You've made it through a grueling nine months, given birth and had your body stretched in ways you never thought possible. Every muscle in your body feels different, there’s milk leaking from your breasts and your energy level resembles that of a three-toed sloth. Despite all of these less than desirable changes, you may find that you’re eager to get back into the groove of working out and in desperate need of a few hours to yourself. If that sounds like you, there are a few things to be aware of before you hit the gym, go for a run or revisit the Downward Dog.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you had a healthy pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery, you should be able to start exercising again soon after the baby is born. The ACOG defines “soon” as a few days after giving birth — or as soon as you feel ready. However, if you had a cesarean delivery or other complications (diastasis recti, severe vaginal tears, etc.), ask your health care provider when it is safe to begin exercise again.
Remember your prepregnancy days when running five miles of sweating it out through an intense boot camp was actually easy? Be patient, because it’s going to take a while to get your groove back. Even if you were a fitness fanatic before pregnancy, your body is an entirely different creature in the months after childbirth. Take your time and pay attention to your body. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes a day and start with simple postpartum exercises that help strengthen the major muscles groups, including abdominal and back muscles.
Diastasis recti, aka, pooch belly or "mummy tummy," happens to about two-thirds of pregnant women. Pregnancy puts so much pressure on the belly that sometimes the muscles in front can't keep their shape and a gap is created between your right and left abdominal wall muscles. If this has happened to you, it’s important you avoid traditional situps or crunches that can strain the midline or cause the belly to bulge outward. Also avoid anything that involves heavy lifting, twisting the spine and movements that force the back to bend in excess. Instead, try pelvic tilts, belly breathing, abdominal drawing in, toe taps, heel slides, single-leg stretches and of course, the beloved Kegels. You might consider seeking out the guidance of a trained postpartum exercise specialist to help you design a program that strengthens your core.
Or maybe two or three. If you find that you leak urine every time you sneeze, cough or laugh, then you’re dealing with what is known as postpartum stress incontinence. Working out causes you to exert force and many of the exercises require pushing motions, which can lead to a bit of a mess in your underwear. Wearing a sanitary pad until this problem subsides can help absorb the urine and doing your trusty Kegel exercises will definitely speed up the recovery process.
If you’re nursing, expect to double up on sports bras, at least for a while. In addition to the milk that is constantly filling your breasts, you may also feel some discomfort, tenderness and soreness — even if you are not nursing. Avoid activities that involve too much jumping or jarring, such as running, jumping rope and high-intensity aerobic classes. It’s also a good idea to empty your breasts before heading out the door. Full breasts are extremely uncomfortable while exercising — not to mention messy if you start leaking.
Remember the lovely hormone called relaxin that paid you a visit while pregnant? Well, relaxin, the hormone that causes the softening of the joints and ligaments during pregnancy, is known to hang around for up to six months postpartum. Pay extra attention to your sense of balance and be careful about protecting your joints while exercising.
On top of all this, having patience with yourself and your new body is a must when it comes to postpartum exercise.
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