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When I became a mother I finally realised what it felt like to be truly exhausted. The quote “I wish I felt as tired as I thought I was before I had kids” is so, so true. I feel like the newborn days are the most challenging sleep-wise (and everything-wise) for most parents, but my son has never been a ‘good sleeper’. When he was around two months old he would sleep a six hour stretch after his dreamfeed at 10pm until 4-4:30am and then he would feed again and drop off until 7am. This was amazing, but then teething started early at three months and following that came the four month sleep regression, so I am currently up every 3-4 hours feeding him, and that’s on a good night. This sometimes makes finding the motivation to workout (or do anything else for that matter) a challenge.
During sleep the body enters what’s called an ‘anabolic state’ this basically means the body builds or repairs tissues. The way we grow muscle or ‘tone up’ is by doing weight bearing exercise (eg weights, kettlebells, bodyweight exercises like push ups etc). The exercises tear the muscle fibres and the body then repairs the muscles with the help of protein and proper rest, meaning we become stronger and more toned. When we do not get adequate sleep, like when you are up multiple times a night feeding a baby, your muscles don’t recover as well, meaning you might feel sore for longer after a workout and find exercise more difficult. In addition to this lack of sleep is stressful to the body (as can being a mummy in general!) and stress can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is one hormone that counteracts another hormone called Testosterone. Testosterone helps with the building of muscle mass, men have much higher levels of this hormone than women, hence why they get bulkier when lifting weights whereas we just build lean muscle. Adequate Testosterone levels are a good thing when working out and the fact that Cortisol counteracts this hormone means that lack of sleep can affect our results from exercise.
So how can we overcome this as moms?! It’s the one job that you don’t get any time off from afterall. I am exclusively breastfeeding my son and he’s not great at accepting a bottle so I do all the night feeds so having a night off and leaving it to his dad is not an option for me. I would definitely advise mothers whose babies do accept a bottle to get their partners to give them the occasional night off or at least divide the night feeds between them. My other tips are things I do myself to try and manage working out and being healthy, whilst being mildly (and sometimes very) sleep deprived! First know your goal and keep it in the back of your mind at all times. Knowing what I am trying to work towards and thinking about how good I am going to feel/look when I get there keeps me motivated to get my workout done when all I really want to do is sit on the sofa in my dressing gown eating crisps! Just think of your goal!
The next thing that I do is listen to my body. If I am really not feeling a workout, if I ache and I know I am not concentrating on my form or being sloppy and rushing through exercises then I will stop and take a rest day. When you start exercising regularly and see results it can be difficult to take a rest day. Sometimes I find myself trying to force myself to exercise even when I am exhausted because I think that if I take a day off all my hard work will be undone. This is not the case at all, and in fact the rest days are when our muscles build and recover. Rest days are essential, particularly when you aren’t getting enough sleep. Just make sure the rest day doesn’t turn into a rest week…or month. If you really can’t stand to have a day with no exercise then changing the sort you do could be a good idea. Some days I will just take the baby for a walk which is gentle but still provides good LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio. Pilates or yoga are other more gentle exercises, although still might be a bit tough on sore muscles.
The next thing I would suggest is taking naps during the day. Not that I have ever done this myself since having my son…except accidently once whilst I was feeding him. But if you do get the opportunity to nap then I would take it, I just find it hard to sleep during the day, plus if I napped whilst my baby slept then my house would be a tip and there would be no washing, vacuuming etc done! Then there’s my good friend coffee! I rely on coffee a lot more than I used to since having a baby, sometimes I need it to give me a kickstart to the day. I am breastfeeding so I have to limit myself to only a couple of cups a day, my baby certainly doesn’t need to be caffeine fuelled! Too much caffeine is not healthy, it’s a diuretic (makes you pee more) and drinking too much can cause dehydration. Also caffeine inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and minerals, iron being one of them so I wouldn’t recommend having too much. A cup before a workout can be a great ‘pick me up’ though.
Good nutrition. Even though I cannot control how much sleep I get (or don’t get) I can control what I am fuelling my body with. Good nutrition is essential when exercising. Eating foods like complex carbohydrates (wholemeal bread, oats, brown rice etc) means you will have slow release energy to keep you going. As tempting as it is to eat sugary foods this is probably the worst thing you could do. Sugary foods cause blood sugar levels to spike meaning you may have a burst of instant energy but you will soon have a come down that will leave you feeling more tired and potentially reaching for more sweets. Don’t be afraid of carbs either. Before I got pregnant I cut carbs completely out from my diet and I felt awful and exhausted most of the time, carbs are fuel for exercise and will not make you fat if you are eating the right sort.
Finally adapt what workout you do depending on how the day is going. My life with baby is unpredictable. Some days he’s an angel, he goes down for his naps easily, he’s cheerful and happy to just sit and watch me exercise while playing with his toys. These days are great, I can lift weights in peace for 45 minutes to an hour. Then other days, like when he had his jabs or when he’s teething, he just wants cuddles all the time. And that’s just part of being a mum, he will always come first. And on those days I might just get a fifteen minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout done after he has gone to bed or do some squats and lunges in the kitchen whilst cooking dinner. Anything is better than nothing.
Just remember being a mummy is the hardest job in the world and you shouldn’t feel guilty for taking a bit of time each day for yourself. Exercise makes me a much happier, more relaxed and confident mum.