Throughout the journey of pregnancy you experience exhaustion, mood swings, sleepless nights, food cravings and, of course, weight gain. The Institute of Medicine recommends that normal weight women gain between 25 and 35 pounds. While some women take this to heart, others may have a difficult time staying on track. No matter which path you took, now that your little bundle has arrived you may find the idea of losing that weight to be quite daunting. Following a safe and effective postnatal workout plan will get you on the right track to becoming a happy and healthy new mom.
Start at the Right Time
When to begin a postnatal workout program will vary from woman to woman. While some women may feel ready to begin exercising within a day or two of giving birth, others may take several weeks before they feel ready. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that there are no published studies that indicate that rapid resumption of activities will result in adverse effects. If you're not sure when to start or if you had a cesarean section, play it safe and wait until your postpartum check-up and get the green light from your OB or midwife.
The types of exercise you can perform post-pregnancy depends upon your personal preferences and your level of fitness. Walking is an activity that is safe for nearly everyone and, according to the American Council on Exercise, will minimize muscle wasting, increase circulation and speed up the healing process. Jogging and other high-impact activities may need to wait until your nether regions are healed up. Yoga and Pilates are ideal elements to add to a postnatal exercise program -- the gentle movements will improve circulation, flexibility and muscle tone and strengthen the weakened walls of your abdomen. Strength-training exercises also are appropriate for most postnatal workout plans. Begin with lighter weights and avoid movements that force you to strain. Keep in mind that your joints will remain lax and vulnerable for several months after giving birth, even longer if you're nursing.
How Much, How Often
Caring for a newborn is a 24/7 job, so don't stress if your attempt at a workout was cancelled due to a hungry infant or if there wasn't even an attempt at a workout. Work on just doing what you can -- five to 10 minutes a day will get you on the right track and may even help maintain a bit of your sanity. Cardio such as walking or elliptical training can be performed every day if you feel up to it, but don't push yourself too hard. Between 20 and 30 minutes a day is plenty. Yoga and Pilates also can be performed every day and, if done during naptime, can help give a new mom some much needed relaxation time. Strength training should be performed only two to three days per week with at least one day of rest between workouts.
Watch Your Belly
The nine months of pregnancy you experienced did a number on your abs, which right now probably resemble anything other than abs. The muscles are now stretched and weak and will take some time to get back into pre-baby shape. Aside from giving you an unsightly belly pooch, your overstretched abdominal muscles are doing little to support your back. This combined with your milk engorged breasts can lead to some serious back pain. You can begin working on rebuilding your abs immediately after birth with Kegel exercises. Once you feel ready, progress to abdominal hollowing, leg slides, pelvic tilts and eventually planks and crunches. ACE notes that this exercise progression is safe if you suffer from diastasis recti, partial or complete separation of the abdominal muscles, but you may need to proceed more slowly to prevent further separation.
Play it Safe
Your postnatal workout plan should act as a stress reliever rather than a stress inducer. If you find yourself anxious and worried about exercising then you probably shouldn't be doing it just yet. Breast support is very important during this time especially if you're nursing. Drink plenty of water during your workouts and avoid dehydration throughout the rest of the day. If you notice an increase in locia, postpartum bleeding, then you're likely pushing yourself too hard and need to dial it back a bit. You will return to your pre-pregnancy body, but it will take some time, so be patient and enjoy being a mom.
- Institute of Medicine: Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
- American Council on Exercise Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness; Lenita Anthony