Shakira Akabusi on her new book, empowering mums and sustainable health

shakira akabusi

by Lorna White |
Updated on

What does the word ‘Mum’ mean to you? There are so many things we think of, from love and comfort to hero and amazing, but in some contexts, ‘mum’ has other, less desirable connotations.

“There is this stereotype that ‘Mum’ almost has these archaic connotations attached to it. If you’re a mum, you're gonna be tired, you're gonna be exhausted, you're gonna be frumpy. I'm not saying that there aren't challenges that we experienced in motherhood because there absolutely are. But for me, I think we need to shatter that stereotype of tired mums and actually understand that even when we are tired, and we have to literally drag ourselves through the day, we get through the day with that superhero power,” says Shakira Akabusi, Pre & Postnatal Health Expert and author of The Strong Like Mum Method.

And it's not just the narrative that all mums are exhausted that Shakira is trying to shatter, but also the physical expectations mothers are told to anticipate during pregnancy. "I remember in my pregnancy, I was always told all the things I'd never do again. I'd often be told, 'you're never gonna sleep again' or 'you're never gonna wear a bikini' or 'you'll never run as fast or have abs like that'. And I wasn't even a mother yet but I'd already started to panic. There are so many stereotypes of what you can and can't do. Like how you can't be a good mum, and have a job, and I think we need to take all those labels away. You can create and design the motherhood that you want. You just need to feel confident in yourself, who you are, and your abilities."

“I have never felt more challenged. I have to dig to new depths of energy. Motherhood has pushed me to new limits that I didn't know I could achieve. So, although you might have moments where you're exhausted or you're overwhelmed, getting through those moments can be really empowering. I always think to myself, if I ever get to a position where I'm hiring people, I would hire mothers, because their work rate and the ability to multitask is incredible.”

Speaking to Shakira, it’s clear to see how passionate and determined she is to empower women to learn more about their pre and postnatal bodies and exercise and support them through their journey of motherhood.

In her new book, The Strong Like Mum Method: Awaken the power of your pre and postnatal body through instinct, knowledge and exercise, Shakira draws in on all the knowledge she’s learned over the years as well as honing in on stereotypes and the lessons we can learn from mothers in history.

“For me, I'm looking at sustainable health.” Shakira tells us. “I'm not really interested in ‘get your abs back in eight weeks’ as I think that that mindset can be really damaging as it can put a lot of pressure on women. I wanted to really create sustainable change to feel physically and mentally confident and empowered. This book shares pre and postnatal exercises, advice on mental wellbeing, the mind-body connection and how the two are connected. It also covers sleep, nutrition, body confidence and how our energy levels during parenting can affect our exercise program and what we can do on specific days depending on how we feel to get the most benefit.”

Related: Shakira's tips on exercising with a toddler in tow

From her experience working and training with mums, Shakira noticed that it wasn’t just new mums who were struggling with physical changes due to childbirth, but there were mums who were 15-20 years postpartum still experiencing physical injuries from birth.

“I also noticed during my pregnancies and deliveries, that there was very little information shared with me about exactly what was happening to my body and how I could make sure that I recovered. During pregnancy, you have quite a few checks for the baby and mother, but postnatally, it's really minimal despite so many things taking place.”

It was after Shakira’s c-section that she really gained a newfound respect for her body and how it was able to heal.

“I found my cesarean delivery was a big shock to the system. Although I knew what to expect, in one sense, I really didn't know what to expect. For me, the severity and recovery were really challenging at times. For the first time ever, with my cesarean delivery, I went through a period of time immediately after giving birth, where I felt completely disconnected from my mind to my body, and as someone who's always been really active and in tune to my body, I remember saying to my husband that I felt like an alien in my own skin. They are a life-saving procedure for many women and babies, so I think it's an absolute blessing that we have that option. But physically, as far as our bodies are concerned, it’s almost like an attack on your body. So your body really needs to go into recovery mode. And having never experienced something like that before, it really came as a real shock."

Despite the initial shock and lengthy recovery process, Shakira is grateful for the experience she has.

“I'm so grateful for that experience. Because at that moment, I learned about my body in a whole new way. I feel utter respect and or not only for the actual delivery process doesn't matter whether you've had a cesarean or vaginal delivery, the fact that you've given birth is incredible. But how your body is able to heal, I find really empowering. And I'm just in awe of the female body.”

Related: Shakira's advice on exercise after a cesarean section

Although we know how incredible the female body is, and how it can heal so much on its own, how much do we really know about what goes on post-birth? And how do we know when we’re functioning as we should be? That’s why Shakira was determined to create a place where women could find the answers to all those questions and share her expertise.

“I've got four children now. I've lived and breathed the fact that we need to be looking at whole-body health, not just physical fitness but mental wellbeing and our emotional wellbeing and stress levels too. It's all so interconnected. I now speak very openly about my mental health journey during motherhood, the day-to-day stresses that we can feel physically and mentally as parents as well as our physical wellbeing. And that's kind of the basis for this book.”

With a seven-year-old, a four-year-old and her one-year-old twins, it’s fair to say Shakira has mastered the art of juggling while writing a whole book, so it’s no surprise this book lives and breathes motherhood. She wrote the book in the midst of motherhood, shortly after giving birth to her twins via a c-section, so this book is written for busy mums who are very short on time.

“I designed the book so that women would be able to read it with a really busy lifestyle because motherhood can be really busy. Some days, you might have time to sit down and read a few chapters, while your baby has the perfect hour-long nap. Other days, you need to just flick to that bit of the book and get the answers that you will need right then and there on an exercise.”

The book is split into four sections; instinct, power, breathe and strength.

“The strength section, which is the last section of the book, deals with postnatal recovery. The breathe section deals with delivery, and that really those initial few days and weeks after giving birth, and then the power section deals with pregnancy and all the trimesters and our health and wellbeing and hormones and everything during pregnancy. The instinct section is about going back in history and looking at not only the evolution of the female body, but actually how incredible it is that women have birthed the future since the beginning of time.”

“I really, I think all women should be given the support to feel this empowerment through motherhood. So often, there are these outdated stereotypes and old-school myths about what you can and can't do during and after pregnancy. It can be confusing, daunting, and overwhelming. Some have never searched for the answer, and there are women living with urinary incontinence for years because they've never asked or just thought this is just me now and it doesn't need to be this way. I always use my mum as an example, she’s 64 and pain-free. And it's unusual to be 64 and to not have an achy back or neck. She is also a fitness expert so was able to lay those foundations for sustainable healthy change. I'm so passionate about giving women the knowledge they need.”

Shakira's advice on motivating yourself

Really focus on you. It doesn't matter if the mum next door, got up and went for her run at four weeks after giving birth and you're four months postpartum and still don't feel ready. Nobody else has your child, nobody else has your body, nobody else went through your pregnancy or birth. It's what we teach our children, and sometimes I feel like if we could treat ourselves with the same compassion that we do our children, it would go a long way.

Also, laying strong foundations is key. I think the most important thing is that we change the conversation around postnatal recovery because there's always a timeline attached. When people contact me on social media, they're often asking me how long until I can do this or that exercise. In reality, we need to start tapping into how we're feeling more than how long until we can do something. That's where I think really getting the knowledge and understanding of what your body's been through, helps us to feel that compassion for ourselves. I'm not looking at being in my pre-baby jeans, eight weeks after giving birth. I'm much more interested in sustainable health.

Advice on adopting a positive mindset

One of the first chapters of the book is titled mind over muscle. I think it's important for everybody that we first create a positive relationship with exercise. Exercise is now seen as something that we have to do, like a chore. Whereas actually, we need to find the love and fun for it, and feel the goodness of it, not just because we just really want to lose weight, but actually feeling the good of it as we're doing it.

The language that we surround ourselves with on a day-to-day basis begins to impact our thoughts which impacts our actions, our beliefs, and how we need to be putting positive language in from a ground level. That can be the language that you're using, but also the language you surround yourself with. If there is something that you know is impacting you negatively, avoid it. Even if you think it's just a news story, and you're just staying up to date with the latest celebrity gossip, or TV show, actually, it's having a real impact on your thoughts, your beliefs and your actions. And that's a really vicious cycle. If we want to change our actions, we need to start with the words and even the people that you surround yourself with. It might be the people in your family or friendship groups that make it harder for you. I would really advise that you reevaluate that language that you are allowing into your space, especially during the pre and postnatal process, because there's a lot of noise. Never has someone been more interested in what my boobs or belly were doing. And actually, it's not for anybody else.

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