ooh, baby!

Some people really like getting lost in the whole aura of mothering -— the fuzzy feelings of taking care of a baby around the clock.

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.

(If you've had a Cesarean section, you should stay with the "Building Block" exercises, combined with stretching and easy walking, until you're healed and have your doctor's go-ahead to do the harder workout.)

The cardio connection Once you're no longer bleeding heavily, add easy walking to your fitness schedule. If you're conditioned, says Bonnie Rote, this can be as early as two weeks. If not, wait until three or four weeks postpartum. Take the baby for a stroll, and slowly graduate to 10- and 20-minute walks. If you feel fatigue, increased pelvic pain or discomfort, you're doing too much. Other warning signs are blood that's a dark-red color, or bleeding that returns after your discharge, or lochia, has turned yellow.

Continue with only low-impact aerobic activities such as stationary cycling and postpartum exercise classes (avoid step) until your joints and balance return to normal. Large lateral movements, such as wide squats, sidesteps or leg abductions, are not a good idea just yet. Begin slowly and build on to your routine.

[Building blocks] Designed by pre- and postpartum exercise expert Bonnie Rote, R.N., these exercises prepare your muscles for the serious work of getting into shape again. If you can't find time to do them together, says Rote, break them up and do each one whenever you can throughout the course of the day. Before you begin, make sure your pelvic-floor muscles are healed to the point in which you can hold back urine. For some women, this may be three days after giving birth; for others, three to four weeks.

1. Partial Plié Stand with hands at waist or holding back of a chair for balance, feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing comfortably out, knees facing same direction as toes. Keeping torso erect, abs pulled in and pelvis in neutral position, contract pelvic-floor muscles to do a Kegel exercise [A]. Holding the Kegel, lower yourself to a position halfway between standing and a 90-degree bend at the knees [B]. Only bend as low as you can without changing pelvis position. Squeeze buttocks as you return to a standing position. Release pelvic-floor contraction and repeat. Begin with one set of 5–8 reps; gradually work up to 12. When you can do 12 comfortably, do 2 sets of 5–8 reps and work up to two sets of 12 reps. Strengthens pelvic-floor muscles, front and rear of thighs, and buttocks.

2. Starting Steps Stand sideways to a chair so left hand is holding on to it. Starting with feet forward and hip-width apart, step forward with left foot into a lunge position, with right heel off floor [A]. Standing erect, abs in, lower yourself halfway to a point between standing and a 90-degree bend at left knee. Make sure left knee is directly over ankle and right knee is under hip [B]. Straighten legs and repeat reps; then switch to right foot in front and repeat. Start with one set of 8–12 repetitions on each side; work up to two sets of 12. Strengthens thighs, buttocks and calves; prepares legs to push body weight up a step.

3. Back Bridge Begin on all fours, with arms directly under your shoulders, knees under hips. Contract abdominal muscles and extend right leg behind you, at hip height, keeping your hips square [A]. Maintaining your balance and keeping abdominals tight, extend left arm in front of you to shoulder height [B]. Hold for at least 5 seconds. Make sure you use your abdominal muscles to maintain your back position. Lower arm, then leg, to starting position and repeat sequence with left leg and right arm. Gradually work up to 5–8 repetitions on each side.

Once you can perform this exercise with ease, do the same leg and arm movements lying face down on the floor. Be sure to tighten your buttocks before elevating legs to avoid arching back. Strengthens abdominals, upper and lower back muscles, buttocks and back of thighs.

4. Preliminary Push-ups Begin on all fours, with arms directly under your shoulders, fingers pointing forward, knees under hips. Contract abdominal muscles and keep your torso straight and head directly in line with spine [A]. Slowly bend elbows and lower chest toward the floor without arching your back or dropping your head [B]. Return to starting position and repeat. Start with one set of 8–12 repetitions; work up to two sets of 12. Once you can perform this exercise with ease, move knees back behind hips so body is more extended, but avoid placing your body weight directly on kneecaps. Strengthens chest, front of shoulders and triceps muscles.

5. Posture Perfect Kneel on the ground, then lean forward and rest forehead on a large rolled-up towel or small, firm pillow on the floor, so head is in line with spine. Relax your arms next to your legs with palms facing up [A]. Squeeze shoulder blades together to lift arms up slightly behind you [B]. Hold for 2–3 seconds, then return to starting position. Start with one set of 8–12 repetitions; work up to 2 sets of 12. Once you can perform 12 repetitions with ease, add 1/2- to 2-pound weights in each hand. Strengthens upper back muscles and back of shoulders.

6. Abdominal Contractions Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat on floor, arms resting at sides. Contract abdominal muscles inward toward spine so lower back is in contact with floor and there's no space between your spine and the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, breathing normally, and relax to starting position. Begin with one set of 8–12 reps; when you can do 12, do 2 sets of 8 reps, and gradually progress to 2 sets of 15 reps.

Once you can perform two sets of 15 reps, place your hands behind your head (not shown). As you contract abs, raise your shoulders slightly off floor, Hold for 5 seconds and return to starting position. Strengthens abdominal muscles without compromising lower back muscles.

[Under construction] Celebrity postpartum trainer Rob Parr includes the following six moves in his new book, Rob Parr's Post-Pregnancy Workout (Berkley Books, 1997). They're designed to strengthen and tone the entire body. Do them three or four times a week. For exercises 1, 2, 3 and 6, begin with 25 reps (start lower if you need to then build). As you get stronger, add 5 to each exercise until you work up to 50. If pelvic-floor muscles still are weak, skip the Marseille Plié or any jumping movements. Remember, says Parr, "Try to be consistent about exercise, build it into your routine and make it a priority. Everyone in the family will benefit."

1. Marseille Plié Stand with hands at waist, feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing comfortably out [A]. Keeping torso erect, abs pulled in and heels on floor, slowly lower yourself into a squatting position, hips higher than knees; make sure knees don't extend past toes [B]. Rise slowly to starting position and do 25–50 reps. Strengthens thighs, buttocks and hamstrings.

2. Alternating Step-ups Stand before a step 6–8 inches high, with feet hip-width apart and pointing forward. With body erect, step up on bench with your left foot [A], followed by the right [B]. Step down with the left foot; tap your right foot on the ground, then step up with it, followed by the left foot. Do 25–50 reps. Strengthens thighs, buttocks and calves.

3. Flutter Kicks Lie face down on the floor or mat with your legs straight and toes pointed, elbows in front of shoulders and chin resting on your hands. Contract abdominal muscles to bring your pelvis to a neutral position so your back doesn't arch. Squeezing right buttock, slowly raise right leg, without bending your knee, about 2–4 inches off the floor [A]. Bring the right leg down as you raise the left leg, keeping hips in contact with the floor [B]. Lower left leg and continue to alternate for 25– 50 reps. As you lift and lower, one foot always will be in contact with the ground. Strengthens buttocks and lower back muscles.

4. Incline Push-ups Face a sturdy wall or table at a 45-degree angle, with body straight and heels slightly lifted off ground. Place hands on it at chest height and in line with your shoulders, fingers pointing up, arms strong but not locked [A]. Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the wall or table, keeping your head, neck and spine in line without arching your back [B]. Push up by extending arms without locking elbows. Do 15 reps. Strengthens shoulders, triceps and chest.

5. Alternate Military Press Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart, abdominal muscles pulled in and pelvis in neutral position [A]. Holding a light weight in each hand (1–5 pounds), elbows bent and pointing down just in front of your torso, palms facing forward and wrists at shoulder height, straighten right arm without locking elbow [B]. Pull down to starting position; straighten left arm and lower. Do 15 reps with each arm, making movements powerful and extensions full (but don't lock elbows). Strengthens shoulders.

6. Crunchy Crunches Lie down on back, legs bent,

feet flat on floor, with hands behind head [A]. Contract your abdominal muscles and raise head and shoulders off the floor. As you do this, also lift your bent knees and hips until knees meet your elbows [B]. Use the lower portion of your abs to raise your hips off the floor. Hold position for 2 seconds, then slowly lower to starting position, making sure your lower back doesn't arch. Do 25–50 repetitions. Vary exercise by placing straightened legs up against a wall, perpendicular to the floor. Strengthens abdominals.