Being a new parent is exhausting and exercise at this time may well be the last thing on your mind. However, impossible as it might seem, exercise will help relax and energise you as well as help with weight loss. There are also the obvious fitness benefits but you do have to take it slowly at first and choose your type of exercise carefully. It is a good idea to wait until after your 6 week check before returning to regular exercise (postnatal pelvic floor exercises are the obvious exception!)
Why do you have to take caution when retuning to exercise? Relaxin (a protein hormone) that is produced during pregnancy increases the elasticity of ligaments and effects the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in order to accommodate the womb and to allow for delivery. How long relaxin remains in the body depends on the individual but can be present as long as mum is breastfeeding. If you overstretch joints and ligaments at this time you could damage them permanently. Special attention should be taken with back care and the old adage of not picking up anything heavier than baby in the first few weeks is a good one!
So, what can you do to help lose baby weight and improve muscle tone (especially the tummy)?
Weight loss can be achieved with a balanced program of cardio vascular exercise (the ones that make you puff a bit) but avoid high impact activities for the first few months. Too much pressure on the pelvic floor from jogging etc may increase the risk of stress incontinence. Keep on with those pelvic floor exercises! So, maybe running is not a great idea at first but this does not mean that you can’t walk briskly and by pushing the pram too you are adding resistance which will increase your heart rate even more! Aim to be quite breathless for most of the time you are speed walking. Meet a friend in the park and keep each other company.
If you can’t get out and about utilise your stairs. Walk briskly up and down until you are breathing heavily. Take a break and repeat a bit later. Invest in an exercise DVD, invite a couple of friends around (with baby of course) and have some fun while you regain your fitness.
Toning can be started straight away with, yes, those blasted pelvic floor exercises! You can quite quickly progress to more intense exercises and Pilates is a fantastic way of strengthening your deep abdominal and lumbar muscles. Pilates will help correct any separation of the abdominal muscles. It will also improve your upper body strength and posture which will benefit you greatly whilst holding and feeding baby.
You will need to fuel yourself properly especially at this busy and exhausting time. Now is not the time to go on a diet. Try and make eating a priority and not something that you either miss all together or grab and go. Healthy eating is never more important than it is now, to keep your energy levels up. Keep things simple, don’t try and be Master Chef at the moment but just prepare things as freshly as possible. Eat small meals but at regular intervals so that you don’t dip in energy during the day. Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids (ideally water) especially if breastfeeding as you will need extra water to help with milk production.
Postnatal exercise will help improve posture, increase stamina, energy and weight loss; it will reduce anxiety and help with relaxation. I hope you enjoy it!
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Gail Pope, Personal Trainer and Pilates instructor and mother of 2!