Meet the mighty challenge of motherhood with words of wisdom from other new moms and our easy strengthening workout.
You’ve made it through nine months of pregnancy bliss — plus the nausea, fatigue and discomfort that can come along with it. You’ve survived hours of contractions, deep breathing, sweating and pushing. At last, your baby is here, and you dissolve in a blur of tears, happiness, relief — and total exhaustion. That was the easy part. Now you have to be a mom. “Nobody tells you how busy you’ll be with a new baby — and how tired,” says Valerie Fahey, new mother of her second child in Piedmont, Calif. Even prenatal classes don’t prepare women for what lies ahead. “Most childbirth-education classes are skewed,” says Anne Stoline, M.D., director of Women’s Mental Health at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “They’re totally focused on labor and delivery. After that, the mom is on her own.” It’s not hard to see why those first few months can be daunting: You’re faced with responsibility for a brand-new life, madly fluctuating hormones, an exhausted body and a sleep schedule right out of a brainwashing manual. Your best defense? Knowing what to expect. Sometimes it just helps to hear from other mothers that you’re not alone. You’re getting sleepy... “The hardest part for me was definitely the sleep deprivation,” says new mother Lisa Hilgers of San Anselmo, Calif. “Since I’m the one breastfeeding, I have to get up every time the baby does.” Getting a three-hour stretch of sleep may begin to feel like a triumph. Lisa Weissman of Scarsdale, N.Y., concurs. As the mother of a toddler and 1-year-old twins, she says, “My biggest problem is not sleeping enough and not having enough energy to function the next day.” One way to maintain energy in the face of interrupted sleep is to watch your diet, according to Karen Rosenthal, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Westport, Conn. “Stay away from junk food, caffeine and alcohol,” she says. “And make sure you drink lots of fluids, especially if you’re nursing.” Another solution is to keep your baby in bed with you so you don’t have to awaken fully for nighttime feedings. Some moms forgo using a crib for months just for this reason.
One tried-and-true rule of thumb: Nap whenever your baby does. So what if the dishes sit for a while? Catching up on sleep will restore your energy and do wonders for your state of mind.
Hormone hell As a result of hormonal upheavals after delivery, many new moms experience crying spells, sadness, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and irritability. Usually these symptoms level off after the first couple of weeks, but it can take up to a year for hormones to reach their pre-pregnancy levels, says Rosenthal. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself unexpectedly weeping at McDonald’s commercials or screaming at telephone solicitors. You also may feel like a failure if you think your baby cries a lot. But all babies cry; this does not make you a bad mother. And, it’s natural to feel some resentment toward your partner. Mimi Towle of Mill Valley, Calif., finds that her husband’s help is not always welcome. “Often I find myself thinking, ‘I can do this better myself,’ although I know that’s not true. But it’s hard not to be bitter when he gets home at 6:30 after a day out, and I’ve been in the house with the baby all day.” It helps to remember that this is a big adjustment for fathers, too. “After all, he’s probably not getting much sleep, either,” says Sarah Allen, a psychologist in private practice in Northbrook, Ill., and coordinator of Postpartum Support International (www.iup.edu/an/postpartum). To transcend the daily deluge of diapers and feedings, Weissman and her husband made a commitment to go out together every Saturday night once their twins were 6 months old.
A baby sitter, who has been with them since the kids’ birth, watches all three children for the evening. “I put on makeup, and we go to a movie or dinner,” she says. “Often we socialize with friends. Because I don’t work, I really need to talk to other adults.” Joining a mother’s group can be just what you need to get some perspective. “You’ll see that not everybody is having a wonderful time and bonding well,” says Rosenthal. You’ll also find women full of great ideas for exercise classes, baby sitters and colic remedies — and a shoulder to cry on when it’s all too much.
Get moving Another self-image boost comes from exercising again (as soon as you get your doctor’s go-ahead). “Don’t push yourself,” says Octavio Galindo, co-owner of Le Studio Conditioning in Pasadena, Calif. “It will take months, or even a year, to get back to the shape you were in,” adds Galindo, who designed both of our Pilates-based workouts. You will get your body back, along with the rest of your life. “It’s easy to think, ‘Oh my God, my life is falling apart,’” says Towle. “But there’s plenty of time. Enjoy your baby. This experience will make your future life so much richer.”
The Exercises> Getting Started: Day 1 through 6 Weeks Depending on your delivery, you may be able to get up and out for a walk with your baby soon after getting home. Some gentle exercises can be done as early as the day after giving birth. The following three moves, designed by Pilates instructor Octavio Galindo, are based on exercises originally created by Joseph Pilates. If you’re up to it and have your doctor’s OK, try doing them every other day. They’re designed to re-balance torso muscles, help stimulate abdominal-muscle contraction, stretch the spine muscles — and relieve stress. 1.Deep Exhaling Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand lightly on your belly, or let your baby relax face-down on your abdomen. Inhale in 1 count, expanding your belly (watch your hand or baby rise with the inhale); then exhale slowly, blowing out through your mouth. As you exhale, pull your bellybutton in toward your spine to “scoop” out your belly. Follow this sequence: Inhale in 1 count; then exhale in 4 counts twice; inhale in 1 count; then exhale in 5 counts twice; inhale in 1 count; then exhale in 6 counts twice; inhale in 1 count; then exhale in 7 counts twice. Strengthens abdominals.
2.Moving Bridge Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms relaxed by your sides, palms down. Inhale; then exhale, lifting arms up overhead as you lift your torso up off the floor until your body is in one straight line from head to knees. (In the top position, just your head, neck, top of shoulders and feet will be in contact with the floor.) Inhale; then exhale, slowly letting your spine roll back onto the floor. Repeat 4–6 times. Strengthens abdominals and quadriceps.
3.Spinal Twist Lying on your back, bend your left knee, foot flat on the floor; keep right leg extended. Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee and extend your left arm on a diagonal to your shoulder on the floor, palm down. Inhale; then exhale as you drop your left knee toward the floor, crossing over your right leg. Staying in this position, inhale; then circle your left arm clockwise 4 times. Exhale as you circle. Repeat the circling motion in the opposite direction. Return to starting position, switch legs, and repeat with the other arm and leg. Stretches back, abdominal and shoulder muscles.
The Postpartum Pilates Workout
At six weeks postpartum, most women are ready for a more rigorous workout. The following Pilates-based mat routine, designed by Octavio Galindo, will help you regain shape in your legs and buttocks while rebuilding your ab strength. It’s perfect for new moms: No equipment is necessary, and two moves can be done with your baby, three without (keep baby on the floor next to you; she’ll probably be fascinated by your activity). With Pilates movements, each exhalation should be slow and deep, as if blowing out a lot of birthday candles, making your belly as concave as possible. Continue doing the exercises designed for Day 1 through 6 weeks (see left, top) and add the following moves. Do them in order every other day, working up to doing them every day.
1.Baby Curls (done with baby) Lie on your back with knees bent and in line with your hips, calves parallel to the floor. Place baby face-down on your abdomen. Hold her with one hand and place the other on the floor, palm down, by your side [A]. Inhale and extend legs in the air at a 45-degree angle; at the same time, lift head, neck and shoulders off the floor as your arm lifts up and over head. Exhale [B]. Inhale and bring hand back to touch floor; exhale and bend legs to starting position. Repeat 10 times. For a less challenging version, extend one leg at a time. Strengthens abdominals. 2.Spine Roll (done without baby) Lie on your back, right knee bent so foot is flat on the floor; cross left knee over right. Extend arms out to your sides at shoulder height, palms down [A]. Inhale, dropping both knees down to the right as far as is comfortable [B]. Exhale, bringing legs back to starting position. Repeat 5 times; then switch leg position and roll 5 times to the other side. Remember to pull in your belly each time you exhale. Strengthens abdominals and spine.
3.One-Leg Moving Bridge (done without baby) Lie on your back, right leg extended. Bend your left knee with foot flat on floor. Relax your arms by your sides. Inhale; then exhale, lifting torso up to a bridge position (see Getting Started, No. 2 on page 116) so your entire torso is lifted and in one straight line and right leg is off floor to calf height [A]. Inhale; then exhale, lifting right leg in the air to a 90-degree angle [B]. Inhale; then exhale to starting position. Switch legs and repeat. Repeat 6–8 times on each side. Strengthens abdominals and thighs. 4.Side-Lying Leg Series (done without baby) Lie on your right side with right knee bent to a 45-degree angle and left leg straight, foot flexed. Place head on hand with elbow bent and rib cage lifted off floor so you’re using your abdominals. Place left hand on floor in front of chest for support [A]. Follow this breathing sequence: Inhale deeply, pressing left leg forward to a 45-degree angle [B]. Exhale, lift leg up in air to hip height; exhale again and lower leg; then press it back to starting position. Repeat 10 times; then switch position and repeat with the other leg. Strengthens and tones thighs and buttocks.
5.Baby Lifts (done with baby) Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair, knees bent and feet flat on floor. Hold baby vertically in front of you with hands under her armpits. Lean backward so just your shoulder blades touch the back of the chair [A]. Inhale, lifting baby to chest height; exhale holding baby up in front of you [B]. Inhale and lower baby to starting position. Repeat 5–10 times. When you’re strong enough, do the same exercise without leaning back, but keep your back erect on the seat’s edge. Strengthens torso, shoulders and arms.