With the diaper changes and feedings, new moms hardly have time to think about exercise, let alone squeezing in a workout. But think about this: your postpartum workout sessions can help your baby because you’ll be less tense, feel better about yourself and will be stronger and more flexible.
Benefits of exercise after baby
Cardiorespiratory = Enduring your
24-hour-a-day new job as a mother
Muscular strength = Lifting your baby,
baby bag and stroller as they both get heavier over time
Muscular endurance = Feeding, burping and
holding your baby over the next year
Flexibility = Getting up and down from
the floor to play with your baby
Traditional advice from healthcare providers has been to wait six weeks before returning to any form of exercise after the birth of your baby. However, now advice varies based on the individual provider’s preference. For a mom who has had a vaginal delivery, waiting 10-14 days before returning to a pre/postnatal fitness class or personal training session is typical. Waiting at least six weeks before returning to a regular fitness setting (gym, aerobic class) is recommended. For a mom who has had a C-section, the minimum time to wait before returning to specialty classes or personal training is three to four weeks and six to eight weeks before returning to a regular fitness arena.
One exercise that you can start immediately is the Kegel exercises for your pelvic floor muscles. To perform this exercise, imagine that you have to urinate and there is no bathroom around. Tighten the muscle that you would use to “hold” your urine and gently draw them in and up. Try to hold the contraction for 10 seconds and release. Make sure that your buttocks, inner thighs and abdominal muscles are relaxed while doing this exercise.
Beginning these exercises after delivery (ideally within 24 hours) will help increase circulation to promote healing, alleviate discomfort from any stitches and relieves hemorrhoid pain, if any. These pelvic floor muscles have been overstretched and traumatized during birth and need to be strengthened and retrained to return to normal. Kegel exercises should be done multiple times throughout the day. It is “invisible” to others, so they can be done even while brushing your teeth or standing in line at the store.
When you and your provider decide that you are ready to start a fitness plan, remember to start gradually, in order to heal, stay healthy and get strong. On average, it takes about six-12 months to lose the “baby weight” so be patient and don’t compare yourself to the pregnant celebrity women who lost their “baby weight” in three months.
Things to consider
When you develop your postnatal fitness plan, make sure to include these five categories:
1. Pelvic floor/abdominal recovery, which includes various Kegel exercises, pelvic tilts and belly breathing exercises.
2. Cardiorespiratory exercises, which include walking, swimming, cycling (try a recumbent bike for comfort) and low intensity stair climbing. High intensity exercises (running, aerobics, stepping) should not be performed if you cannot hold a Kegel), as these type of exercises will weaken an already weak pelvic floor.
3. Weight training using exercise bands, tubing or hand weights to strengthen your arms, back and legs as well as to improve your posture.
4. Stretching gently to reduce tension and maintain overall flexibility.
5. Ergonomics to take care of your back by reducing twisting and bending/stooping over. Choose a diaper table and stroller that are high enough that you don’t have to bend too far to reach them. When nursing/feeding, place the baby on a pillow to raise the baby up to the breast or bottle.
Chandi White is a physical therapist and certified pre/postnatal fitness and wellness instructor. She works at La Rabida Children’s Hospital and Kinetic Energy Fitness& Physical Therapy.