Get Back in Shape: Postpartum Exercise
Postpartum exercise has excellent benefits. Besides the obvious goal of gaining back a pre-pregnancy body, women feel better mentally and physically. Exercise may even help in preventing or treating postpartum depression.
When to Begin
For most women staring down at the unset jelly belly that was once a lean stomach or looking longingly at a favorite pair of jeans creates a sense of urgency.
When to begin exercising depends on a number of factors, including your birthing experience. Consult your doctor or health care provider before you begin. Generally, if you had a vaginal birth, you can start exercising again as soon as you feel ready; however, it is essential to ease back into your workout. If you had a cesarean, experts generally agree you will need to wait about 6 weeks or more to heal before you begin exercising again. No matter what kind of birth experience you had, simple activities like walking is a good way to start getting back your energy.
Any kind of exercise activity you enjoyed before or during your pregnancy is fine. Wait for your body to heal before you plunge into high impact activities like aerobic dance or horseback riding. If your lochia (vaginal fluids) turns pink, cut back and notify your doctor.
Fortunately, breastfeeding and exercise work great together. In addition to the many benefits of nursing, breastfeeding is a great way to help your uterus contract and it helps burn calories by producing milk (just make sure you consume extra calories for your nursing baby). When working out, make sure you wear a well-fitting sport bra (or two). It is also a good idea to nurse before you exercise to make your workout more comfortable.
Eventually, you will want to develop a beneficial exercise program that involves more than one kind of exercise including cardiovascular, strength training, and stretching exercises. Take extra care when stretching or squatting because the connective tissues around the joints are still soft from your pregnancy. Also, pelvic floor exercises are highly recommended. Research shows that they assist in preventing and improving incontinence.
Benefits of Exercise
In addition to obvious benefits of exercise such as helping reduce the risk of developing certain diseases — like heart disease — exercise may also help you cope with postpartum depression. The University of Michigan Health Services reports that exercise helps by “releasing the body’s mood-elevating compounds” and reducing the depression causing hormone cortisol. This is why exercise often makes you feel better and provides feelings of increased self-esteem.
Interestingly, just as exercise creates feelings of self-assurance, possessing a positive attitude can help you stick to an exercise program. A study by the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University studied the benefits of postpartum exercise. They found mothers who exercised daily were, at a year after giving birth, 12 pounds lighter than those mothers who didn’t exercise. They also found that a mother’s “can do” attitude helped keep her on an exercise program. A positive attitude towards exercise will help keep you on track. One exercising mother of four children, including a newborn, said, “I find that most people take time for what is important to them.” She added, “I think I’m a better wife and mother when I make time to take care of my physical self.”
Making It Work
The challenge many new moms face is finding time to exercise. Taking care of a newborn is a lot of work; however, there are ways to put fitness into your schedule.
- Work out with your baby. Use the stroller and go for a walk or invest in a jogging stroller if you like to jog or run. You can also do some mat exercises with your baby.
- Use exercise videos. This makes it easy to work out at home. You can even rent videos or borrow them from the library to try them out.
- Buy exercise equipment to work out at home. This is obviously more expensive, but in the long run, it may be cheaper than having a club membership. Make sure you buy equipment you will use (and not something that will end up at a future garage sale). Also, when using exercise equipment such as a treadmill, it is very important to keep it safely away from your baby. Put your baby in a secure place while you are working out.
- Enlist your husband or a reliable caregiver to watch your baby so you can go to a health club or go out for a walk or bike ride. Even new moms need a little time to themselves!
Be Good to Yourself
Finally, you need to remember not to be too hard on yourself. We are surrounded with images of celebrity moms posing their perfect bodies soon after delivery, yet the rest of us might not have access to personal trainers or cosmetic surgeons to create quick transformations. Remember, your body just did an amazing thing — it created life. And it took nine months to do it! It may take awhile before you can fit into your jeans again. Look at exercise as a way to improve your overall health and self-esteem. You are also setting an excellent example for your baby who will grow up with an energetic and healthy mother!