Best Lifestyle Changes to Keep Me Healthy
Last Updated: Aug 28, 2014
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Filled with precious moments, dirty diapers and sleepless nights, the first few months of parenthood can be both exciting and exhausting. On top of all that, new moms are also concerned about losing pregnancy weight and getting physically fit as soon as possible -- and for good reason. “You cannot give your child 100 percent if you yourself are not 100 percent,” says Dr. J. Shah, medical director at Amari Medical in Scarsdale, New York. Don't let the yearning for your pre-baby body add even more stress to your life. With a few simple tips, lifestyle changes and patience, you can get your trim, healthy and energized body back again.
GET AN EARLY START
Though it's easier to regain your pre-baby body if you exercised throughout your pregnancy, it's also helpful to incorporate small, light workouts into your routine almost immediately after giving birth. If your pregnancy and delivery were complication-free -- and if you’ve been cleared by a health-care professional -- you can increase activity in the first few days after giving birth. Do breathing exercises, perform low-intensity aerobic exercise or perform exercises in your bed, says Dr. Scott Weiss, a physical therapist and owner of Bodhizone Physical Therapy and Wellness in New York City. “Research says that the quicker you’re up and moving, the better off you are,” he says.
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START SLOW AND BUILD UP
Once you’re sure there are no lingering complications from your delivery, licensed physical therapist Dr. Scott Weiss says you can begin to slowly increase your exercise levels about two full weeks after giving birth. Opt for walking, stretching, aquatic hydrotherapy and other exercises that will strengthen the muscles for about 30 minutes a day in segments of 5 to 10 minutes, suggests J. Shah, M.D. When intensifying workouts, however -- especially in the weeks and months directly following delivery -- be aware that joints may be more flexible due to pregnancy hormones. “Be careful with any major jumping or running on rocky roads, because the joints are relaxed,” Weiss warns.
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STRENGTHEN YOUR FEET AND UPPER BODY
Though many new moms are preoccupied with sculpting their legs and belly, and dropping fat to regain their pre-baby body, it’s crucial to pay attention to both the feet and the upper body muscles, too, says Dr. Scott Weiss, a licensed physical therapist. “You gain 17 to 32 pounds on average, and that is such an increased load for not only the joints of the body, but the part that touches the ground,” he says. Flexibility and strengthening exercises that focus on the feet -- such as calf stretches or balancing on one foot -- can help them regain their arch and strength. Upper body workouts should be incorporated into your routine, too, since “there’s so much carrying and holding and lifting,” Weiss says.
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DON'T OVERDO IT
While exercising and being active are necessary steps to regaining your post-baby body, health and energy level, new moms shouldn’t push themselves too hard or fast when it comes to their workout routine. Dr. Michelle Kelly, clinical assistant professor at Villanova University's College of Nursing, says it’s important to be on the lookout for any signs of excess bleeding or fatigue with exercise, as these can be warnings that you’re putting too much physical stress on your body. “Contact your health care provider if you experience any increase in bleeding, pain or fatigue out of proportion to your activity,” she says.
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FOCUS ON A HEALTHY, BALANCED DIET
Exercise is crucial when making changes to get back in shape after having a baby, but nutrition plays just as big a role in creating a healthy body that’s full of energy. Cutting calories drastically or going on a crash diet can be unsafe for both you and your baby, says Dr. J. Shah, M.D., adding that new moms should never skip meals. Instead, opt for a low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables that also incorporates a healthy amount of lean proteins, he says. “Stay away from the fast food, stay away from the high-carbohydrate diets,” Shah says. “And of course, go slow, don’t try to rush it. If you lose two pounds a week, be happy with that.”
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KEEP HORMONES IN LINE
After giving birth, it’s common for a woman's hormones to get out of whack, whether it’s insulin sensitivity or complications with her thyroid. These hormonal imbalances can cause weight gain, fatigue, mood changes and more, says Dr. J. Shah, M.D. “Try to find your hormone levels -- especially thyroid, insulin and sex hormones -- and balance them if they are off,” he says. “If you do not do this, you may get frustrated that you aren’t losing weight and will lose motivation.” Your doctor can order a full blood panel to identify hormone levels and irregularities so you can get them back on track.
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CHECK IN WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Though you and your baby will be visiting the doctor regularly in your postpartum days, it’s smart to get a complete physical exam in the weeks following delivery to be sure your health is on track, says Dr. Scott Weiss, a licensed physical therapist. “Make sure that things not only feel back to normal, but -- based on your blood chemistry -- are back to normal,” he says. Getting a clean bill of health can be a real confidence booster, too, Weiss says, as you'll feel better about exercising and be reassured that you're on the way to restoring your pre-pregnancy self.
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GET SOME SHUT-EYE
Many new moms are prepared for nights of fussy babies and little sleep, but getting an adequate amount of rest is paramount to feeling energized, stabilizing your mood and getting back in shape. Dr. J. Shah, M.D., says new moms should try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, if possible, and suggests napping while their baby naps. “Sleep deprivation may disturb the hormonal balance and make you gain weight,” he says, noting, however, that a full night's sleep can be difficult to attain if your baby wakes up frequently. "If possible, get help from the baby’s father to bottle-feed the baby at night,” Shah says.
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BREASTFEED YOUR BABY
For new moms, breastfeeding can not only be a simple way to spend time and bond with your baby, but is also a great non-exercise method to get back in shape after pregnancy, says Dr. Michelle Kelly, Ph.D. “Breastfeeding will help with post-pregnancy weight loss and help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy tone,” she says. When breastfeeding, however, be sure to provide your body and baby the extra nutrients they need. Kelly says it’s best to add an extra 400 to 500 calories each day to support breastfeeding. “These extra calories should come from healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables,” she says.
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CARE FOR HAIR AND NAILS
With so much on their minds, many new moms forget that their hair and nails can suffer during and after pregnancy, so it’s essential to care for them in the days and weeks after giving birth, says Dr. Susan Stuart, dermatologist at La Jolla Dermatology in San Diego. Falling estrogen levels post-delivery can cause hair loss, and nails can become brittle and grow slowly during and after pregnancy, she says. Rejuvenate your hair and nails by using gentle shampoos, limiting combing, brushing, dyeing and blow-drying hair and avoiding acrylic or artificial nails. “If you follow this advice, you can begin to see visible changes in the appearance of your hair and nails within a few weeks of childbirth,” Stuart says.
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EXPECT RESULTS, BUT RATIONALLY
A combination of good sleep, exercise, healthy diet and balanced hormones should help new moms kickstart their efforts to get back to their pre-baby shape and health, but it’s important to realize that results may come slowly, with many women not completely getting back to their pre-preganancy self until nearly a year after birth, says Dr. J. Shah, M.D. Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t lose 15 pounds within the first few months, concentrate on the positive changes in the way you feel or look. “The focus should be on fitting back into the pre-pregnancy clothes -- losing fat from the body -- and not the weight on the scale,” Shah notes.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you a new mom? What are you doing to stay healthy and get back in shape? Have you successfully gotten your pre-baby body back? What did you do? If you're a "veteran mom," share your advice and stories with the rest of the community in the comments below to help support other moms!
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