by Alexandra Powe Allred
It's the age old question, "Will my body ever be the same after childbirth?" Yes and no. Motherhood can make women look and feel even stronger than before. "Muscle memory" is a term that many athletes use again and again when talking about making a come back after pregnancy. While the term is relatively new, the idea is not. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Russians help the philosophy that women athletes who had babies came back stronger because they had trained throughout their pregnancies and endured childbirth.
But in the United States, this was a foreign concept. It was not until the mid-1980s, when we began to see gold-winning performances from athlete/moms that coaches, sporting organizations and moms-to-be began to embrace the notion. Women who were once afraid to begin a family until after their retired from their sport are now planning their pregnancies and comeback with renewed fervor. From marathon runners and cross-country skiers to sprinters and fitness pros, women are coming back strong than ever before, dispelling the myth that once you athletic career is over.
New moms turned in record breaking performances in the last two decades, making coaches rethink the importance of muscle - mother muscle, that is. For women who train - whether it is aerobic workouts four times a week or elite athletes training for sport - throughout their pregnancy, not only is their delivery faster and easier, they recover more quickly. We know that muscle memory plays a large part in this.
When Mia Finnegan, Ms. Fitness Olympia, announced her pregnancy, many people wrote her off. In a sport that demands buns of steel and six-pack abs, how would she ever be the same? Admittedly, she wondered, too. Will I ever get my shape back? Will I get my abs back? But it wasn't too long after she had her baby that the urge to shape up kicked in. Muscle memory was a huge factor in her success. "I started back to training. Nothing radical. But my body responded immediately. I personally believe your body has muscle memory. I got my body to a certain point before pregnancy, so it was easier the second time around because my body had already been there. Only, now it's better."
That's right. You heard her. Better. Athlete after athlete has given testimony to the fact that as a new mom, they had to be more structured about their workouts. These athletes all became more organized, efficient and determined. Because they no longer had free time, workouts took on a new meaning, as did nutrition. And, for many, because they were nursing, burning fat came more easily.
Many women worry that breastfeeding will change the shape of their breasts but the hard scientific data proves otherwise. Pregnancy, not breastfeeding, is what changes the shape of the breast. The choice to not breastfeed only robs the baby of mother's milk. Elite athletes, who already have high metabolism, really benefit from breastfeeding. That, they say, combined with muscle memory, snaps the body back to its pre-baby form.
"Only better," says Gwen Torrence, gold-medalist for the U.S. Track and Field. Torrence is just one of hundreds of athletes who believe muscle memory combined with muscle maturity creates a stronger stamina and endurance. "It can only happen when you go through pregnancy, go through childbirth and, begin to train again. Everything changes after pregnancy, including your muscles." At first, Torrence says, they are exhausted but given enough recovery time, they become more powerful than ever before.
As for Finnegan, she did get her body back. And those killer abs? Yes. The body, she says, went into autopilot once she began training again. Diet was the key factor.
U.S. Racewalker Michelle Rohl says, "Your body knows what to do. Eating is a different story." Learning how to eat with your changing metabolism, recovering body and new life is key. Can you get your body back? You bet! The real question is, are you willing to work for it?
Alexandra Allred is a former member of the US Women's Bobsled team, is an accomplished martial artist, and continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She has interviewed hundreds of athletes, models, actresses, trainers, doctors, and health/fitness experts as she sought to find answers to her own questions about working out while pregnant, arranging breast-feeding around a training schedule, diet when pregnant and breastfeeding, and encouraging her whole family.
Alex is the author of ten books, including Atta Girl! A Celebration of Women in Sports and Entering the Mother Zone: Balancing Self, Health & Family.
Copyright © Alexandra Allred. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.