Nine months of pregnancy come to a close, and sleepless nights follow, heralding the newborn baby’s arrival. Mothers, enthralled with their delivered infant, nevertheless confront myriad stresses in the first year of parenting. Post-pregnancy body anxieties often top the list of pressures. Women fresh off the pregnancy wagon may want to consider this first-year physical milestone checklist recommended by Alexandra Allred, a mother, author, teacher of kinesiology at Navarro Community College in Texas -- and former Olympian.
You’re Humpty Dumpty [after giving birth], and Humpty Dumpty needs to be put back together again.
- Alexandra Allred, former U.S. Olympic bobsledder, mother, trainer and author
The initial and most critical direction for the first year, advised Allred, is for mothers to lower their expectations about jumping back to their pre-pregnancy bodies too fast.
“I always tell women that it took nine months to make this beautiful baby, so it’s all right if it takes nine months to get back to normal,” said Allred. “There’s so much pressure on women these days to compare to a celebrity who probably has a personal trainer and even maybe a plastic surgeon.”
Allred, a former U.S. Olympic bobsledder, gained attention in the 1990s by the U.S. and International Olympic committees for competing while nearly five months pregnant. The U.S. Olympic Committee subsequently awarded her Athlete of the Year.
Allred sees women all the time push themselves to extremes after giving birth, many hearing the silent question, “How soon did you lose the baby weight?”
“They feel pressure from everywhere -- from even the sweetest, most supportive husbands,” Allred said. “I know fitness instructors who starve themselves because they set some unfair expectation for themselves, saying ‘I gave myself three months.’”
The truth of it, said Allred, is the first three months should be take-it-easy time for every new mother. Within those three months, many women are breastfeeding. Mothers who breastfeed “struggle to lose weight,” Allred says, because the body -- for nutrients' sake -- is in storage mode, including storing fat. She cautions women not to let that discourage them from breastfeeding as she said that the baby’s health benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Allred recommends low-impact activity during the early months -- not inactivity. While a woman is pregnant, her joints, ligaments and cartilage loosen up. Exercises that cause a lot of jumping, pounding or straining should be avoided until near the end of that first year.
“You’re Humpty Dumpty [after giving birth], and Humpty Dumpty needs to be put back together again,” Allred said.
Three to six months into the first year, Allred suggests moving to exercises such as cycling, the elliptical machine and swimming. At the six-month mark, Allred says women may return to higher-impact movements such as kickboxing. However, she cautions that some women may still find they experience soreness in the pelvic bone and abductor and adductor muscles.
“Just by virtue of stopping breastfeeding at six or seven months, (new mothers) will see real change: they start shedding more weight and can actually feel the difference,” Allred said. “This is when women will start running again if they were joggers before.”
Ten months is when new mothers should begin to see a true return to form, although Allred emphasizes that every woman and every pregnancy is different.
“Ten months is the real marker for me, where you can go back to where you were before you were pregnant,” Allred said.
The most important thing is to limit injury, the most common of which are to the lower back and knees, she said. The best way to prevent postnatal injury, advised Allred, is to exercise carefully and responsibly before and during pregnancy.