4 Steps to a Healthier Post-Baby Body
This is Part 2 in our New Mom series. Click here for Part 1, “How to establish a healthy breastfeeding relationship”
Soon after a new mom gives birth, her thoughts tend to turn to how they are going to get that pre-baby body back. Veteran moms Ruta Kulys, a licensed psychotherapist at Memorial Counseling Associates who specializes in mind-body therapy and is also a certified Hatha and prenatal yoga instructor, and Julie Finnell, a physical therapist with Outpatient Rehab Services at Koke Mill Medical Center, suggest four tips for moms on the pursuit of a healthy post-baby body:
1. Ease into things.
You just had a baby. Some women bounce back from birth quickly, while others experience pain from delivery or a C-section. It’s OK to start early in your attempt to tone up, but always listen to your body first; stop when you get tired or feel pain, and watch for increased postpartum bleeding, which is a sign you need to take a step back. Once you are cleared by your doctor to resume exercising (typically six weeks after delivery or eight weeks after a Cesarean), don’t dive into a program you’ve never done before; start with what you were doing before baby arrived and build from there.
Relatively soon after delivery, moms can do a few mild exercises such as:
- Kegel exercises. During pregnancy, pelvic floor muscles are strained due to weight of the baby, and the pelvic floor is stretched during childbirth. Weakened pelvic floor muscles can result in leaking when you sneeze or run, and other problems. Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor. To practice Kegels, engage the muscles that stop the flow of urine. Do some slowly and some quickly. For the slow ones, build up to holding for 10 seconds, and do them 30 times a day, in two sessions (15 repetitions per session). For the fast ones, squeeze and relax as fast as you can for 40 repetitions, and do them in two sessions a day (20 repetitions a session).
- Isometric abdominal tightening. Pregnancy can do a number on your abdominal muscles. Two ideas to begin toning up: Finnell suggests lying on your back with your knees bent and breathing out while you try to flatten your stomach. Kulys suggests sitting up tall and inhaling deeply. As you exhale, draw the bellybutton toward the spine. Relax as you inhale. Repeat 10 times. You can work your way up to more challenging exercises from there.
- Neck and shoulder stretches. New moms spend a lot of time feeding their little ones. Whether you are breast or bottle feeding, these sessions can take a toll on your neck and shoulders. To prevent hunching forward, provide support for your baby during feedings. If neck and shoulders become achy, shoulder rolls and neck stretches can help.
2. Drop the Mommy Guilt.
Yes, you love your baby and want to care for his or her every need. But that doesn’t mean every second must be devoted to your little one.
“Although moms may initially feel guilty about taking time away from the baby, taking care of themselves is one of the best way to take care of the baby,” Kulys said.
Finnell agrees: “It’s important to take care of yourself to be a better mom — that’s something I believe in strongly. You need to take care of your body and take some time to yourself each day, even if it’s just for 20 minutes.”
3. Be Creative.
It’s tough to find time away from the baby to exercise, so on those days when you can’t get away by yourself, include the baby into your workout. Put on an upbeat CD in your living room and have a dance party, place the baby in a sling, carrier or stroller and go for a walk, use a jogging stroller to jog or roller blade, or purchase a child trailer for your bike.
4. Be patient.
Some women are surprised to find they still look pregnant for a while after giving birth. Give your body time to recover from pregnancy and birth and enjoy those first few weeks to simply get to know your baby before starting your pursuit to reclaim your body’s former shape.
“Try to be realistic that this could take time,” Finnell said. “Usually physicians say it will take nine to 12 months to get back to pre-pregnancy shape.”
“If you have a bad week, don’t give up. Make exercise part of your routine and you’ll be more likely to keep going.”
Memorial Medical Center offers several opportunities for new moms, including periodical pre- and post-natal yoga classes taught by Kulys. As classes are scheduled, the dates are listed on Memorial Medical Center’s Calendar of Events webpage. Kulys also offers a post-natal yoga class when there is demand; those interested in learning more about postnatal yoga can email Kulys at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, SportsCare offers a Healthy Lifestyles Program, which consists of exercise instruction, nutrition guidance and education on making lifestyle changes. Visit the SportsCare website for more information.