But mothers who can make exercise a social experience often have the best results, says Adelaide Nardone. Comparing notes and finding out that all babies have crying jags at the end of the day, for instance, can make this frustrating time so much easier.
Mindy Potts still meets with her postpartum group four years after she joined because the benefits are physical and emotional. “I watch new moms join, and so many feel shut in and isolated,” she says. “Getting out of the house and having a long conversation with other mothers after a good workout is lifesaving.”
Day 1 Moves
As soon as the first day after giving birth, you can begin doing very gentle exercises (with your doctor’s approval, of course). The following moves will help you relax, stretch your back, strengthen your abdominal muscles and prevent incontinence, which can be common in the first weeks postpartum.
1) Belly Breathing Lying in bed or on the floor, knees bent, feet flat, inhale and expand your abdomen; then contract your abs as tightly as possible, pulling your navel in toward your spine. At the same time, tilt pelvis upward, bringing hips toward lower ribs. Exhale and release. Aim for at least 15 reps per day, progressing to 20–25. Strengthens abdominals.
2) Back Stretch and Strength 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.
3) Kegels Contract the muscles around the vagina and hold for l0 seconds; then slowly release. Aim for 5 sets of l0 reps at a time; do 3–4 times throughout the day. Strengthens pelvic-floor muscles; may help prevent incontinence.
The Buddy Workout
It’s always more fun to exercise with a buddy, so partner up with a friend or another new mom for this easy postpartum workout to get your energy and shape back fast.
This workout of stretch and strength moves for two to do together was designed by San Rafael, Calif., trainer Karen Andes, author of A Woman’s Book of Balance (Putnam/Penguin, 1999). They can be done any time, anywhere, and take about 10 minutes to do — a perfect routine for busy new moms. Do these exercises with your partner 2–3 times a week. Bonus: It’s a fact — working out with a partner is the best way to get and stay motivated.