Leonie Lynch implores new mums to stop trying to be perfect,
Pilates instructor Leonie Lynch believes too much pressure is being put on today’s modern mammies
Limerick Pilates instructor Leonie Lynch, 37, has a degree in fine art, a PhD in marketing, myriad fitness qualifications, a toddler, a new baby – and a crucial message for new mums. ‘ Trying to live up to a supermom ideal is a farce. The idea that you should have your pre-baby body back in six weeks is a farce. The quicker we end the farce of supermom and the farce of the six week recovery, the better.’
It is noteworthy that an overachiever like Leonie - a marathon-runner who has also trained as a DJ and radio producer - finds the pressure too much. Then again, caring for a newborn is a hormonal rollercoaster of awe and anxiety for anyone.
‘We have to be nicer to ourselves and stop putting ourselves under so much pressure. You need a more realistic timeframe to build your body from the inside out. It doesn’t take six weeks – it takes a year. Instead of “getting” your body back, you need to “bring” it back. Otherwise you risk injuring yourself.’
Leonie should know. After the birth of her first daughter Beau three years ago, she was back teaching Pilates just six weeks later – even though she had endured a 30-hour, hypnobirthing labour, followed by an emergency Caesarean section.
‘I know, I’m mad,’ she sighs. ‘Have you heard of diastasis recti? Every woman should know what it is. 65% of women will have it after their first pregnancy but most people have never even heard of it.
‘ Tummy muscle separation is the lay term for it. Basically, in between your six-pack there is a line of connected tissue that stretches when you’re pregnant and it cannot knit back together afterwards if you do the wrong things.’
And, yes, even a new mum who is also a qualified Pilates instructor can do the wrong things. ‘I had the gap and it healed. But when I
➤ went back teaching it opened again. I was demonstrating the plank and stomach crunches – all that makes diastasis recti worse.
‘Most new mothers make the same mistakes that I did. Number one, they go back exercising too soon and number two, they end up doing the wrong things.’
Leonie highlights the misconception that new mothers should do stomach crunches, sit-ups and planks to tone up their mummy tummies.
‘For postnatal women they are the worst thing you can do. The pressure from inside pushes through the gap and makes the gap worse.’
Both Leonie and her garda husband Rob Lynch, 38, have a keen interest in fitness – he has played basketball for Ireland.
But the pitfalls of particular exercises postbirth took her by surprise and piqued an interest in safe and effective alternatives. Leonie began training with Jenny Burrell, one of Britain’s leading educators in female wellness, signing up for her online course in postnatal exercise, nutrition and core restore.
‘ The relaxin hormone is in your body to allow you to give birth – it relaxes the muscles, joints and ligaments. And if you end up breastfeeding that relaxin hormone is still in your body and can make you hypermobile.
‘So you have to be so careful what exercises you do,’ says Leonie, who will launch her own online courses for mothers in April.
‘I get women coming up to me crying, pointing to their tummies, saying, “when can I get rid of this?” They have unrealistic expectations. I remember saying to a woman, it’s not six weeks – a more realistic expectation is a year, and she started bawling. It seemed so far away – she just wanted a quick fix. Women go to classes that aren’t suitable, trying to live up to this expectation that they should be back to their old size within weeks of giving birth.’
The washboard tummies of the rich and famous apparently a nonosecond after pushing out a baby is part of the problem.
‘ That’s fine for a celebrity or fitness professional with all the resources. Their job is to get their body back. But for 99% of the population it’s added pressure they don’t need,’ Leonie complains. ‘It’s much, much healthier to understand what’s going on in your body and why you need to take some time. I made all the mistakes and learned from them. My thyroid went crazy after I had Beau. I had really bad gut issues, I lost weight, I put on weight. I got gastroenteritis, psoriasis. My hair fell out, which is another issue with the thyroid. None of that does anything for your mental state. When you’re breastfeeding as well that takes so much out of you so nutrition and hydration are so important. Everyone has their own postnatal story.’
It doesn’t help that women are often too embarrassed to talk about some of the changes to their bodies in the days and weeks after giving birth. ‘ There are big issues around incontinence, prolapse, postnatal constipation. But these are all so taboo people don’t talk about them.
‘A girl came up to me and said she went back running very soon after her second baby. Two years later she was still weeing herself because of it. There is no reason why she should have gone back running so quickly. But at the six-week check up with the doctor they often think you can do anything and you’re fine.’
She cautions new mums against training with anyone who does not specialise in postnatal care.
‘I love teaching the postnatal classes. The moms bring their babies up to six months old and usually they sleep through it. We do specific exercises that are really challenging but they’re safe for women in C-section recovery or with pelvic floor issues. We just try to retrain the muscles. Moms are coming into class and they’re absolutely wrecked so you’re doing stuff that’s not
The idea that you should have your pre-baby body back in six weeks is a farce
going to wreck them further. But everyone wants to feel like they’re well capable. It’s stage-specific and we get them panting.’
You imagine Leonie is a source of comfort for mothers who were disappointed with their birth experiences.
‘I’m a bit of a control freak. I did the hypnobirthing, I had everything prepared for how I wanted the birth to be – but of course Beau had her own ideas. She was ten days over. When she arrived, I had a really long labour and it ended up in an emergency section. After 30 hours I was 8cms dilated. I was almost there. I had done it and I wanted a natural birth. Then they gave me an epidural because they thought that might help to move her along.
‘But when there was still no movement she had to come out the sunroof as they say. I thought I would have been a lot more disappointed than I was. But I had given it my best shot. I probably would have been more disappointed otherwise. I was so tired, it was through the night. So I didn’t mind at that stage. I meet plenty of mothers who have bad experiences and who hold on to it for years afterwards.’
Now, seven weeks after the birth of her second daughter Robyn, Leonie is doing things differently. Though she had hoped for a vaginal birth this time around, when that didn’t work out she made her peace again with having another Csection. This time she is giving her body plenty of time to recuperate.
‘I need to completely recover properly this time. It’s only seven weeks in but I’ve done a few different things. The main thing which is interesting is that I did placenta encapsulation. There’s a doula in Limerick called Pauline Gannon who is qualified in placenta encapsulation. I went to her for hypnobirthing classes too. Placenta encapsulation is where they take the placenta, dry it, put it into powder and then into capsules like the food supplements you’d get in a health food shop. You can get anything from 150-300 capsules from the placenta,’ she says.
Though many women might baulk at the thought of swallowing their own placenta pills, Leonie has a more practical approach to this unusual modern practice.
‘All animals eat their own placenta after childbirth because of its nutritional value, mainly as a source of iron. This method of doing it for humans has become really popular over the last few years. So I tried it this time.
‘My iron levels were really low in the last trimester of pregnancy and they were up to 13 shortly after the baby was born. I put this down to the capsules, or wake-up drops as I call them. You can take up to three a day but I take just one a day or I’m too hyper otherwise.’
Leonie is naturally blessed with extraordinary energy and admits that she ‘can’t sit down for two minutes’. But she is still convinced that the placenta tablets have made her less tired than last time round.
‘I haven’t felt the need to nap during the day once. The C-section recovery went really well. The only thing that happened were a couple of strange infections because I was run down. I got a lump under my armpit the size of a golf ball. But it was all hormones and it came and went away in a week. My sister gave me a manicure one day and the nail got infected and blew up. Other than that, so far so good,’ she says, of her post-natal health.
‘I’m a lot more clued in this time around. Protein is hugely important for post-natal recovery. You know how some people when they come out of the gym have protein shakes to repair the muscles? If you have a C-section, they are cutting through muscles, if you have a natural birth you are tearing your pelvic floor. Childbirth is the biggest workout you’ve ever had so you have to replenish afterwards. Mums are too tired to think about it but you need to take protein. You also need loads of fibre because postnatal constipation is a huge issue.’
Now Leonie is taking time out from her physically challenging Pilates classes in Embody Fitness Castletroy and the Delta Sports Dome.
Instead she is studying for an entrepreneur course with Enterprise Ireland and hopes to develop a food product for new mothers. She is also getting her online business off the ground, recording some short exercise videos for her website.
‘I read somewhere that new mums only have 17 minutes to themselves every day. So the programmes I’m doing will be 17 minutes each and you can pick different exercises for strength, flexibility and mobility.
‘ There’s no point in expecting any more time than that to exercise, especially from home,’ she muses.
‘Babies usually nap for around 40 minutes, enough time for mums to wait until they’re sure the baby is asleep, get changed, do the exercises – and still have a cup of tea.’
Leonie Lynch believes women are doing more damage to their bodies by rushing post-natal recovery