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As a mother of two, I understand that powerful desire to get back into shape as soon as possible after having a baby. But because I’m also a personal trainer, I know that for a safe recovery, it’s wise to go slow (and, of course, to get your doctor’s OK before starting any exercise). Your delivery, length of labor, whether you had an episiotomy and your physical condition during pregnancy will all determine how soon you can exercise and how much you can, or will want, to do.
Yet even an easy walk in the neighborhood can give any new mom some needed energy and a sense of accomplishment in her topsy-turvy world.
The big benefits of exercise
No matter what your condition before or during pregnancy, exercise after childbirth has many benefits and is one of the best gifts a new mother can give herself.
“It improves strength, sleeping patterns and self-esteem,” says Donna Meltzer, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of family medicine at State University of New York at Stony Brook.
“In addition to helping you regain muscle tone more quickly, especially in the abdominal and pelvic-floor areas, exercise has an emotional benefit,” says Ann Swayne, physical therapist and coordinator of the Highland Park Hospital Fitness Center’s prenatal and postpartum exercise programs in Buffalo Grove, Ill. “Any kind of group exercise helps the mother get out of the house and not feel so alone,” she adds. It can be a refreshing, welcome break.
Losing weight after baby: the reality
Most women look at exercise as a way to lose pregnancy weight and tone up again. Don’t worry; the weight will come off, and your shape will come back. It just may take a while. Breastfeeding can help reduce the still-pregnant look because it stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which causes your uterus to contract, says Valerie Omicioli, M.D., staff obstetrician at the Lankeneau Hospital in Wynnewood, Pa.
“You’re not going to get your body back in two months,” says Suzanne Olson, an AFAA- and ACE-certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer in Philadelphia, who designed our neighborhood workout on the following pages. “Give yourself a year to adjust and to get your body back. There’s no rush. Enjoy the baby and fit exercise in when you can,” adds Olson, who is the mother of 18-month-old triplet boys.
“If you’re breastfeeding, you should lose no more than 4–5 pounds a month,” advises Julie O’Sullivan Maillet, R.D., Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Health Related Professions in Newark, and mother of two. You need those extra calories to produce milk for your baby.