Studies show that most women gain an average of about 30 pounds during pregnancy, although many of us end up gaining a lot more than that. On average, 18 to 20 pounds are usually lost within a month of having a baby, but it's those extra pounds that can be tough to get rid of. Your body may be different after having a baby. But, with a little patience and consistent exercise, you can get back into shape.
How Much and When?
You already know that getting back to exercise should be a gradual process. Your body has gone through a tremendous change and it takes time for it to bounce back. Your doctor will give you the go-ahead for when you can exercise and may give you simple exercises you can do the first couple of weeks after the birth. Some of those suggestions may include:
- Kegel exercises: Kegel exercises involve making small contractions of the muscles at the vaginal wall. These exercises can help strengthen weak pelvic muscles, which can cause bladder control issues, which are common in women postpartum.
- Walking. With your doctor's OK, short, slow walks can help prepare your body for more vigorous exercise, as well as get you fresh air. If you exercised before pregnancy, you may need about six weeks before you can return to what you were doing before.
- Yoga: Gentle yoga poses can be a great way to get your blood flowing while reducing stress. You may need to avoid some poses (like inversions), but basic moves like supported bridge, warrior I and pelvic tilts, are a great place to start. You may also be able to find a postpartum yoga class at a local gym or health club.
- Pilates: With some modifications, you may also be able to do basic Pilates exercises to strengthen the core and increase your flexibility.
What About Your Abs?
You may be anxious to get back to ab exercises as soon as you can. But again, you may need some time before you can safely do traditional ab work, especially if you have a separation in the abs or diastasis.
If you don't have diastasis, you may be able to start with simple exercises like pelvic tilts and isometric contractions.
- Pelvic tilts: Lie down on the floor with your legs bent, feet resting on the floor. Slowly tighten your abdominals and roll your pelvis towards you. Breathe evenly and try to initiate the movement with your abs instead of squeezing the glutes too much. Don't forget to tighten the pelvic floor when doing pelvic tilts, since they may place pressure on it and stretch it further.
- Isometric contractions: This is a move you can do with your baby, if you like. Lie down with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, placing the baby on your belly. Inhale and, as you do so, squeeze the abs, pulling them in like a sponge and lift the baby up. Exhale and lower the baby back down. Repeat for 10 to 16 reps.
As you get stronger, you can progress to more difficult exercises. Keep in mind that if you've had a c-section, you'll need more time to allow your body to heal before trying abdominal exercises. Before you do anything, check with your doctor and work with him or her to develop a starting exercise program.
Once you've gotten the go-ahead from your doctor and are feeling sufficiently ready for exercise, you might need some ideas on exactly what to do. If you exercised before, you may be able to ease back into modified versions of what you were doing. If you haven't exercised before, you'll want to start with a beginner program to allow your body time to get used to exercise. These resources will help you figure out where to start:
- Robin Weiss, About.com's Pregnancy Guide, has the perfect postpartum workout for you, taking you through four days of exercises designed to help strengthen your body.
- Postpartum exercise videos. These Pilates and yoga videos offer gentle ways to get in shape after you've had a baby.
- Postpartum Weight Loss Program. This 7 week program will help you slowly ease into exercise and get started on losing weight.
The important thing to remember is to be gentle with yourself and follow doctor's orders. Make sure you're eating a healthy diet, particularly if you're breastfeeding (which may require up to 500 extra calories a day). Stay well-hydrated and don't give up. Fitting in exercise may be hit or miss as you adjust to your new life and baby. So do the best you can and focus your energy on taking care of yourself and your baby.