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Maggie Offenhauser, a full-time mother of three children ages 5, 3 and 10 months, remembers enjoying a sense of “being able to get things done” before she had babies. “When I worked as a caterer,” she explains, “I’d plan a menu, execute it and have the satisfied customers and a paycheck to show for it.”
Though she wouldn’t trade her family life for the world, Offenhauser admits sometimes it can feel like an endless cycle of feedings, dirty diapers, laundry and dishes. She’s not alone — for many women, the hardest thing about motherhood is the lack of organization in their days.
“Some people really like getting lost in [the] whole aura of mothering — the fuzzy feelings of taking care of a baby around the clock,” says Libby Colman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and co-author of Laughter and Tears, the Emotional Life of New Mothers (Henry Holt & Co., 1997). “But many others, especially women who are taking time out of a career, crave a more regular schedule.”
Besides disrupting everyday routines, new babies can cut into their parents’ sleep time, a combination that can make moms feel stressed and fatigued, says Colman. Add to this the strong desire to resemble their prepregnancy selves again (or simply wear a pair of fitted jeans), and new moms are primed for anxiety.
That’s where postpartum exercise comes in: It can help you get back into good shape and keep you sane in the process. “Just getting out for a walk each day is so good for me,” says Offenhauser. “It gives me time to myself, which is something I don’t get a lot of. When I work out, I get great satisfaction of knowing I’m doing something good for myself.” She believes that means it’s good for her children, too.
Stake your claim
While exercise may be the last thing on your mind in the days following your baby’s birth, try to make it one of the first. “This time is all about the baby — but it’s about you, too,” says Carol Espel, program director of the sports center at Chelsea Piers in New York City and the mother of two young children.
Regular, consistent exercise will enable you to cope with the barrage of changes you’re experiencing, she says. It will help you get more restful sleep, release tension and regain control over your changing body.
You can begin this process immediately following delivery, says Bonnie Rote, R.N., director of the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America’s pre- and postnatal educational program. If you’ve had a normal vaginal delivery, you can begin our “Building Blocks” on page 100 two to three days after delivery — once you’re up and comfortably about, says Rote, who designed them especially for Fit Pregnancy. These gentle but effective moves will increase circulation, reduce the swelling of your uterus and help strengthen the areas most affected by pregnancy and childbirth, such as the perineum, lower and upper back, shoulders, buttocks and abdominals. They also will provide the foundation for a more strenuous workout once you’re ready.
At about six weeks postpartum, or once you can perform the “Building Block” exercises with ease, feel no strain on your pelvic floor and have no more bright-red bleeding, you can graduate to strength moves to get your body back into top condition. We asked Rob Parr, a renowned Los Angeles–based personal trainer who has helped celebrities like Demi Moore, Maria Shriver and Tatum O’Neal get back to their prepregnancy shapes, to develop these superefficient moves (see “Under Construction”.
Parr, a father of three, including 4-year-old twins, says it’s crucial to start with the basics early. “Unless you allocate time for exercise and build it into your daily schedule from day one, you’ll find that the baby, work and the myriad demands of family and household will always take precedence,” he says.