By Jill Tomlin
If it's been several weeks since the birth of your baby and you feel
ready to start exercising, a postnatal fitness program can help you
regain fitness and speed up weight loss. The key, however, is to
exercise moderately and progress slowly. Here are guidelines and
exercises that will help you safely and effectively include exercise in
your postpartum recovery.
Postpartum exercise pointers
Exercises for new moms
- Start by consulting your doctor before beginning any exercise
program. In general, most moms should give themselves up to 4 weeks
following delivery to recover. Those who have a cesarean section or
medical complications may need additional time to heal.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
reminds new moms that many of the changes that took place during
pregnancy will persist for 4 to 6 weeks following birth, so you should
resume exercise gradually.
- If you develop severe or chronic pain, increased vaginal
bleeding or discharge, faintness, nausea, shortness of breath, extreme
fatigue, or muscle weakness, stop exercise and consult your doctor
- Make sure your exercise shoes fit properly. Your feet may have
increased up to a full size following pregnancy. Don't squeeze your
feet into too small shoes -- it can cause chronic foot problems.
- Find a bra that provides support without chafing or
discomfort. Some nursing moms find that wearing two exercise bras
provides comfortable support.
- Keep a water bottle handy and drink frequently. You need
additional fluids when breastfeeding and with exercise. It's also a
good idea to have a high protein and carbohydrate snack an hour or so
- Make sure your fitness program includes aerobic, strength, and flexibility components as well as a warm-up and cool-down.
- Try to spend 20 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 days a week doing some
form of aerobic exercise. Activities such as walking, biking, jogging,
cross-country skiing, and swimming are great ways to get into shape.
Choose an exercise that you enjoy and can easily include in your
- Listen to your body and slow down or rest when you feel out of
breath or uncomfortable. Increasing your exercise time and intensity
too quickly sets you up for injury.
new moms can benefit from exercises that strengthen their pelvic floor
and abdominal muscles. These muscles, which were weakened during
pregnancy, need specific work to increase tone and prevent the
development of incontinence and back problems. The following exercises
will help you safely target and strengthen your tummy and pelvic floor
muscles. Pelvic floor exercise
The muscles that
form the pelvic floor play a vital role in providing support. If these
muscles are weak, problems with urine leakage (incontinence) can
result. Pelvic floor exercises (sometimes called "Kegels") can help
strengthen these muscles. These exercises are simple to perform, but to
be effective, you need to learn how to contract the correct muscles.
pelvic floor muscles form a figure 8 around the area that surrounds the
urethra, vagina, and anus. You can feel the muscles contract by placing
your fingers on your perineum (the area between the vagina and the
rectum) and squeezing as you would to stop urine flow. You should feel
the muscles pull up and away from your fingers. There are several
methods for strengthening the pelvic floor:
- Pelvic floor exercise 1: Slowly contract your pelvic floor muscles and hold for 10 seconds, then slowly release.
- Pelvic floor exercise 2: This exercise consists of quick
flicks where you pull the muscles in tight and fast then release them
You should build up to 20 repetitions of each
exercise, 5 to 10 times each day. Try to make a habit of doing them
during certain activities, such as feeding your baby, showering, or
brushing your teeth, so you're reminded to do them each day. For the
first 4 to 8 weeks following delivery, leaking a small amount of urine
when you cough, laugh, or exert yourself is not abnormal. If leaking
persists, it's a good idea to seek help from your doctor. Lying back bend
exercise will help stretch and strengthen your back. Start slowly and
don't force the stretch -- it will take time to progress. Lie on your
tummy with your arms at your side, elbows bent and hands at shoulder
level, palms down. Slowly press your body up, keeping your hips
touching the floor until you feel resistance in your lower back. Return
to the floor. Repeat 3 to 5 times. Standing back bend
stretch will help prevent low-back tightness. Stand with your feet
shoulder width apart. Put hands on your lower back, breathe out slowly,
arch your back, and look up at the ceiling. Go only as far as is
comfortable. Repeat this exercise after every feeding and diaper
change. Sahrmann's abdominal exercises
exercises were developed specifically to target the area of your tummy
most in need of strengthening after delivery. Although there are a
series of 5 exercises, these first 2 will get you started:
- Sahrmann exercise 1: Lie on your back on the floor with your knees
bent and your arms at your side. Tighten your tummy by pulling your
belly button toward your spine. Keep breathing as you hold the muscles
in, and slowly slide one leg out until it is straight with the floor,
then slide it back to a bent knee position. Relax your tummy. Repeat
the process with the other leg, keeping your tummy contracted as you
slide your leg. When you can comfortably do 20 slides with each leg,
progress on to the next exercise.
- Sahrmann exercise 2: In the same position as Exercise 1, pull
your tummy in and raise one leg up, knee bent, toward your chest.
Slowly straighten your leg out so that it is parallel to but not
touching the floor. Return to the starting position. Slowly work up to
20 repetitions for each leg. Remember to breathe out as you extend your
leg and breathe in as you relax. Stop exercising and consult your
doctor if you feel any pain or discomfort.