted” as a workout. Which I did! (Incidentally, Tracy only just blogged about this yesterday, go read it if you haven’t already! I am definitely usually a person who judges her workouts.) The fact that I’m at over 240 on the 220 in 2020 Facebook workout challenge proves it – I started counting any sort of purposeful movement, even the pelvic tilts.

But still, can you imagine my delight when about 5 or so weeks postpartum I discovered an on-line programme called “MommaStrong“* that had a section for people who’d recently given birth, and then others for further down the line? And it even had a special programme for c-section recovery. It was $5 per month, so I signed up out of curiosity.**

Bettina’s MommaStrong set-up: a laptop, a red yoga mat, a baby toy (aka Captain Octopus) and her mini cheerleader: a baby dressed in blue tights and a grey sweater).

The MommaStrong philosophy is that you don’t need to work out for a long time each day to make a difference, what matters is consistence. The “Hazy Days” programme for the first 8 weeks postpartum is just 5 minutes a day. The later ones are 15 minutes each day, and for those there’s a new video every day. 5 or 15 minutes seemed feasible – it’s hard to fit in a long workout when a little person requires your attention pretty much all day. They’re basically HIIT exercises, although the “intensity” of the Hazy Days sessions is understandably low.

I like the MommaStrong approach overall. There’s no mention of weight loss, which is not the goal. The goal is to feel good, and feel strong, even if you only manage to do half the workout, in a nursing bra and spit-up covered sweatpants. Courtney Wyckoff, the founder and the person who leads all the videos, exudes a cheerful energy with a healthy dose of imperfectionism. She reminds me a bit of Adriene of Yoga With Adriene. MommaStrong tries to be inclusive. It’s not perfect: to start with, the name MommaStrong isn’t inclusive of all people who give birth, and they acknowledge that, but they do try. And the community helps make it more diverse – there’s a Facebook group of queer people doing MommaStrong called QueerStrong, for example.

Even so, I’ve been less than consistent. First of all, I still find it hard to do even 15 minutes every day. My baby has only recently started to tolerate watching me work out for a bit while lying next to me on a play mat without complaining. So other ways of moving, like taking him for a walk, have been easier. I also honestly enjoy going for a walk more than 15 minutes of HIIT. In the evening, when my partner comes home from work, I’m too exhausted to work out. And when I’ve had time, I’ve often preferred other forms of exercise, like yoga, or one of the other two things I’m going to write about in this mini-series: I’ve been doing an online postpartum gymnastics class and a “Kanga” class (more about what the heck that is in a future post!).

Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my MommaStrong subscription for now. I can see it coming in handy once I go back to work in February and time will be even scarcer – and I also don’t think swimming pools will reopen here anytime soon, so I’ll need something to do. A bite-sized 15-minute workout might turn out to be just the ticket.

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*MommaStrong is a whole universe, there’s also a programme for dads, one for teens, and a nutrition programme, all of which I can’t vouch for since I haven’t explored them.

**MommaStrong has recently switched platforms and increased their price to $12/month, which, while a steep increase, is understandable given the amount of material that’s available and work the team must put in to sustain it. I was floored when I saw the extent of it for $5/month.

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