Exercise after childbirth can feel terrifying — but it doesn’t have to be
OK, first of all, one postpartum fitness tip is more important than all others: Do notcompare yourself to other people and other people’s bodies. This holds true whether those people are moms or not and whether they’ve just given birth or not. (And it especially holds true if they alter their gym selfies before they put them on Instagram — in fact, we suggest unfollowing those people for the foreseeable future.)
Your body is amazing just the way it is — stretch marks, saggy skin, droopy boobs, what have you. Deadlifting 1.5 times your body weight, cranking out 20 push-ups, running a marathon in less than four hours — none of these things compare to giving birth to a child (however that birth happened).
And ignore all that “bounce back after baby,” “get your prepregnancy body” and “it took nine months to put the weight on; it’ll take nine months to take it off” crap. It might take you a lot longer than nine months to lose your “baby weight,” and you might never weigh what you did pre-baby — and that’s absolutely fine.
The Office on Women’s Health says gradual weight loss over several months is the safest way to go (especially if you’re breastfeeding, as it ensures your weight loss won’t affect your milk supply or the baby’s growth). But aside from making sure you don’t lose too much weight too quickly, we suggest this: Just don’t think about your weight at all. Ditch the scales, focus on how you feel instead, and work on coming to terms with the fact that your body might not ever look like it did before you got pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth do all sorts of weird and wonderful things that go far beyond weight gain.
Having said that, getting back into fitness after having a baby can have huge benefits. It’s no secret that working out raises your endorphin levels, boosting mood and helping to reduce the risk of depression. Exercise is a vital part of any lifestyle — with the benefits too numerous to list. Heart health, strong bones, increased energy and better sleep patterns are just a few.
We’re totally giving you permission to spend most of your postpartum time sitting on the sofa snuggling your newborn and marveling at how amazing you are for having brought a whole new person into the world. And if you had a C-section delivery, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests you really take your time (about eight weeks) returning to even gentle exercise.
Chances are, when you’re ready to get back into exercising, you’ll know. So we tapped fitness experts Lisa Druxman of Fit4Mom and Dempsey Marks of PreGame Fit for their best advice on postpartum exercise. These ladies know what they’re talking about.
Marks’ first tip is to start any exercise program slowly. “Your body has gone through a tremendous transformation in the time leading up to giving birth,” she says. “[It] has prepared for birth for more than nine months. So be gentle, start sensibly and build gradually. Always consult your doctor about how soon you can start your exercise program.”
Marks recommends walking as the best first postpartum exercise because it’s easy on your body and you can do it with your baby in tow — either strapped on in a carrier or pushed in a stroller. Start with 30 minutes and add five-minute increments until you are up to an hour per walk.
Perfect your posture
Some of the changes your body went through during pregnancy result in the head jutting forward, the shoulders rounding and the hips tilting forward, reveals Druxman. She recommends regular posture checks: Bring your head back, your shoulders back, stand or sit tall, and bring your hips to a neutral position. And if you feel things aren’t quite right in your vaginal or belly areas, consider visiting a pelvic health physiotherapist, who can check out your pelvic floor as well as give recommendations on diastasis recti (when the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy, resulting in a bulge).
Why not have fun, get fit and make new friends at the same time? Druxman recommends joining a parent-baby exercise class such as Stroller Strides, which are run by certified trainers and help ensure you are restoring your body in the healthiest way.
Give the abs attention
Many new moms want to focus on their abdominals, says Marks, but it’s easy to go too far too quickly. Marks recommends starting with a plank. “It is the single best core-conditioning exercise, but it also works your glutes and hamstrings, supports proper posture and improves balance,” she explains. “Begin by holding your elbows directly under your shoulders with [your] wrists in line with your elbows. Push your body up, head tucked in and legs together, as if you are doing a push-up, and hold for 10 seconds. You can gradually increase the holding time as you grow stronger.”
Another great ab exercise is the pelvic tilt, which targets the lower abdominals and also benefits the entire lower pelvic area. “You will be amazed how powerful and effective this easy little exercise is,” insists Marks. “You will also notice a change quickly, especially if you work up to two to three sets per day. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat and arms at your sides. Begin by drawing in and tightening your tummy and tilt your pelvis while pressing your back to the floor and squeezing your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds.”
Your postpartum diet is just as important as your postpartum fitness. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals advises eating at least 1,800 calories per day with well-balanced, healthy food choices that include foods rich in calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and folate. And don’t forget to hydrate! Druxman recommends keeping a water bottle by your bed, in your stroller and around the house — especially wherever you nurse.
Look beyond the body
Physical exercise is great, but there are many other ways to strengthen your postpartum health — including your mental health. The early postpartum months are a great time to learn meditation, says Druxman. She suggests using nursing and napping times to try breathing exercises; meditation apps like Calm or Expectful can provide just the guidance you need.
Cover image: Ashley Britton/SheKnows
Originally published on SheKnows