Grab the baby and a friend or two and cruise to the nearest park for an easy walk and strength training.
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.
Because some studies have shown compositional and taste changes in breast milk after very strenuous exercise, many experts recommend that you nurse or pump before exercising. This will make you more comfortable and keep your baby happy throughout your session. A good support bra also is recommended (I sometimes wore two to get the support I needed). Make sure you take it off between workouts, though, to prevent clogged milk ducts.
Practice patience As your baby rapidly grows, it may be frustrating to see how slow your own progress can be. Swayne offers this caution: “Remember, you’ve got a new baby to take care of, and whether or not your body gets perfect right away is not the most important thing.” Just try to stay active and the changes will happen. Keep yourself healthy and happy; it can only be good for you and your baby.J
6 weeks postpartum and beyond By 6 weeks postpartum you’ll probably be ready for a tougher workout (make sure your doctor gives you the go-ahead). The following exercise program, designed by Suzanne Olson, AFAA- and ACE-certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer in Philadelphia, focuses on strengthening your abdominal muscles, arms and legs. They can be done right in your own neighborhood — no equipment or gym is needed. Get some friends or your husband to join you, bring baby in her stroller, and head out of the house. Begin by walking briskly for about 10 minutes; then use structures around you, such as a park bench, fence or flagpole, to help you perform the exercises. They are designed to be done as a circuit that alternates the body parts you’re exercising. Do a set of 8–12 reps per exercise, following the order shown. When you can do 12 reps comfortably, add a second circuit. When you’ve completed the workout, spend some time in the park enjoying your friends and baby; walk briskly home. warm–up: Your 10-minute brisk walk to the park will serve as your warm-up. Cool–down: Complete your strength workout by stretching all the muscles you worked. Be sure to include stretches for your legs, chest, shoulders and back. Hold each stretch for 20–30 seconds to the point of mild tension without bouncing. Frequency: Do this program 2–3 times per week, depending on your — and your baby’s — schedule.
exercises: 1. Squats With Hip Extension Stand 2 feet from the back of a park bench with feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked. Place both hands on the top of the bench for support; contract your abdominals. Bend both knees, lowering your hips into a squat [A]. Straighten legs to a standing position; at the top of the move, extend one leg off the ground behind you, tightening buttocks [B]. Lower foot and repeat the squat, lifting the other leg next time through. Continue to squat and alternate leg lifts (1 leg lift on each side equals 1 rep). Strengthens buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings.
2. Two–Handed Row Stand arm’s distance from a tree with feet hip-width apart, knees bent and toes facing forward. Hold the tree with both hands, palms facing in. Contract your abdominals, lifting chest; relax your shoulders [A]. Squeeze shoulder blades together; then bend both arms back toward your waist. Use your back muscles, not your biceps, to initiate the movement [B]. Straighten arms and repeat. Strengthens middle back, shoulders and biceps. 3. Stationary Stroller Lunges Put the brake on your stroller so it doesn’t move; then stand to the right of it, your left hand in the center of the handle and right hand on your hip. Contract abdominals so your tailbone points down [A]. Take a large step forward with your right foot, bending both knees so your right knee is in line with your right ankle and left knee points toward the ground. Your left heel should be lifted [B]. Straighten both legs and repeat. Do reps; then repeat to work the other leg by turning around, with your right hand on the stroller. Strengthens quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks and calves.
4. Standing Push–Ups Stand facing a tree; place your hands on it at shoulder height, arms straight. Place your feet hip-width apart and slightly bend your knees, about 3 feet from the tree. Contract abdominals and drop your tailbone [A]. Keeping your heels on the ground, bend your elbows so your entire body leans in toward the tree [B]. Straighten arms to starting position, without locking elbows, and repeat. Strengthens chest, shoulders and triceps.
5. Bench Dip Sit on a park bench and place hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the edge of the bench, arms straight. Walk your feet out in front of you so knees are at a 90-degree angle, thighs parallel to the ground; then lift your hips off the seat. Your back should be straight and very close to the bench, abdominals contracted [A]. Bend your elbows to lower your torso vertically toward the ground until elbows and shoulders are even; do not let your elbows flare outward [B]. Straighten your arms, without locking elbows, to starting position and repeat. Keep buttocks close to the seat as you lift and lower your body. Strengthens triceps. 6. Tree Abs Lean your entire back against a tree; then walk your feet out 2 feet in front of you. Place your hands behind your head, fingertips touching but not clasped, elbows facing forward [A]. Contract your abdominals and bring one knee up to hip height. Tilt your pelvis up, bringing your knee toward your chest. At the same time, gently curl your torso forward toward your knee, keeping your lower back against the tree [B]. Return to starting position, lowering foot to the ground. Repeat, alternating with the other knee. Strengthens abdominals.