The Easy Guide to Exercising with Baby

No time to exercise? Hold your baby close and dance!

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Quick (but effective) workouts:

Feel you have no time to exercise? We've put together three "Quickie" workouts just for new moms. They can be done whenever you find the time — each one takes no more than 10–15 minutes. To help you regain strength and flexibility in the first few weeks after giving birth, try our easy first exercises, below. You can start them (with your doctor's approval, of course) as soon as you get home from the hospital.

Easy first exercises

If you have your doctor's go-ahead, you can begin doing these exercises (not shown) in the first days after giving birth.

1. KEGELS Contract the muscles around the vagina (as if holding back the flow of urine), hold for l0 seconds, then slowly release. Aim for 5 sets of l0 reps at a time; do 3–4 times during the day. Strengthens the pelvic-floor muscles.

2. STANDING SHOULDER BLADE PINCHES Stand with your feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked, arms relaxed by your sides. Contract your abdominal muscles. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, squeeze your shoulder blades down and back as if trying to hold a pencil between them. Begin with 10–15 reps, building up to 2 sets of 20 reps. Strengthens the upper back muscles.

3. BELLY BREATHING Lie faceup on the floor, knees bent, feet flat; inhale and expand your abdomen, then exhale and contract your abdominal muscles as tightly as possible, pulling your navel in toward your spine. At the same time, tilt your pelvis upward. Aim for 15 reps per day. When you can do 15 reps, begin to lift your head, neck and shoulders with each ab contraction. Strengthens the abdominal muscles.

4. COMPLETE BACK STRETCHES Sit erect on a chair with your legs separated hip-width apart, knees bent and feet on the floor a comfortable distance from your body. Place one hand under each thigh just above the knee. Contract abs; still holding onto your thighs, lean backward and round your entire back. Drop head to follow the natural curve of your upper spine. Hold this stretch for 8–l0 seconds, breathing naturally. Pull yourself back to the starting position, straightening spine. Stretches the upper back and shoulder muscles.

Quickie #1: Baby Dancing:

Hold your baby in your arms or use a front carrier that holds him close to your body. Put on some great music and dance! For variety, try intervals of slow and fast songs; this will also help keep your heart rate elevated. (If you've got your baby in a front carrier, be cautious when turning quickly.) You can also place him in a bouncy seat or swing and dance around him. Make your movements large and animated while maintaining eye contact with him. He'll love it!

THE BENEFITS: Dancing provides a light cardio workout that involves all major muscle groups and improves balance and coordination. And it can put you in a good mood!

Quickie #2: Abs & Arms:

These moves will help you carry your baby comfortably. Do them in the order listed.

THE BENEFITS: These exercises strengthen the back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, as well as the abs.

1. BABY BENCH PRESSES: Lie faceup on the floor, knees bent, feet flat. Contract your abs. Hold baby under his arms, fingers wrapped around his torso, and bring him close to your chest (A). Gently raise him straight up, straightening arms; don't lock elbows (B). Pause (say "peek-a-boo!"); then lower to starting position. Do 10 reps.

2. BABY OVERHEAD PRESSES: Sit on the floor cross-legged, holding your baby in front of your chest (he is now hanging vertically) with your arms bent (A). Lift your baby up overhead, extending your arms (B). Pause, then lower and repeat. Do l0 reps. Alternate one set of baby bench presses with one set of baby overhead presses, rest, then repeat twice.

3. CURL-UPS: Lie faceup on the floor, knees bent and feet flat. Rest your baby just above your pubic bone so his back is leaning against your thighs (A). Hold him securely under his arms with your fingers wrapped around his torso. Contract your abs and lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor in 2 counts (B); lower in 3 counts. Do 15–20 reps.

4. REVERSE BABY CURLS: Lie faceup on the floor and bring your knees toward your chest; place your baby with his chest on your shins (A). Contract your abs to gently tilt your hips off the floor; lift your head and shoulders off the floor at the same time (B). Lower and repeat (this will rock the baby forward and back). To progress, do a curl-up at the same time. Do 15–20 reps.

Quickie #3: Climbing & Lunging:

Climbing stairs is a quick and effective way to burn calories and work your lower body at the same time. If you wish, do these moves with your baby nestled against you in a front carrier (though you'll be able to do a more vigorous workout without him). Find a staircase at home, at a local stadium or in a shopping mall that has at least 12 steps. Begin with a few minutes of brisk walking, then alternate climbing and lunging. (You can also walk up hills.)

THE BENEFITS: You will tone the quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves.

CLIMBING: Climb the stairs, making sure your heels come down first, then roll your weight through your arch to the ball of your foot. Your arms should be bent and swinging in opposition to each step. For variety, run up the stairs and walk down (without baby).

LUNGES: Stand facing the lowest step. With your hands resting on your hips, step up with your left foot. Keep your foot there as you bend both knees. Staying erect, lower your torso until your left thigh is about parallel to the ground. Then straighten your legs, step down and repeat with your right leg.

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