Gentle postpartum Pilates moves to help you get your body back and bond with your baby at the same time.
You may be eager to get back in shape after the birth of your baby, but it can be tough to find time to exercise when you're juggling feedings, diaper changes and piles of laundry—all on minimal sleep. To the rescue: these fun, body-sculpting moves from the recently released book Pee Wee Pilates: Pilates for the Postpartum Mother and Her Baby (Da Capo Press, 2005).
Created by New York City Pilates instructor Holly Jean Cosner, this at-home workout is designed to strengthen your core—your abdominals, lower back, hips, buttocks and pelvic floor—the area most affected by pregnancy. The mat-based exercises allow you to stretch and strengthen your entire body and reduce tension without putting stress on the joints. In each of the moves, your baby is strategically placed to help you maintain proper form and focus and, at times, add resistance, Cosner explains.
Pee Wee Pilates provides an opportunity to stimulate your baby through movement, touch, eye contact and facial expressions, all of which can help enhance her cognitive development and motor skills, says the book's co-author Stacy Malin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York. Do the exercises when your baby is rested, calm and in a good mood. And don't forget to smile, laugh, play and talk to your little buddy during the routine.
Check with your doctor before beginning this or any other postnatal exercise program. Wait at least 6 weeks after delivery, longer if you had a Cesarean section.
Do all 6 moves in the order shown (one leads naturally to the next) every other day. Start by doing each exercise 3–4 times and build up to 10 times, resting as needed. If you had a C-section, follow the special instructions in each caption until your incision has healed. Have blankets and pillows handy for any modifications, as well as to prop up your baby for comfort. Stop, rest and nurse, or just hold your baby whenever necessary.
1. HUNDREDS Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat, and your baby cradled securely on your thighs, maintaining eye contact. Inhale, then exhale as you draw your navel toward your spine and lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Raise your hands and let them hover 5–6 inches off the floor, palms down, shoulders back and down (shown). Pump your arms rhythmically, inhaling for 5 counts and exhaling for 5 counts (1 rep). Repeat up to 10 times. C-section option: Don't raise your head. Strengthens abs and prepares you for the workout.
2. SINGLE-LEG STRETCHES While lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Place your baby securely on your belly. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your head and shoulders and gently press your spine into the floor. Inhale and bring your left knee toward your chest as you straighten your right leg, bringing it to a 45°angle (shown). Exhale as you bend your right knee into chest and straighten left leg in front of you. Repeat up to 10 times, alternating legs. C-section option: Keep your head on the floor. Place a folded blanket under your back and extend your legs at a higher angle so that you don't arch your back. Strengthens abs.
3. SINGLE-LEG KICKS Lie facedown with your baby in front of you, forearms on the floor, elbows under shoulders, and press forearms and hands down. Draw shoulders back and down and lengthen your neck. Squeeze your buttocks and legs, drawing your abdomen away from the floor. Bending at the knee, kick your right heel in toward your buttocks twice (shown). Switch legs and repeat. Repeat up to 10 times, alternating legs. C-section option: Place a folded blanket under your hips. Strengthens abs, hamstrings, chest, arms and shoulders.
4. SIDE KICKS Lie on your left side and place your baby near you. Straighten your legs and bring them in front of your hips at a slight angle, feet together. Prop your head on a pillow or on your left arm, keeping neck straight. Inhale, then exhale as you swing right leg forward for 2 counts, then inhale as you swing your leg back for 1 count, keeping hips and shoulders still (shown). Repeat up to 10 times. Switch sides and repeat. C-section option: Don't do backward kicks. Strengthens abs, upper hips, buttocks and legs.
5. LEG PULLDOWNS Kneel on all fours and place your baby faceup on a pillow just below your chest. Place hands directly under your shoulders, abs drawn in. Lift your knees and straighten legs to form a straight line from head to ankles, coming into plank position. Inhale as you lift your right leg off the floor (shown), then exhale as you lower it. Hold your body in plank position and repeat lifts up to 10 times with each leg. C-section option: Keep your knees on the floor and don't go into plank position. Strengthens abs, arms, shoulders, chest, buttocks, back and legs.
6. STANDING PLIÉS Stand tall with feet farther apart than hip width and turned out comfortably, cradling your baby close to your chest. Draw abs in, keeping shoulders back and down. Bend your legs and lower hips without changing pelvis position (shown). (Keep your heels on the floor and don't let your knees extend past your toes.) Straighten legs and squeeze buttocks. Repeat up to 10 times. C-section option: Do this exercise holding onto something for balance or with your back against a wall, feet a few inches away from it. Strengthens legs, buttocks, upper hips and arms.