Breastfeeding twins as an active mom

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

When our twins turned six months old, it was supposed to be a joyous milestone. We kept these two little souls fed, happy and thriving for half a year! We made it through the toughest days and nights of our lives! And they have brought so much love and happiness to our home.

Instead, at their six-month appointment, we found out that Leo’s weight had plateaued at about 12.5 lbs. He weighed the same as he did at five months. Leo, who was my biggest twin at birth at 6 lbs, 15 oz, was dropping off his growth curve.

Leo and Callum are 6 months old #twins #twinsofinstagram #sixmonthsold

A post shared by April Cunningham (@aprilacunningham) on

A feeling of heat rose through my chest and into my cheeks. Most mothers know it: a wrenching combination of guilt and fear.

I automatically blamed myself and my new quest to clean up my health and my eating. I worried that my workouts at 3rd Degree Training may have depleted my milk supply. At that point I was about halfway through the eight-week boot camp.

My family doctor did not blame me (even though I didn’t mention I had started a new exercise program). She simply suggested increasing the amount of solid foods the twins receive to three times a day. We also talked about giving them a bit of formula at night, something my doctor said was entirely up to me.

I have continued with my nutrition plan and working out four times a week at 3rd Degree throughout the past month, and while I have lost a few pounds and inches, both Leo and Callum have porked it on. All the while, I have continued breastfeeding them, along with increased solid foods and a couple ounces of formula at bedtime (in addition to breastmilk). It was always my goal to make it to six months of breastfeeding, but all three of us enjoy it, and since it has become so ingrained in our routines, I really want to keep going.

Now I can say with confidence that I know I did nothing wrong. Exercise should not negatively impact the quantity or quality of supply (unless there is a serious calorie deficit or dehydration). Exercise is good for both mom and baby, in so many ways.

I have taken great care to ensure I am consuming plenty of calories (1,000 more than the average woman!) and three litres of water. I am eating whole, real food, and I eat six times a day. I still eat bread (whole grains) and dairy, and eat plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as yogurt, nuts and avocado.

I know Leo and Callum are thriving, happy babies. They are content, they don’t fuss while nursing, they sleep relatively well and they love to eat. After searching some mom forums, I have discovered that many babies go through a weight plateau just before starting solids. And I remember Silas going through something similar as well. I started running regularly when he was about five months old.

I want other breastfeeding moms to know that it is fine to exercise, so go ahead and do it. Don’t feel guilty. It is so good for you (improved cardiovascular health, feelings of well-being and reduced stress, to name a few) and your baby.

That being said, I think it is also good to take your time and ease back into an active lifestyle slowly after childbirth. Kellymom.com recommends waiting until your baby is two months old and you have established a good milk supply before embarking on a weight-loss program. Through both of my experiences nursing newborns, I always feel we have hit our stride by the 3-4 month mark.

After a few days of wallowing in guilt after that five-month appointment, I even started feeling as though breastfeeding our twins was a mistake and that I was holding them back from growing into healthy little babies.

Now I know that is foolishness, and that I continue to give them the very best start I can offer. For me, being an active, healthy mom is a part of the equation.

For more information on postpartum fitness, check out this previous q&a I did with Caroline MacKay, who offers mom/baby fitness classes.

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Taking a leap of faith: exercise as medicine for chronic pain

For most people, including myself, fitness and nutrition is not just about how they look, it’s about how they feel.

Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John, is one of those people. She has suffered from various health conditions from the age of 23, leaving her mentally and physically drained. But over the course of the past year, she has completely changed her life, weaning herself off medications thanks to a careful diet and regular physical activity.

I hope you are as amazed and inspired by her story as I am. Following Catt’s lead, several other members of 3rd Degree with chronic health conditions have also made gains by making physical activity and a healthy eating a priority in their lives.

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Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John

Q: What chronic health issues do you suffer from?

From the age of 23 on, I have always battled some form of chronic illness. As soon as I would be cured of one, a more debilitating one would come along. I currently battle 3 chronic illnesses that affect me on a daily basis and unfortunately, there are no cures in sight. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2008, affecting my chest, knees, hips, fingers, toes, and jaw. I was diagnosed after several visits to hospital with sharp chest pain, in which the rheumatologist explained the source of the pain as inflammation around the lungs or heart. I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia in February of 2017, although I have battled with the symptoms of chronic widespread pain and chronic fatigue for many years, it was diagnosed through the process of elimination. This year, at the age of 40, I was told that the constant feeling of frostbite in all my extremities and the chilblains on my toes are from Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease.

Q: How did you discover that exercise could help?

I was generally active throughout my life, in between illnesses you could say. In January 2017, the pain in the shoulders, hips, chest, ribs, neck and severe stiffness in the fingers and toes became a daily thing.  Although I was exhausted thoughout the day, and would fall asleep in the early evening every night but just couldn’t stay asleep. I would wake up after a couple hours from either/ or a combination of pain, overactive thoughts and nightmares, causing days of non-restorative sleep. I was completely overwhelmed and over-stimulated, struggling to keep up with my daily routine, not to mention trying to manage the feeling of being in constant pain. I was prescribed several medications, leaving me with the feeling of being sedated.

As luck would have it, my partner’s passion was fitness. Kevin McEachern bought and set up the 3rd Degree Training/Actual Nutrition franchise in Saint John. He spent all his time instructing and motivating all the fitness classes, which meant if I wanted to see him, I had to spend some time in the studio as well. In his first 8-week round, he would encourage me to participate in the High Intensity Interval Training classes, telling me to work at my own speed and teaching me how to modify certain moves, i.e, using calf extensions as opposed to jumping. While the company was working through its second 8-week round, I increased my workouts to 3 or 4 times a week and by the end of that round, I no longer needed the modifications. I was feeling much stronger, more energetic, happy and accomplished. I made a conscious decision to slowly wean off all the meds that was prescribed to “help” ease the fibromyalgia symptoms and haven’t returned to them. In the following months, I started motivating some of the fitness classes, I became certified to instruct the classes and became a Personal Trainer.

Q: How does eating better help? What dietary restrictions do you have?

I have been lactose intolerant since birth. About 6 years ago, I curved my eating habits to a holistic, anti-inflammatory, whole-food lifestyle however my meals would mostly be snack-size. With the help of my partner, we were able to increase the size of my portions. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t eat all this, I’ll be sick,” but eventually I started eating regular meals again. Together, we developed a solid eating pattern. Steve Collette, Founder/CEO of the 3rd Degree Training franchise, made a few positive recommendations to help boost my metabolism using the Actual Nutrition program. Now, I have lots of energy to sustain me throughout the day, even after a workout.

Q: How has your life changed?

I’ve gone from being someone dependent on medication, living with chronic widespread pain and surviving on autopilot on a daily basis to someone living life again.

Q: How do you hope others could learn from your story?
I want others to know that they don’t have to be prisoners of their illnesses. I’m not going to lie and say that every day is perfect or that I found a cure and there will never be another flare, but I will say my quality of life has improved drastically. You can spend a lifetime on survival mode or you take a leap of faith, spend a couple of weeks being outside our comfort zone, developing a routine, getting back to living a longer, healthier life and thriving.

I am a Fibro warrior and an RA warrior. #fibrowarrior #RAwarrior

Halfway through boot camp: my progress report

I can’t believe how quickly the past four weeks have flown by! It has been so nice to make working out a part of my life again. Some days it is my only chance to do something on my own or get out of the house! And I have been amazed how seamlessly I have been able to transition to “clean” eating. Accountability and having a plan are truly half the battle.

Here is how things are going:

The Workouts:

  • I have managed to get to 3rd Degree Training four times a week for the past four weeks. Usually I attend the 10:30 a.m. Baby & Me class (with or without kids) on Mon, Wed and Fri but also try for 6 a.m. or noon on Thursdays and 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays. It’s really handy to have an array of class times to chose from.
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Callum and Leo and their gym buddy, Avery.
  • It’s honestly so convenient to my home on the west side, at less than a five-minute drive, so I really have no excuse. OK, I do have a few, but getting to the gym and back home within an hour is totally doable.
  • From the moment I step into the studio at 3rd Degree, I feel inspired to work hard and get a good sweat on. The music is pumping and as other friendly faces appear (people of all skill levels and backgrounds) it’s easy to see they are all dedicated to making changes in their lives. The feeling is contagious and inspiring.
  • Workouts usually start with light cardio, followed by a few different sets of exercises, anything from burpees to squats and ab exercises. We do numerous variations and all using our own body weight, so it never gets boring.
  • I can feel myself getting stronger every day. I often wake up with that dull burning sensation in my muscles, and I go to bed ready to fall into a deep sleep (until a baby or little boy wakes, anyway). But I never get the exhaustion you feel after a long run.

Nutrition

  • This is where the biggest life changes have happened for me. Thanks to my nutrition plan from Kevin, I have managed to completely cut sugar and treats from my diet, and I am not even that upset about it. I’m not going to lie, there are days when I am dog-tired, overwhelmed, you name it, and could reallllly go for a McFlurry. Or, there have been days when I have been tempted to eat a cookie as I bake them for my son (OK, I definitely licked the spoon). But here is the secret: I am never starving hungry! And there is always the next meal/snack to look forward to, and they are always tasty. I don’t feel deprived, and I am eating so.much.food. This is no diet, this is about eating satiating, real, nutritious food.
  • Eggs are a huge part of my days now, starting with the mornings when I usually eat three, getting my 1.5 servings of protein in. I also keep a few hard-boiled eggs on hand for lunches and my evening snack. Never have I eaten so many eggs! I just bought the 30-pack from Costco and I will probably get through it in a week.
  • I have really upped the ante on vegetables. My favourite way to eat them is just raw. I used to think veggies were kind of boring but as my tastebuds have adjusted, I look forward to my big salads and crunchy snacks with hummus or tzatziki. I used to eat a lot more fruit, but now I am really filling up on veggies.

Early results

  • I have more stable energy throughout the day and I’m generally in a better mood.
  • I feel myself getting stronger and back into shape.
  • I have lost three inches around my ribs, waist and hips. My clothes fit much better.
  • I am honestly surprised how quickly this is happening. My goal in joining was just to feel better and get stronger. I always assumed it would take many months to lose some pounds and inches, and that it would require many long runs (that has always been what works for me!)
  • Here’s the before and after!

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Thanks so much to 3rd Degree Training for the opportunity to partner with them and share my story. Keep following along to see how the next four weeks go! You can also follow my posts and stories on Instagram.

Defeating mom guilt: exercising with kids

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Leo & Callum

Mom guilt: it’s one of the issues I often grapple with when I’m training for a race or trying to make fitness a priority in my life.

Now with twin babies, almost six months old, and a 3.5-year-old, there is scarcely a moment when I am not in demand. Even if I have someone else to care for my children when I leave the house to get in some exercise, I always feel rushed to get back home, or I worry about the babies crying, needing me… or I feel bad for not spending more time with Silas, my oldest.

Enter Baby & Me at 3rd Degree Training Saint John. Offered three mornings a week, I no longer have an excuse to miss my workouts. Not only can I bring the babies along to watch me flail around on the mats, but Silas can come too!

This past week, which was March Break in New Brunswick, I was able to bring Silas along for two of the three classes since he didn’t have preschool. He was in heaven.

He made friends with another boy and tossed around a football, rolled, laughed, ran and screamed in delight while the rest of us planked, burpeed, squatted and super-manned. The class flew by, and by the end, Silas, wearing a Superman cape, was just as breathless and red-faced as I.

“Do think I did a good job during my workout?” I asked him afterward.

“Not really,” Silas said, adding he thought our “Superman” moves should have involved more running, flying and rolling. That made me laugh.

After a quick pit stop at Sobeys, we returned home to find the twins still napping (of course they do when I’m not home) and Silas, typically a ball of energy, was ready for a nap too. I’d call that a win.

Cleaning up my diet: one week in

When Kevin and Catt suggested I try the Actual Nutrition program that goes hand-in-hand with their workouts at 3rd Degree Training, it actually intimidated me more than the idea of working out four times a week.

I have never once gone on a diet, and I hate depriving myself of treats. I have always enjoyed healthy foods, and once cut out sugar for a few months, but I have never followed a prescribed eating plan. I wasn’t sure if I could do it!

Still, I wanted to give it an honest shot, and share my experience so people can see what it’s like for a mom of three little ones trying to return to a healthy lifestyle.

The idea behind Actual Nutrition is simply to eat whole, real foods. Based on my age, current weight, activity level and particularly the fact I am breastfeeding twins, Kevin designed a plan that helps me chose what kinds of foods to eat at every meal and snack. Lucky for me, and the bonus 1,000 calories a day I burn by feeding my five-month-old twins, this means I get to eat a ton of food. But now it’s all healthy, rather than full of carbs and sugar, my weakness.

My favourite part has been that the outline gives me full control of what to eat: for example, I can pick 1.5 servings of protein for breakfast, along with 1.5 servings of complex carbs, a simple carb (fruit) and one serving of fat or dairy. This way, I find myself thinking about all the food I get to eat, rather than what I can’t eat.

The most significant adjustment for me has been the volume of protein I need to consume each day. I always suspected I wasn’t getting enough, but now I know this is sort of the secret sauce to feeling satisfied and keeping cravings at bay. I now eat three eggs for breakfast(!) plus toast or oatmeal, fruit and peanut butter or avocado. YUM! Also, salsa and hot sauce are my new favourite condiments. For dinner, I need to eat two servings of protein. Two chicken breasts! After eating a big old plate of food, my body no longer searches for that sugary goodness it once desired. And if it does, that usually means I didn’t get enough protein, fat or healthy calories during the day!

I feel like this solves a mystery that never should have been so tough to figure out. Protein will not only help me build muscle from my workouts, but it is also a key factor in maintaining my milk supply. I may even be eating more now than I was before!

Here are a few more early revelations:

  • I have spent a lot of money on groceries this week. I haven’t added it up, but I hope now that my house is full of healthy food, the bills will level out.
  • I used to avoid eating too much meat as a cost-saving measure but I’ve realized I was just spending that extra money on junk food we really didn’t need.
  • My husband and my three-year-old are eating a little better now too. Silas asks me if different things he is eating are healthy and if they will make him big and strong.
  • My taste buds have adjusted to savour the taste of real food. My sweets are now fruits. At Costco I had a couple of pitted dates they were handing out as samples and it felt like I was eating a jube-jube!
  • I went through a couple days of adjusting to not eating as many carbs later in the day. For dinner I just have one serving then it’s just veggies for snacks in the evening. One night I had two servings of salmon, 1/3 cup of brown rice, two servings of vegetables and felt completely full. Half an hour later, I felt peckish and was like, “How can this be?” I realized what I was missing was that sugar kick I usually got from dessert or filling up on rice/potato/pasta with my main course. The fullness I get from protein is so much nicer.
  • Eggs, so many eggs. I am eating so much for breakfast and just made a pot of hard-boiled eggs to have on hand for snacks. They pack such a punch and yummy too!
  • I actually enjoy all this clean eating and I don’t miss the junk at all. Will this stick for seven more weeks? I hope so!
  • I wonder how easy it would be to maintain this style of eating if I was working full-time in addition to managing family life with three kids. Right now this is like a project for me while on maternity leave to think up healthy meal ideas and take the time to make them, even if it’s while wearing a baby.
  • The eating really complements the workouts. I feel great during and after the workouts and I think the food aids in my recovery from sore muscles.
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Salad with hard-boiled eggs, chicken bacon, snap peas, mushrooms, tomatoes, hummus, sriracha and brown rice.

 

The struggle is real: getting out the door to our first workout

I swear, it takes me 10 years to get out the door to do anything these days. And even if I budget myself tons of extra time, I’m always late.

So getting out the door with twins to our first Baby & Me class at 3rd Degree Training was no different. After a fairly good night with the babies and Silas, who was fighting a cold and fever, I managed to eat a healthy breakfast of eggs, toast with peanut butter, an orange and a coffee. I got the babies fed, dressed and threw on some gym clothes. The class starts at 10:30 and at 10 a.m. I thought I would start assembling the diaper bag, getting on snowsuits and loading into car seats, a task that always seems to take forever. My husband got the van out of the garage for me.

But that’s when Callum started making his “I’m hungry” sound. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because they had both slept so well that night. I quickly fed both babies again (which wasn’t easy since I was already in my tight gym clothes), and got them packed away and out the door. They were crying. I was already out of breath. “I don’t know how you’re going to do this,” Mark said.

I arrived at the gym just as the workout had begun. Of course, I thought, I’m always the late one. I was frustrated with myself for being that person, again. I grumbled as I laid the babies on a blanket with some toys, slid on my running shoes and joined in.

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We made it

We did squats, lunges, sprinted on the spot, did push-ups (modified for me), jumping jacks (modified again, because… childbirth), supermans, and even burpees. The exercises were done 2-3 at a time for various lengths of time (ie 10-20 seconds) for a few sets. The workout just flew by! And the babies loved it, watching all the activity from their vantage point. My heart was racing, my face was red, and I was no longer grumpy. It was a mental and physical pick-me-up, just what any mom needs.

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Sure, why not another squat.

The great thing about this program is there are multiple class times every day open to members. The 10:30 a.m. Baby & Me class on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays works great for us, and I hope to bring Silas along at some point too. I’m hoping to try a 6 a.m. workout another day, because I have always aspired to be more of a morning person and love the idea of sneaking out when everyone is still sleeping (ideally!).

It feels so great to be making my health and fitness a priority again. If I see visual results from the healthier eating and exercise, it will only be a bonus because I already feel so good. I love the feeling of restful sleep after working out, and waking up with sore muscles. I am always inspired to eat better when I am exercising, and while the thought of eating “clean” for eight weeks is daunting, I know I can do it with some accountability. Keep following along as I share more about my nutrition plan and how I’m actually finding it hard to eat so… much… protein!

Is Saint John ready to feel the burn?

3rd Degree Training set to open on Manawagonish Road Feb. 27

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Kevin McEachern is opening 3rd Degree Training, a body-weight boot camp fitness facility, in Saint John on Feb. 27. Submitted photo.

Kevin McEachern wasn’t entirely shocked when he got downsized from his business development job in the vacation industry. The timeshare exchange business wasn’t on an upswing, he says, and he knew it likely wasn’t a career that would take him to retirement.

Over his 10 years of meeting with clients — many of whom owned small businesses — he came to respect and admire their work.

“I was always the corporate guy on the other end of the desk trying to sell them a product,” says McEachern, 37, who is opening 3rd Degree Training in Saint John later this month.

As much as he thought about going into business on his own, the stats were a little daunting. According to Industry Canada, only half of small businesses last five years.

Nearly 80 per cent of franchises, on the other hand, continue to operate five years after opening their doors, he says, because businesses models and processes are already established and proven to work.

So when McEachern, of Quispamsis, lost his job and started considering his options, the idea of starting fresh and opening a franchise held real appeal.

“I became intrigued and thought it was the way to go,” he says.

McEachern has always had an interest in healthy living and took up running a few years ago, running his first marathon in 2015 and several Spartan obstacle course races in 2016. When he started looking through franchise opportunities, he soon stumbled across a PEI-based fitness franchise, 3rd Degree Training and Actual Nutrition. The required upfront investment was affordable, he says, and the idea of opening up a business he truly cared about was exciting.

“When you get moved out of a position not by your own choice – you realize you have an opportunity to make a decision,” he says. “I could get a regular old 9-to-5 day job and work for someone else, or I could have the opportunity to give something back to the community.”

McEachern knows the power of exercise and its ability to help one overcome life’s challenges first hand.

After separating from his wife a couple of years ago, instead of sinking into a depression, McEachern immersed himself in the world of fitness, nutrition and running.

“It became a way of stress management, and I realized it was very empowering for me,” he says. “Every time I went for a run or went to the gym, I felt like I was thinking more clearly.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could take that passion for exercise and healthy eating and turn that into a career to help others?’”

Now McEachern is turning that dream into a reality.

The Saint John location of 3rd Degree Training opens at 1490 Manawagonish Rd. on Feb. 27. Registration is Feb. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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The gym runs eight-week boot camps including unlimited classes and nutrition advice. Clients can also take advantage of before-and-after photos and measurements so they can track their progress.

Workouts completely consist of body weight movements — such as squats, burpees and planks — in a group atmosphere full of encouragement and motivation.

“Running is the backbone of my passion for fitness,” says McEachern, who is now a trained fitness instructor. “At the same time, I understand it’s not for everyone. At 3rd degree, you can still get that runner’s high. About 15 to 20 minutes into the workout, you feel like you’re elevating, and you get your body to a point you didn’t know was possible thanks to the group environment, the pumping music and the serotonin flowing through your body.”

Anyone who signs up for an eight-week boot camp also benefits from Actual Nutrition, which subscribes to a whole foods-based approach to eating. It’s about nutrient density and no gimmicks, McEachern says.

“It’s not points-based, it’s not calorie-counting, it’s not about making people feel guilty,” he says. “It’s getting back to basics.”

McEachern says the goal will be to help members stay accountable to healthy eating.

The Saint John location — which boasts an expansive space equipped with showers and change rooms — will be the fifth in the Maritimes, joining Stratford, Montague, Summerside, Dartmouth and Moncton. 3rd Degree Training is only the second franchise to come out of PEI — the first being a popular ice cream chain.

McEachern says he not only believes in the business, but he has seen the difference the program has already made in people’s lives across the region.

“You can see crazy results even after one eight-week boot camp,” he says. The body weight movements are effective because they are all ways humans are meant to move — no heavy weights required.

“It’s a welcoming environment and it’s meant for people of all shapes and sizes. Every person walks out of there feeling like, ‘Holy, that was tough. But wow, am I ever proud of myself.’”

For more information, join the Facebook group for 3rd Degree Training – Saint John. Be sure to like and share the post for a chance to win a spot in the first 8-week bootcamp!