Getting Back Into Shape Post-Pregnancy

With a house full of young children and a busy career in fitness Diana Archer Mills has mastered the art of safely bouncing back into exercise post-birth. Here she shares her secrets to success – along with some of the challenges and hilarity you can expect along the way.

Firstly, tell us about your own experiences getting back into exercise after birth.

“I have always used exercise as a mood enhancer, a state change, so very soon after each birth I was desperate to get back into fitness to get the endorphins flowing – regardless of what my body was saying! During the first few months I had to devise new and (for me) bizarre workouts to get me through. I’m lucky because I have the training to know how hard I can safely push my body, so my journeys back to fitness have not been fraught with the questions or fear some new moms face. But I can also be a little reckless, and have suffered injuries after diving in too quickly … I like to think that I’ve learnt now.

Of course I am not a machine, there were weeks when I would mainly lie in bed and look at the baby, then walk to the kitchen for snacks while he or she slept, then climb back into bed.”

Were there any particularly tough times?

“There have been so many lower than low moments! So many times when, with sick unsettled babies, exercise felt completely impossible – yet totally necessary for my sanity.

Mastitis with Max was almost a weekly occurrence. I’d get a blockage from wearing a sports bra, not changing out of a sweaty sports bra immediately, wearing an ill-fitting top, being in a bad mood, not drinking enough water … it felt like anything would set my breasts off! Once it started I‘d go into full ‘don’t let it get worse’ mode, which meant massage, cabbage leaves, and a whole heap of lying around feeling like rubbish while dreading the extra painful feeds.

Then there was the first time my nipples tore. Warning, this is gross – but Max was born without a natural suckle – and he pulled the tops of my nipples off within a week. So much blood. It was seriously horrific when I think back on it. We powered through with the feeding – but it took eight long weeks for them to heal and for him to get big enough and develop his suckle. That was probably the most challenging time, and eventually one of my proudest achievements.”

You obviously made it through the tough times, perhaps a little stronger – and smiling?

“I think most situations have an element of hilarity to them as a new mom. You hear constantly, ‘no one ever mentioned XYZ!’ and it’s so true! Accidental boob squirts at strangers, the baby pooping during one of those super long newborn feeds and it slowly seeping through my clothing, holding baby on the breast as I waddle to the bathroom and try to pull underpants down with no hands. Everything is funny after it happens.”

You mentioned getting back into exercise started with some ‘bizarre workouts’. Tell us more…

“I needed exercise that would work for me no matter what, even when it seemed impossible to train – which is quite often with one baby, let alone a house full of children! I was looking for something that would take me minutes, that I could do anywhere with any baby and that would leave me feeling successful and stronger.

I started writing down my own exercise ideas, like a simple way to work my legs while pushing the pram, and ways I could train while the baby was in the front pack. I’d use these lists when my brain couldn’t engage for itself and I wanted to move.”

So how did these ‘bizarre workouts’ transform into a fully-fledged post-pregnancy program?

“After my daughter Luna was born, I began talking to my friend Nat (a fellow fitness professional) who also had a newborn. She loved the idea of a new mom workout plan – so we got together with our ideas, and the expertise of personal trainer Corey Baird, to start fleshing out the concept. Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Technical Advisor and Head of Research, then came on board to help perfect the moves – throughout it all I was used as the test dummy!

Our aim was to give new moms a simple workout they could do without any hassle, simple as that. A workout that grew as they did, and allowed them the freedom to work out without leaving their baby somewhere or relying on someone else to have the baby while they worked out.”

It’s not just exercise, you provide nutrition plans and recipes and new mom-specific health and wellbeing info. Is it important that new moms take on board the lot?

“Everything on the post-pregnancy platform is there to inspire and assist women. If you want to work out only, do it, if you’re just keen for a gorgeous roast chicken – please help yourself! The whole point of this is to ease a new mom’s burden, not create a list of rules she must follow.”

Given your role as Les Mills’ Creative Director and the fact your whole family is involved in the fitness industry, exercise is obviously a huge part of your life. How much emphasis do you think new moms should put on fitness. Is there such a thing as too much? And what are the risks?

“Everyone is different and everyone should put as much emphasis on fitness as they choose to. I think it is more about health. A mother shouldn’t run herself to the ground trying to get skinny, but she shouldn’t be told to slow down if it feels good. It only becomes an issue if you do too much high-intensity training early on, and you can risk milk loss, injury and exhaustion. So just do what feels good and what helps baby thrive!

If a woman doesn’t feel like exercising straight after having a baby, why should she? Movement is the key – just walking in the sunshine or the elements will give you a clear head and an endorphin boost, that’s all you need.”

What do you encourage new moms to aim for?

“I encourage all new mothers to make sure they feel good and remember that they are still them, as well as mother to the new miracle attached to them.

We are so freaking powerful as women, we have so much pressure put on us in this society and I think the most valid thing we can do is not take things too seriously. After all, motherhood is a hilarious thing we do. We carry and then push humans out of our most delicate personal places. And then we waddle around with damaged pelvic floors and puddling breasts, only caring for someone else’s needs – then we are expected to pick up where we left off and be the sexy, youthful, airbrushed versions of ourselves we see in the media!

We can be everything, mother, partner, boss, colleague, goddess of sensuality … the best thing we can do is mock the fact that it’s expected that we WILL do all these things with grace and dignity and lipstick.”

If you’re keen to find out more check out Les Mills’ post-pregnancy workouts.

Diana Archer Mills has a love of health and fitness running through her blood. She was just 12 when she started working in the gym owned by her parents (Phillip and Jackie Mills). Now, as Les Mills Creative Director she is behind the music and moves that feature in some of your favorite workouts. But that’s certainly not Diana’s most important role. Diana is a mom of four – so it’s fair to say she knows a fair bit about pregnancy, parenting and how to juggle a busy young family with a passion for health and fitness.

Also in Fit Planet