Exercise for our mental wellbeing

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t prepared for becoming a mother. I mean I thought that I was, my pregnancy was planned, we had decorated the nursery and purchased all the baby paraphernalia we could possibly have needed and then some. I felt in control, excited and so ready for the next chapter of my life. Motherhood. And then my son was born, a beautiful, pink, squishy bundle of joy. Everything I had ever wanted, wrapped up in a mauve hospital blanket. He was perfect.

I will always remember the first night as a mummy. Rafe and I had to stay in hospital overnight because I had an epidural. Richard had gone home and I was in a ward with three other women and their babies. I did what I think most new mums do and sat staring at my new baby for most of the night. He didn’t cry, not once, I had to wake him up to make sure he fed, I thought I had some miracle baby that never cried! We got to go home the next evening and I was full of optimism that motherhood was something that came naturally to me…

Things changed somewhat in the coming days/weeks. Rafe found his voice and once he had mastered crying there was no stopping him. Richard and I stayed up with him in shifts during the night. Then my milk came in. SO PAINFUL. Breastfeeding hurt, I was healing from an episiotomy so that hurt. I just remember shuffling round in my dressing gown with my surgical stockings on, exhausted and not recognising the puffy, bloated, greasy haired individual staring back at me in the mirror. I had gained a beautiful, healthy baby boy and in the process lost ‘me’. I was unhappy with my body after I had Rafe. Then the fact that I was vain and shallow enough to care about what I looked like after having my gorgeous boy made me feel awful and self absorbed. Breastfeeding also meant I avoided going out much. Still do to an extent. I cancelled on people a lot and made excuses not to meet up. Seeing friends and family and going out for coffees or shopping just meant that I would need to be constantly and awkwardly fumbling around to get a boob out for my ravenous baby who used to cluster feed all the time at that point. Breastfeeding may be the most natural and beautiful thing in the world but lets be honest nobody wants to sit with their tits out in Costa getting disapproving looks from everyone around them.

My anxiety levels heightened enormously after having Rafe. When he was a newborn I just found myself imagining every possible situation where he could get hurt and talking myself out of going places. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to stop him crying and people would think I was an awful mother. I worried that I would be involved in a car accident and that he would get injured, I worried I would let go of the pram and it would roll into the road. I was basically a nervous wreck most of the time and it was hard. I still feel anxious sometimes and I tend to over think EVERYTHING. Something that helped me get through all this was exercise. That may sound daft but for me a workout can completely transform my mood. Exercising releases chemicals in the brain called Endorphins which give you a natural high. I remember when I used to run I would always go if I was feeling angry or upset about something and it would make me feel so much better.

Obviously having just recently given birth running was not an option so I started slow and steady by going for walks. Even if it was just twenty minutes around the block with the pram. When I was feeling well enough I started doing some post natal specific workouts that I sourced on YouTube. These were designed for women who had just had babies and helped to repair Diastaisi Recti (ab separation) and regain core strength. When I felt that my body had recovered enough I began lifting light weights again and then progressing to kettlebell workouts and then eventually back to my pre-pregnancy exercise routine. Obviously it’s very important to have had the six week checkup before embarking upon post baby exercise.

Beginning to workout again helped me on so many levels. Mentally I felt less anxious all the time and more in control of things. The natural high from the Endorphins meant I just felt happier and despite not getting much sleep I was energised after exercise. My body starting to regain it’s pre-pregnancy weight and shape made me feel more confident again and less self conscious and insecure. Taking the time out of my day to do something just for me and nobody else helped my sense of self worth. It’s so easy as a mum to put everyone and everything before yourself. It’s like you take a back seat in your own life. Doing this small thing that’s just for you makes you feel worthy again. We shouldn’t feel guilty for it either, babies always come first but if this makes you feel happier and more confident as a mother then it is actually benefitting our children aswell. I can’t speak for everyone, maybe some people won’t find working out hugely beneficial to their lives but I know what a massive, positive change it has made to mine and I would urge anybody unsure just to take the first step and start and see where it takes you.

Jess xox

I would just like to take a moment here to point out that this post is not written about post natal depression and I am not implying that the answer to post natal depression is exercising. Exercise may help but anyone feeling low after having a baby should definitely speak to their doctor.

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