By Scott Scanlon // refresh Editor
You’d think Andrea Alessi would have a leg up on other mothers when it comes to bouncing back into shape after having a baby.
After all, her husband, Derek, is one of the most respected health and fitness experts in Western New York.
But 11 months after the couple’s third child was born, she still sounds like a lot of other moms about to celebrate the latest Mother’s Day with a new addition to the family.
“All I’ve been hearing is, ‘How do I get my pre-baby body back?,’ ” Derek Alessi said this week.
It’s good that lots of hugs, kisses and coos come with motherhood. How else could moms get through the shifting hormones, weight challenges and loss of sleep? The new duties, time demands and well-meaning advisers?
“It’s a big change. It’s exciting, but it’s change, and things won’t be exactly the same as they were,” said Dr. Anne Curtis, chairwoman of the Department of Medicine at the University at Buffalo. “Life will be different, but it will be good different, and you’ve just got to make the right adjustments.”
How can new moms balance health, nutrition, fitness and family responsibilities?
1. Have the right perspective. “In the early stages, you feel like there’s so many things you should be doing better,” said Jo Freudenheim, mother of two and chairwoman of the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. “It can be a very stressful time,” and there is a learning curve. See this as a time to grow as a person, as well as a mom, and don’t set a standard of perfection. Depression can be a part of postpartum life, and can have a lot to do with hormonal changes, Freudenheim said. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for a time if you need it.
2. Ease into better shape. “When you are pregnant, there’s that whole maternal, mom feeling,” Curtis said. “Then you give birth and you just look overweight.”
Curtis, a cardiologist, is an empty nester now, with three adult children, but remembers having to stop her 3-mile runs late in each of her pregnancies – and how hard it was getting back into shape. Andrea Alessi thought a third child would be easier, too, but said she discovered you have to ease into better fitness. “The danger,” said Curtis, “is not ever getting back into a routine.” She started by jogging a few times a week for a few minutes, then walking, gradually jogging more and walking less, then running more and jogging less. “I didn’t have overblown expectations in terms of what I was going to do,” she said.
3. Take care of yourself. “New parents are always enormously sleep-deprived,” Freudenheim said. “Whatever you can do to make sleep a priority is good.”
Andrea Alessi was on a rigid schedule when her first child was born four and a half years ago. “It all fell to pieces, and I was a wreck,” she recalled. “You get used to a certain routine and I had to let it go. The laundry will get done. We will eat, even if we order out. The house will get clean. It’s not going to be a disaster forever.”
Expect to visit the pediatrician often after a new child is born but also to visit your obstetrician at least once, Curtis said. If you are obese, the chances of high blood pressure and diabetes rise, so it’s important to try to return to a better weight. Breast exams, Pap smears, blood-pressure checks and cholesterol screenings are all important.
4. Eat and drink healthy. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins is important whether you’ve just had a baby or not, Freudenheim said. Drink alcohol rarely, in small quantities, because it can be passed to a child in breast milk. And smoking, both before and after pregnancy, is harmful to mother and child. New moms need to stay well-hydrated because it will help return to pre-pregnancy metoblism, Derek Alessi said.
5. Relationships will change. As a mom, you’re not going to be as available to your friends, at least not as often or in the same way. “Women need the time to figure out the right balance, because having a baby does change things,” Curtis said. “What was very helpful to me” added Freudenheim, “is there were a lot of other moms in my workplace, so we would trade a lot of information.” For all moms, a relatively new support group can be found at meetup.com/Buffalo-Mothers-Group.
On the Web: See a key pointer for moms who adopt a child today in the new Refresh Buffalo blog at buffalonews.com
Related: How you can support new moms; Derek Alessi talks more about fitness and nutrition for new moms, Page 10