by Ann Douglas
We all know at least one Cindy Crawford-type: a new mom who was able to slip into her skin-tight workout leotard within days of giving birth. What we sometimes forget, however, is that the Cindy Crawford's of the world are the exception rather than the rule: it takes most of us a lot longer than a couple of days to get back in shape after giving birth!
That's not to say that the situation is all doom and gloom, of course. (If it were, those slim-and-trim moms that you see carrying babies would be on the endangered species list!) Here are some tips on designing a workout program that will work for you during this exciting but busy time in your life:
Give your body the credit it deserves
Rather than beating yourself up for being "out of shape," remind yourself that your body is actually in perfect shape for having just had a baby. There's a reason that your abdominal muscles are flabby and that you are probably carrying around a few extra pounds: you've just sublet your uterus to another human being for the last nine months! Before you fall into the trap of being too hard on yourself, heed these words of caution: you could be sabotaging your fitness success by focusing on all the things you don't like about your postpartum body. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered that you're actually twice as likely to be successful at losing weight if you feel reasonably good about your body.
Stop viewing exercise as a punishment
If you're not in the habit of working out regularly, it's easy to treat exercise as just one more thing you have to do. Instead of viewing the word exercise as a polite euphemism for torture, try to convince yourself that it's something that you actually want to do because it will do good things for you, both body and soul. (You may have to lie to yourself a bit at first, but over time, you'll start believing yourself!)
Be realistic about what you can expect to accomplish at this stage in your life
It's better to set a series of small, achievable fitness goals for yourself than to aim so high that you throw in the towel after just a couple of days. Besides, studies have shown that people who aim for moderate rather than high-intensity workouts are only half as likely to abandon their fitness programs.
Look for fitness activities that you can enjoy with your baby in tow
Walking is a natural, of course: you simply pop your baby into her stroller or into the Snugli and then hit the pavement. But so are such activities as dancing (with or without a baby in your arms), jogging (provided you purchase a decent-quality jogging stroller), and weightlifting. (Believe it or not, there are some postnatal fitness workout tapes that show you how to use your baby as a free weight!)
Choose a fitness activity that you genuinely enjoy
You'll be far more motivated to follow through on your workout plans if you choose a fitness activity that you genuinely enjoy, be it walking, biking, swimming, or something else entirely. (Hey, it's hard enough to convince yourself to spend what little free time you have working out. Don't make it harder on yourself by committing to an activity that reminds you of the things you hated most about your Grade 6 phys ed class!)
Choose an activity that is easy to fit into your schedule
If you're breastfeeding a baby who is colicky in the evenings, this may not be the best time to sign up for an after-dinner water fitness class at your local gym. (On the other hand, if that's the only time you can squeeze in a workout and it's the one thing that's keeping you sane, go for it!)
Spend your fitness dollars wisely
Before you spend a small fortune on a gym membership, be realistic about how often you're actually going to make it there to work out. Unless they offer on-site childcare or you have someone who can come into your home a few times a week so that you can get out, you may find that it's such a hassle to get to the gym and back that you rarely step foot in the place!
Don't pooh-pooh the benefits of working out in your own home
A recent Stanford University study revealed that people who exercise in their own homes are more likely to stick with their fitness programs than people who work out elsewhere. What's more, a University of Florida study confirmed what many exercise physiologists have long suspected: people who exercise at home tend to lose more weight over the course of a year than people who exercise at other locations.
Don't allow yourself to get into a fitness rut
It's easy to allow boredom to sabotage your workout program. Either rotate fitness activities on a regular basis or find a workout buddy who can help you to stay motivated. Your body will thank you for it!
Reward yourself for sticking to your fitness program
Treat yourself to some workout clothes, a new workout video, or a new piece of exercise equipment -- anything that will encourage you to build on your fitness success.
Stick with it
Fitness should remain a priority for you long after those extra pregnancy pounds are gone. Not only will it help to ensure that your body is in the best possible physical condition: it will also help you to combat some of the day-to-day stresses that seem to go along with the whole motherhood turf!
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.
Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.