With the holidays fast approaching, many of you new moms might be staring down your pre-pregnancy clothes, worrying about how you will dress in anything except old maternity shirts for Thanksgiving dinner, and wondering if friends and family will rave at your ability to "bounce back" or will silently whisper about how you "really let yourself go."
Even though you want to savor your new baby, embrace your baggy sweaters, and polish off the pumpkin pie, part of you still wants your body back, as in NOW.
And this is why many of you have jumped back into your fitness routine, have joined that stroller class, hired that personal trainer, or subjected yourself to boot camp. But maybe the weight isn't budging, you keep peeing yourself, or your abdomen looks like a split apart marshmallow. If so, consider the following facts.
Image: Serge Melki via Flickr
Postnatal Exercise Isn't a Good Way to Lose Weight
Many women jumpstart an exercise routine because they want to lose weight fast, but, frankly, moderate exercise doesn't burn that many calories.
A regular fitness routine has an array of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and depression (including postpartum). Indeed, exercise is arguably the most important habit for your health. Nonetheless, your postnatal routine might not get you into your skinny jeans by Thanksgiving.
Exercise is important for weight maintenance and overall health, but at the levels you can safely perform after having a baby, not the key to losing pounds. Your body needs to recover, which means you need to exercise smartly, and exercising smartly means focusing on how your body performs, not on how many calories it burns.Stroller Classes Aren't Always Smart
Stroller classes seem like the perfect postnatal exercise solution — your baby can come with you, you can socialize with other new moms, and the exercises are appropriate for the postpartum body. Except... the latter may not be true.
For example, I once attended a popular stroller class in which the instructor habitually started the workout with jumping jacks, perhaps the worst exercise for pregnant or postpartum women. Instead of blandly prescribing an inappropriate standard, she could have chosen from a range of pelvic-floor friendly warm-ups.
Indeed, I heard some moms whispering to each other about slight leakage. Postpartum incontinence during straight leg jumping is common, but it's not okay.
Similarly, another stroller instructor ended her classes with full planks, crunches, and bicycle lifts. She made no mention of modifications, instead motivating us with "feel the burn" and "picture those bikinis." Many, if not most, new moms should NOT do those exercises.
A stretched, and possibly cut, postpartum abdomen needs to be tested before moving to the full expression of many abdominal exercises. Otherwise, more harm than good will come from feeling that particular burn.Your "Mummy Tummy" May Be Caused by Diastasis Recti (or May Not)
The term "diastasis recti" has become a hot topic on the internet, with many moms pinpointing it as the cause of their "mummy tummy." Sometimes diastasis recti explains the dreaded tummy pooch, but not always.
What is diastasis recti? Put simply, it is an excessive abdominal separation between the rectus abdominis muscles (the six pack muscles).
Some abdominal separation during pregnancy is natural because the belly must expand, but it becomes pathological if the gap doesn't gradually narrow after pregnancy. A lingering gap of about 2 finger-widths or less is considered "normal," but a larger gap might be a problem.
Unfortunately, we don't have much good research on how to close a diastasis recti, which means advice on how to "fix" it often stems from anecdotal experience. This means fitness instructors should test women for diastasis recti, but they shouldn't overstate their ability to quickly close it.
Instead, they should know how to modify exercises to avoid excessive intra-abdominal pressure, which means skipping crunches, burpees, and push-ups before the abdominal canister has gained stability.You Need to be Friends with Your Pelvic Floor
Many moms openly discuss their belly woes. However, not as many moms talk about their post-baby pelvic floors. You and your fitness instructor must become comfortable talking about "down there." This is because high intensity exercise can provoke pelvic floor dysfunction.
In other words, you might pee yourself if you up the ante of your workouts without first saying hello to your pelvic floor. Running, jumping, and heavy lifting are the main culprits.
In the long term, ignoring the pelvic floor can even exacerbate pelvic organ prolapse. Some European countries know this and routinely offer physical therapy to postpartum women.
This is not the case in America. Not every mom needs to run to a physical therapist. Nonetheless, every mom needs to learn how to control her pelvic floor before restarting her fitness routine.Just Say No to Boot Camp and Marathons
For most newly postpartum women, boot camp is a bad idea. I understand the appeal of intense workouts. Many of you want to test your limits and build overall strength and stamina. But none of that should come at the expense of internal stability.
You might feel like you have the strength for burpees or the endurance for marathon training. And you might. But having strong arms and legs doesn't necessarily mean you have a strong abdomen, a functioning pelvic floor, or stable hips.
Do yourself a favor. You already tested your physical limits. You know you are made of tough stuff. After all, you either pushed a baby out of your body, or watched as a doctor sliced open your abdomen (I've done both, and each is intense in its own way).
You can get back in shape, lose the baby weight, and feel good about yourself without following a drill sergeant. Having a baby changes everything, sometimes in less than pleasant physical ways. Exercise can help you feel good about your body, as long as you move incrementally and smartly.
Slow down. Don't aim for immediate weight loss, marathon training, or highly competitive boot camp. Instead, choose low impact options. Become friends with your pelvic floor and abdomen. And work on your internal stability before worrying about how your clothes will fit for the holidays.
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