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One minute you’re euphoric, the next you’re sobbing at a sappy TV commercial. Expect a roller coaster of emotions after childbirth, says Steven Dubovsky, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. Not only are your hormones still running high, but your entire life has changed. You have a new identity and more responsibilities. You might be overcome by the magic of childbirth yet (especially if you had a C-section) regret that it did not go as you’d hoped. You may experience love and loneliness. You might feel insecure about being a parent. It’s all normal.
Up to 70 percent of new moms develop postpartum blues: tearfulness, anxiety and mood swings that begin several days after delivery and may last for two weeks to a month. Postpartum blues subsides on its own and does not require medical care.
Postpartum depression is more serious and long-lasting, affecting an estimated 10 percent of new mothers. It often develops about a month after delivery and can persist until a woman gets treatment, Dubovsky says. Mothers with depression experience days filled with profound sadness. They may have dark attitudes about themselves and their babies and have thoughts of suicide. Physical symptoms include lack of appetite and a sleeplessness unrelated to the new baby’s schedule. Call your doctor or midwife if you experience any of these symptoms, and do so immediately if you think you could harm yourself or your baby. Medical care, usually in the form of counseling and/or medication, does help dramatically.
In the weeks following childbirth, you may notice tiny broken blood vessels on your face, particularly around your eyes or nose. These are caused by the tremendous pushing you did during labor and will disappear within days. Happily, most other skin abnormalities that may have developed during pregnancy will diminish, too.
It will be many months before your period resumes with any regularity. If you nurse, you might get your period back between one to three months after you begin to wean your baby; if you’re not nursing, your period will probably resume one to four months after you give birth.
So Happy Together
How soon can a new mom exercise? For some, it’s the day after giving birth. Gentle exercises, such as belly breathing and pelvic tilts, may help a new mother relax and feel less stiff and cramped. But after regaining some strength and stamina, finding time for a regular routine can be tricky. New mothers who want to get back in shape may try to exercise when the baby is asleep — but that doesn’t always work with a newborn, whose sleeping schedule is unpredictable. Our solution: five easy exercises, designed by fitness editor Linda Shelton, that you can do with your baby. This way, when it’s baby’s nap time, you can take that much-needed nap, too! This is a progressive training program: As your baby gets heavier, there will more of her to lift, so you’ll need to get stronger. For best results, try to do this 15- to 20-minute workout four to five times per week.
Your first moves
Most new moms, even those who had Cesarean sections, are encouraged to walk the day after giving birth to get the circulation flowing. Here are a few basic, easy exercises you may be able to begin in the first few days postpartum.
Kegels Contract the muscles around the vagina and hold for 10 seconds; then slowly release. Aim for 5 sets of 10 reps at a time; do 3–4 times during the day. Strengthens pelvic-floor muscles and may help prevent incontinence.
Lie in bed or on the floor, knees bent, feet flat; inhale and expand your abdomen; then contract your abdominals as tightly as possible, pulling your navel in toward your spine. At the same time, tilt your pelvis upward, bringing hips toward your lower ribs. Aim for 15 reps per day, progressing to 20–25. Strengthens abdominals.
Back Stretch and Strength
Kneel on the floor on all fours, knees under hips and arms under shoulders, back straight; round your spine up toward the ceiling, tucking your tailbone underneath you. Relax your head and neck to fully stretch your back. Return to just past neutral, slightly arching spine, head up. Do 4–6 reps. After 2 weeks, progress to mild strengthening: From the same starting position, lift right leg to hip height and left arm to shoulder height without arching back or rounding shoulders. Lower and repeat with opposite arm and leg. Work up to 8–10 reps, alternating sides. Stretches and strengthens back muscles.
Lean your entire back against a wall with feet separated in front of you. Bend knees, lowering thighs to a parallel position, knees in line with ankles. Hold for 10–15 seconds; build up to 30 seconds. When you can hold this squat position for 30 seconds, alternately straighten one leg out in front of you to hip height and hold for a count of 5; keep back against the wall. Begin with 5 reps and build to 10 (1 rep equals 1 leg lift). Strengthens quadriceps.