Exercising After the First Month Postpartum

by Bonnie Berk

Exercise during the first couple of months after delivery will help you feel more emotionally stable and reduce hot flashes and night sweats that frequently occur until your ovarian function returns to normal. It will also help get you back to exercising on a regular basis. Studies show that the longer the new mother puts off exercising, the less likely she will exercise at all.

Most women do not want to leave their babies during this honeymoon phase. For that reason, exercising with your baby is an ideal solution. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking is best because it stimulates bone density, which has been shown to decrease about 5 percent over the initial 3 months after delivery from a drop in hormone levels.

Exercise classes designed especially for moms and babies are an excellent way to get the needed exercise and, just as important, network with other new moms. Sometimes finding time to attend a class is difficult, but it is worth the effort. The key is to plan ahead and get everything ready the night before. Preparing the diaper bag ahead of time, including a water bottle for yourself, will help reduce the mad rush out the door. It also becomes a motivator for actually going to the class. After all, if everything is ready, you have no excuses.

Walking is a perfect exercise for the new mom, and getting out in the fresh air also benefits baby. You can either walk with your baby in a front infant carrier or use a stroller. If you choose to use a stroller, be sure that the handles are tall enough to allow your elbows to be bent at a 90-degree angle. As with any exercise, be sure to stay in good posture and stretch after each walk to keep your muscles healthy.

Another good weight-bearing exercise is dancing with your baby. Not only will you feel better, the movement and music may stimulate infant development and, if nothing else, put the baby to sleep. Just turn on the music, put your baby in a front infant carrier for safety, and have a ball! Incorporate stretching into your dance routine as well.

Shaping up after delivery is an ongoing process. It usually takes a new mom 6 months to a year to return to prepregnancy proportions. You will reap many benefits by starting to exercise early in the postpartum phase and continuing on a regular basis. Eventually, regular, sustained exercise will help you return to your prepregnancy weight, improve abdominal muscle tone, and enhance your overall body image.

Question: What works best for losing weight? Dieting or exercise?

Answer: The combination of exercise and diet is best. Researchers have found that short-term weight loss (about 1 kilogram, or 2 pounds, a week) through a combination of diet and exercise appears to be the best way to lose weight after delivery. Weight loss achieved primarily through dieting without exercise reduces maternal lean body mass, lowering metabolism and making it even harder to shed those unwanted pounds. The slower you lose the weight, the more chance you have for keeping it off for good!

Continue to perform at least 20 Kegel exercises at least twice a day every day. Try to walk 20 to 30 minutes a day and gradually work up to 45 minutes at a good pace at which you can talk, but you can't sing. You might want to split your aerobic workouts by walking your baby twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time.

In addition, work on strengthening your core muscles because abdominal muscles were stretched and chances are they need to be toned. Here are some key exercises to practice along with instructions for breathing while you practice core exercises. The core exercises are designed to both strengthen and stretch the muscles of the core. The core exercises are listed in the order of intensity. Start with the first exercise and slowly progress according to your individual comfort and tolerance level.

Excerpted from Motherwell Maternity Fitness Plan

Bonnie Berk, RN, is the founder of Motherwell and a childbirth education specialist with more than 25 years of experience working in the obstetrical and women's health fields. She is a pioneer in the field of pre- and postnatal fitness.

Berk is an author, speaker, and consultant to a broad range of institutions addressing the special needs of women before, during, and after pregnancy. She is a frequent TV and radio talk show guest, has written numerous articles that have been featured in Baby Talk, Pregnancy, Vogue, Shape, Fitness, and many other consumer and trade publications. Berk has also produced two award-winning videos, Motherwell Exercise Video for Pregnant Women and Motherwell Yoga Video for Expectant Moms. In addition, she is a certified master personal fitness trainer through the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, a registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance, and a certified Pilates instructor by American Muscle and Fitness, Institute of Fitness Training.

Berk lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and enjoys scuba diving, in-line skating, and hiking. She can be reached through her Web site, www.motherwellfitness.com.

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