Our bodies change in incredible ways as we move through the months of pregnancy and the childbearing year. Wondering how you can nourish your body and find balance amid such rapid change? Today, I'm so pleased to share an interview with Kelli Marie Rice who is a professor of kinesiology at Coe College and an expert in wellness and fitness. Kelli is also a mother of two. She graciously shared with me about moving through pregnancy and postpartum from both her academic and practical experience.
Before we talk about physical movement through pregnancy and postpartum, I'd love it if you'd share a little bit about how your background drives your passion and expertise in this area.
The next chapter in my life took me from Central College in Pella, Iowa, to the University of Iowa and Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. I started pursuing my M.A. in Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, while also working as an exercise physiologist at Mercy Hospital.
My Master’s thesis was my first significant look into this fused interest of mine: movement, mothering, and gender. It is titled “Chasing the Kids, Does it Count?” It was a qualitative study that quantified ‘chasing the kids’ through the use of continuous monitoring (accelerometry), the Kaiser Physical Activity Survey, & interviews with all 66 participants. The results were compared with national physical activity guidelines to determine whether or not chasing the kids provided enough movement for moms to achieve health outcomes. The findings indicated that for this sample of moms (ages 35+ with kids 5 & under) chasing the kids, while exhausting, was not enough to meet the national guidelines for physical activity; however, women who planned physical activity (with or without their kids) were adequate in meeting these guidelines. I also found it interesting that the perceived ‘most vigorous movement of the day’ almost always involved chasing the kids, while the qualitative data debunked that. In short, chasing the kids is not nearly as vigorous or continuous as it feels, and moms generally aren’t moving enough by simply chasing their kids around; however, by holding space for planned times of movement, moms can absolutely be successful in meeting national physical activity guidelines.
I transitioned to an online Adjunct Instructor position with the University of Dubuque as I moved to San Francisco for the opportunity to launch my wellness consulting firm, which was established for the purpose of working alongside a Bulgarian Atomic Physicist on his latest invention, the TAO WellShell. After TAO launched & took Best of CES in Las Vegas, I moved back to Iowa City, got married & began teaching at Coe College.
I am entering my 4th year in the Coe College kinesiology department, while continuing to teach online in my 7th year with the University of Dubuque (13th year of teaching overall). Outside of teaching, I am living out my passion for uplifting mamas to love themselves. I support and encourage them by moving with them in ways that empower us, whether that is through leading hikes or by teaching a babywearing dance and fun family fitness class at Anytime Fitness in Coralville. Being a mom is hard work, but with a supportive tribe and feel-good movement/strength, we can truly maximize every ounce of our awesome selves.
I love how you point out the importance of support and community as well as movement to a mom's well-being. Your family-oriented classes seem to embody that fusion! How has your knowledge and experience of physical movement and wellness informed your journey into motherhood? And, how has your journey into motherhood shaped informed or shaped the knowledge you bring to your teaching?
My knowledge in these areas began with pregnancy and birth preparation. I planned for our home births much like I would train an athlete. I incorporated feel-good movement (walking, prenatal Kundalini yoga with Gurmukh, dance), squatting while Hypnobirthing for 60-75 minutes every day, and I performed a variety of abdominal exercises to prevent diastasis recti. I also adjusted my diet to support the demands of pregnancy and altered my vitamin supplementation. I journaled through 3 books with each pregnancy: Waiting in Wonder, Sacred Pregnancy, & Love Letters to Baby. Both of my babies were born in a birth tub at home: 8 lb 15 oz Delaney in a 4 hour labor, and 8 lb 7 oz Garrett in a 3.25 hour labor, 22 months later.
Moving on from birth, I incorporated babywearing, breastfeeding, and many other aspects of Attachment Parenting into our lifestyle. I conducted my own secondary research before making decisions about parenting and lifestyle choices, just as I would read a nutrition label or investigate an essential oil in our adult lives. My husband and I did what worked for us, in terms of maintaining balance in our lives, despite what may seem popular, common, or pushed by others. In addition to placenta encapsulation, movement and socialization were key components in my postpartum life. I remind myself that to offer whole lives to our children in a sustainable manner, we must be whole mamas. For me, this means maintaining balance among physical, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, environmental, financial, and occupational dimensions of wellness. Many of these areas can overlap! For example, babywearing hiking with friends: physical, social, environmental, and arguably emotional, intellectual and spiritual; plus even financial since it’s a great free activity! I try to incorporate every dimension of wellness into every day, for both myself and our kids.
Pregnancy and especially the postpartum period is both empowering and humbling. Not only does it challenge our bodies and shift our hormones and sleep patterns, but these tiny humans change our hearts in ways only a mama can describe. In addition to compassion and lifting up other mamas, a key way motherhood has altered my views is through the need for slowness. At least a decade ago, I met with author Carl Honore to discuss his book In Praise of Slowness. The greatest single thing I do as a mom that fosters the overall wellness of myself and my kids is embracing a lifestyle of slowness. We admire insects. We touch trees. We catch tadpoles and gently hold baby toads. We go to yoga classes for each of my babies (2 years and 4 months). We read nearly 1200 books before my daughter turned 1. I plan 10 minutes for us to get our shoes on and leave the house, just so we don’t have to rush. I find when I am slow and present, everyone is gentle and happy.
I carry these values into my teaching, both at the gym and in the college courses I teach. I create a relaxed, come-as-you-are environment. Everyone deserves to have their body celebrated. Everyone should we warmly accepted exactly as they are. Everyone benefits from being supported and uplifted by others in whatever way is most comfortable for them. Everyone has a need for multidimensional wellness, balance. I also find the AP principle of connection prevents or solves the vast majority of conflicts and challenges. People love the way it feels to feel connected. As we are practicing this 24/7 with our children, why not extend that same love to the world around us? It’s pretty inspiring!
As far as incorporating physical movement into daily life - beyond "chasing the kids" - do you have any advice for pregnant or postpartum moms?
I do! Many moms feel selfish prioritizing things for themselves, while others find logistics (childcare, breastfeeding) or money to be obstacles that make physical activity particularly challenging. To overcome these obstacles, I encourage mamas to keep it simple, think outside of the box, and choose movement that is enjoyable and feels good.
Keep it simple:
While both are nice, you don’t need a gym membership to be active and you don’t need a personal trainer to see results; walking, body weight exercises, hiking and dancing are great physical activities that are free! Rather than waiting for the perfect plan to emerge, simply choose one way to move each day and listen to your body along the way!
Think outside of the box:
I am a big fan of setting up moms for success. It can be helpful to include our kids in workouts so we aren’t relying on good naps or things that may be out of our control. I love babywearing workouts as a way to accomplish this! In addition to making a workout more likely, babywearing workouts are a sweet way to bond with Baby. Hiking, dancing, walking and even things like squats are great options that can be compatible with babywearing. For mamas with older children, movement can be as simple as putting on music and dancing together! Games, such as tag, soccer or racing to a tree can be fun ways to move as a family. Playing twister or bending our bodies into shapes and letters can be a creative way to stretch alongside our tiny helpers. Moms are some of the most creative people on Earth; we can use these mothering skills to turn essential self-care into magical memories with our tribe.
Choose fun, feel-good movement:
Keep in mind it takes 9 months to gain pregnancy weight; patience and consistency are critical components of pregnancy and postpartum fitness. Between physical body changes, hormonal shifts, changes in sleep patterns, and just figuring out our new role, now is the time to move only in ways that are enjoyable. Incorporating music or moving with friends can help make physical activity more enjoyable, as well! Set your sights on feel-good movement and celebrate your beautiful, strong, amazing self!
Thanks so much to Kelli for sharing her wisdom and experiences here on the Nested Mama blog!
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.