Now that your baby has arrived, you may be wondering which you’ll regain sooner: your prepregnancy shape or a sense of control in your life. Thankfully, an exercise program could be the solution to both. “A lot of postpartum women tend to get swamped with ‘just baby,’” says Michelle Mottola, Ph.D., director of the Exercise and Pregnancy Lab at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. “Every postpartum woman needs to take time out for herself. Exercise is a good way to do that because you feel you’ve done something for yourself.”
Many medical practitioners advise waiting until after your first postpartum examination (typically six weeks after delivery) to resume an exercise program. But a new mom can begin walking and doing strengthening moves for her abdominal, lower-back and pelvic muscles day one after delivery, as long as she had a normal vaginal birth.
“The exercises done at the early stages of the program help lay the foundation for exercises done later on,” says Lynn Allen, a certified aerobics instructor in Lawrence, Kan. Allen has trained many new moms and is a mother herself of an infant and toddler. She also is the former corporate fitness director for Universal Gym Equipment and current adviser to the Fitness Products Council.
Once you feel energetic enough to start doing mild- to moderate-intensity exercise like walking, swimming or low-impact aerobics, you’ll begin to build and tone your muscles, increase endurance, release stress and gain energy. You then can move on to our recovery program on page 106, an at-home option that most women can begin six weeks after delivery. It’s a total-body strengthening workout that targets areas new moms say they need to work: gluteals, abdominals and legs.
Allen acknowledges that as much as you need time to yourself and want your old bod back, it may be hard to leave your baby. Therefore, her routine includes four exercises you can do with your baby and four without. And remember Allen’s been-there-done-that advice: “Be patient in getting your shape and form back. It will come. It’s been there before; it will be there again.”
The purpose of these exercises is to rehabilitate muscles most stressed by pregnancy and delivery — those involving the pelvic floor, abdominals, and upper and lower back. These exercises will increase functional strength and prevent injury to vulnerable muscles and connective tissue. Child-rearing tasks, such as lifting children, can strain muscles in the torso, shoulders and lower back.