The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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For each of my pregnancies (I’m currently in my third), exercise and pregnancy have been a natural combination. The nine-month built-in goal always seems to spur me on: I run, walk and eventually waddle my way through a regular exercise routine so I can manage my weight gain and get ready for the rigors of labor.
But after each of my two babies was born, my motivation to get moving went kaput. Amid frequent feedings, diaper changes, endless loads of laundry and caring for the rest of my family, something in my sleep-deprived life had to give. Regular exercise was the first to go. But it should be at the top of your postpartum to-do list, health experts say. It boosts metabolism, helps you shed those extra pounds, provides energy to deal with your chaotic life, gives you a little time for yourself, and helps relieve stress and body tension.
Exercise also works to “re-educate” muscles that have become weak during pregnancy, says Carolyn Winuk. A licensed physical therapist, Winuk is president of Moms in Motion Physical Therapy, which specializes in care for prenatal and postpartum women in New York’s Westchester and Putnam counties. You need to strengthen the pelvic-floor muscles by doing Kegels to prevent urinary incontinence, a common problem for women right after childbirth. And you’ll need to regain strong abdominal muscles to get your body in gear for all the bending, kneeling and lifting that comes with having kids. (See our “Total Body Workout")
When to exercise
So when is it safe to start up again? If you had a vaginal delivery with no complications, your doctor will probably advise you to wait until your six-week postpartum checkup to resume high-impact aerobic activity. But many women feel up to walking and doing other light exercise as early as two weeks or less after delivery. If you had a Cesarean section, you might need more time to heal.
The key is to go slowly and drink at least 10 8-ounce glasses of fluids a day. In the early weeks, avoid any jarring movements, says Carole Kowalczyk, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Detroit Medical Center. “Gauge how you feel,” she says. “If something hurts, stop and do something lighter.”
Because postpartum life can be so overwhelming (learning how to change diapers, breastfeed, get some sleep and still find time to relate to your husband, etc.) don’t pressure yourself to add one more major project to the mix. You can make exercise part of your daily life, even if for only 10 minutes at a time. Above all, don’t make exercise an all-or-nothing prospect, says exercise physiologist Geralyn Coopersmith, M.A., owner of Ener-G Unlimited Personal Training in New York City. “You are going through a transition phase,” she says. “Cut yourself some slack.”
OK, so maybe after this child is born, I’ll be able to make time for exercise. Exercise is a valuable part of what Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., co-author of Postpartum Survival Guide (New Harbinger Publications, 1994), calls an emotional self-care plan. “You are like a pitcher of water pouring out,” she says. “Only if you fill the pitcher again will you have more to give.”
So what better motivation do I need?