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The first few days after your baby arrives, you may not feel like yourself. Between the excitement of bonding, as well as the feedings and diaper changes, the last thing on your mind is exercise. But, “the exercises here will speed the healing process and help reduce the possibility of some postpartum complications,” says Karen Nordahl, M.D., co-author of Fit to Deliver: An Innovative Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Program (Hartley & Marks, 2005).
The following series of moves, based on Jennifer Gianni’s new DVD, are designed to increase circulation and strengthen the muscles taxed during pregnancy, labor, vaginal delivery or Cesarean section. They can be done as early as the day after you give birth (just be sure to check with your doctor first). You can do them all lying on your back if sitting is difficult.
Begin with one move, slowly building up your strength until you can accomplish the entire program. Start with 3–4 repetitions of each move, working up to 15. Let pain be your guide for when to stop.
1. Drawing In
Place your hands on your belly. Inhale slowly through your nose, expanding your belly, then exhale through your mouth and gently draw your abdominal muscles in, away from your hands, as you do a Kegel (see below). Slowly release and repeat. Strengthens the pelvic floor and increases circulation.
2. Thoracic Breathing
Place your hands on your upper ribs. Inhale deeply through your nose, feeling the front and back ribs expand. As you exhale through your mouth, draw your navel in toward the spine and feel your ribs close, keeping shoulders still (shown). Increases lung capacity and function.
3. Upper-Body Stretches
Cross your left arm over your chest and hold it with your right hand, keeping shoulders relaxed [A]. Hold for 2 breaths and switch sides. Clasp your hands behind your head, sit up and keep your spine as straight as possible, opening your chest [B]. Hold for 2 breaths and release. Stretches triceps, shoulders and chest, increasing upper-body mobility.
4. Pelvic Tensions
Lie on your back without arching it, your knees bent and feet flat, and inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth, gently drawing your abdominals in. Slightly squeeze your buttocks without lifting your hips (shown). Slowly release and repeat. Strengthens abs, buttocks and legs while improving lower-body circulation.
5. Toe Wiggles and Leg Slides
In Pelvic Tensions position, do 10 toe wiggles and ankle rolls with each foot [A]. Next, keeping heels down, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you slide one heel out until your leg is almost straight [B]. Slide the heel back and repeat with other leg. Increases circulation and prepares you for walking.
6. Log Rolls
From a back lying position, gently draw your abs in and use your arms to roll to one side, keeping head down [A]. Push with your arms to come up to a seated position [B]. Your head should be the last thing to come up. Be sure to use your arm strength to come to a seated or standing position to avoid straining your abs or Cesarean section incision. Prepares you to come to a seated or standing position.