Postpartum work to do
Even those lucky women who limit their pregnancy weight gain to a healthy 25-30 pounds still have work to do postpartum to get their old body back. And it takes time, sometimes as long as a year, to get into pre-pregnancy shape. I'm not just talking about weight loss here, because we all know women who lost all their baby weight by two weeks postpartum (and, yes, we hate 'em!). I'm talking about fitting into your clothes the way you used to, not having to lie down on the bed to zip up your jeans.
Exercise is the only way to get your muscles back in shape. No amount of dieting or supplements is going to do that for you. You need to include aerobic activity for at least 20 minutes 3 -4 times a week to burn fat and calories. You also need to include flexibility exercises (stretching) to increase your range of motion and prevent muscle strains and sprains. And, of course, you need to do some good old abdominal crunches, leg raises, and Kegels to tighten up your post-baby body.
An important benefit of postpartum exercise, besides getting your old body back, is your emotional well-being. By joining an exercise class designed specifically for new moms, you will have a built-in support group. You and your baby will meet new friends and get invaluable advice from other new moms. Having contact with other adults is such an important factor in avoiding postpartum depression or "baby blues." And, childcare won't be an issue if your class is designed to include the baby. Also, your baby will learn from a very early age the importance of making fitness a part of your life. Research shows that children whose parents include exercise in their day-to-day living will do the same - start now to make exercise a lifelong family affair!
When to begin
How soon after the baby is born can you start exercising? Immediately! As soon as your baby pops out, you should start doing Kegels and isometric abdominal contractions (see below). When your caregiver gives you the okay, go for short walks, outside if possible, to get your body moving and to jumpstart your cardiovascular system.
With your caregiver's permission, you can resume a more vigorous exercise program as soon as two weeks postpartum (vaginal birth) or four weeks postpartum (caesarian section birth). If you are breastfeeding, be sure to eat enough calories and drink enough water to keep up your milk supply. Also, wear a supportive bra to keep your newfound breasts comfortable. If you are doing a high-impact activity like running, you might want to wear two sportsbras on top of each other to prevent excessive bouncing.
Postpartum exercise classes
To get started in a postpartum exercise class, call your health club, hospital, church/synagogue, or local YMCA to find out what's available. Make sure the instructor is well-trained to work with postpartum women and that the class can accommodate women at different fitness levels. The facility should let you try a class at no charge so you can evaluate whether or not it's for you. At that point, you're on your way to getting back your old body -- or maybe an even better one!
Kegel exercises: To "find" your Kegel or pelvic floor muscle, try stopping and starting the flow of urine next time you go to the bathroom. That "squeezing" is the pelvic floor muscle contracting. Now try contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor while sitting at your desk, driving in your car, washing dishes, and while having intercourse. And don't worry - this exercise isn't visible to onlookers, so you can have a conversation with someone and do your Kegels at the same time. One client of mine put red dot stickers on her bathroom mirror, above the kitchen sink, above her child's dresser, on her rear-view mirror, etc., and whenever she sees a red dot she does 2 Kegels. Your goal should be 100 per day. Isometric Abdominal Contractions: Lay on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the bed or floor. Take a deep breath in, and exhale as you tighten the abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button into the floor. Inhale as you release.