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Friday, June 28, 2013

Postpartum Exercising: How to Work Out When You Have a Baby (Or Two)



Woah, get a load of that belly!



That’s me at eight months pregnant with twins.

Before I got pregnant, I was becoming somewhat of an exercise freak, with yoga and Pilates being my favorite.  Heck, I even jumped right into P90X and started getting some real pipes!  But then, our two little peanuts began to grow inside me, and all thoughts of exercise went out the window.  First, there was morning sickness, and by the time my morning sickness had passed, I was starting to get so uncomfortable from carrying the weight of two babies, that most exercising just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I love our babies so very much, but once they were born, I must admit, it felt great to have my body back to myself!  And one of the first things on my mind was getting back into exercising again.


Easier said than done.


Even simple things, like finding time to take a shower, were becoming difficult, let alone trying to find time to exercise!  Between diaper changing, nursing, and trying to keep up on housework, at first, exercise seemed a distant dream.  Not to mention that my little ones didn’t like it when mommy left them on their own for too long—they wanted to be held and talked to, not set down in the Pack ‘n Play all by themselves.

However, I have learned that with a little creativity and planning, it is possible to exercise when you have a baby (or even two).

But before you begin exercising, there are a few things you should keep in mind:


  • Wait to start an active workout program until you have your midwife or practitioner’s O.K.
  • Diastasis recti:  Before you attempt any exercise targeting the abs, you will need to determine whether or not your abdominal muscles have separated.  You can find out how to check here.  Until this condition is corrected, most abdominal exercises should be avoided, unless they are specifically designed to repair the separation.
  • Start exercising slowly and make sure to rest often; throw euphemisms like, “No pain, no gain,” right out the window. 
  • During the first six weeks post-partum, avoid jerky, bouncy, or high intensity exercising.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water during workouts, especially if you are breastfeeding, and to eat plenty of nourishing foods throughout the day.

Three Phases to Fitness


It makes sense to plan your fitness goals in three phases:

  • Phase 1:       One day after delivery.
  • Phase 2:       One week after delivery.
  • Phase 3:       Six weeks after delivery.

Phase One:  One day after delivery


Chances are, you are not thinking about exercise the day after giving birth.  I know I certainly wasn’t!  But as long as you had an uncomplicated delivery, it should be okay to start on one of our old favorites:  Kegels.  Resuming your Kegels after delivery improves bladder control, returns the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size sooner, and is an essential component to having a strong core.

**It is important to note that, if you are doing Kegels, it is also crucial that your glutes are strong.  Otherwise, they can actually work against you, causing more problems than helping.  Once you have clearance from your midwife or practitioner, be sure to start toning that butt!**

In addition to Kegels, you can also do a breathing exercise throughout the day, which is helpful in strengthening weakened abdominal muscles and correcting diastasis recti.  To do this exercise, simply:

  • Inhale slowly through your nose,
  • Then exhale slowly through the mouth while simultaneously tightening the abdominal muscles.
  • It is helpful to picture a string tied to your belly button, pulling it toward your spine.
  • Repeat the exercise two or three times per set.

These two exercises are easily fit into your day, which makes them very valuable to a busy mom.  You can do them whenever you have a few minutes to spare--as you nurse your baby or while you are sitting in the waiting room at the clinic for example.  They should be continued past Phase One, and are in fact wonderful exercises that can be done lifelong (just don't neglect those butt muscles!).

Engage Your Core:  In addition, you can combine these two exercises.  By contracting both the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor muscles, you are “engaging your core.”  As you work out, your core muscles should be engaged to maximize results and prevent injuries.  It takes some practice simultaneously using these muscles, so be sure to repeat this frequently.

Phase Two:  One week after delivery


Once you are home, and a bit more settled in, you can step up your routine just a smidge.  Again, take it slowly.  I had very low hemoglobin levels and needed a blood transfusion after giving birth to our twins.  Funny enough, however, I felt just fine (and ended up losing consciousness because I thought I felt better than I really was).  Even if you feel like you can do more, don’t.  Take it slowly, because many times, you won’t realize you’ve pushed it too far until it’s too late. 

In order to work these exercises into your day, I recommend working out in 10 minute spurts.  The 10 minute increments make it more manageable; in addition, studies have shown that working out in shorter intervals can be just as, if not more, effective than doing one long workout.  Try working these three exercises into your day whenever you can:

Pelvic Tilts


  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, holding baby or having her resting
    on your belly or legs.
  • Inhale through your nose,
  • Then exhale and press your lower back into the floor, slightly rocking your hips toward your head, while still keeping your butt planted on the floor (think of it as removing the lower curve from your back).
  • Hold for a count of ten.
  • Repeat up to 10 times in one set.
  • Do a set a few times a day.

Heel Slides


  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, holding baby or having him resting
    on your belly or legs.
  • While engaging your core muscles (Kegel and breathing exercise above) slide the right heel forward until your leg is straight,
  • Then inhale as you return the leg to starting position.
  • Keep your upper body still and relaxed as you do this (it takes some practice!).
  • Repeat with left leg.
  • Perform 10 times on each leg for one set.
  • Do a set a few times a day.

Head Lifts


  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, holding baby or having her resting
    on your belly or legs.
  • Inhale deeply through the nose,
  • And then on the exhale, engage your core muscles while slightly lifting your head of the ground and extending your arms (if they are free).
  • Hold for two counts, then release to starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times in one set.
  • Do a set a few times a day.

Phase Three:  Six weeks after delivery


Once you have your midwife or practitioner’s green light, you can gradually move on to a more active workout program.  There are many ways to include baby in your work-out.  Let her lie on your chest, keep her by your side, or even use her as a weight!

There are several exercises that you can add to your repertoire that makes it easy to include baby:

Walking


  • Perhaps the easiest to do with a baby.  I have had four children, and all of them have enjoyed being
    pushed in a stroller or carried as I walked.
  • It can be done at your own pace.
  • Baby gets time outside, which is important for development.
  • It strengthens Mom’s lungs and heart.
  • It is less stressful to the body than intense cardiovascular exercising, such as running.

It is worth it to invest money in a good quality stroller and decent walking shoes.  You can begin with brief walks, and then build up to 30 minute walks several times a week.

Bridge


  • With baby on your belly or by your side for company, lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat
    on the floor, hip width apart.
  • Inhale through the nose,
  • And then on the exhale, engage your core while lifting the hips off the floor.
  • Press your feet into the floor for stability.
  • Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause the back to arch—you want a straight line, from shoulders to knees.
  • Hold position for 10 to 15 seconds, remembering to keep breathing,
  • And then on an exhale, slowly lower the body back to the floor. 
  • Repeat 5 times.

Cat Pose into Cow Pose


  • Begin on your hands and knees, with your baby lying beneath you.  Hands should be directly below
    the shoulders, knees directly beneath hips.
  • Inhale deeply, and then on the exhale, engage your core, push down onto your palms bringing your back up into an arch, while tucking your tailbone down.
  • Hold for several breaths, keeping your core engaged, and then on an exhale, release the arch
  • Inhale, and tilt the pelvis the opposite way, causing your back to arch downward.
  • As you reverse the curve of your back, lift your head so that you are looking upward.
  • Hold for several breaths, and then on an exhale, release to starting position.
  • Repeat this sequence five times, flowing from cat pose to cow pose.

Downward-Facing Dog


  • Begin on your hands and knees, with knees directly below hips, and hands slightly in front of
    shoulders.
  • Baby can lay beneath you with his head down at your knees, and feet pointing toward your head.
  • Inhale deeply, and then on the exhale, engage your core, push down on your palms and lift your knees of the floor.
  • Lengthen your spine, as you lift your tailbone up, and press your heels down into the floor.
  • If you can’t press your heels down, slightly bend the knees until you can get your feet flat.
  • Hold this pose for as long as you feel comfortable doing so—anywhere from 15 seconds to 3 minutes.
  • Keep breathing deeply while you hold this pose, and then on an exhale, bend the knees and release the body back to starting position.

Side Lying Leg Lifts


  • Lie on your right side with baby next to you (it is even possible to nurse while you do leg lifts I have
    found).
  • Rest your head on your right arm, while placing the left hand in front of you for balance.
  • Raise your left leg as high as you can without moving any other part of your body.
  • Pause for a moment, and then return to starting position.
  • Repeat until you have done ten lifts, and then lay on your left side, repeating as for right.

Squats


  • Stand with your feet wide apart, pointing outward.
  • Engaging your core, slowly bend your knees, keeping the back straight, and holding your arms straight out in front of you.
  • Dip as far as you can comfortably do so—just until you feel a slight “burn.”
  • Hold for a moment, and then push back up to starting position.
  • Repeat until you have done ten squats.
  • Advanced:  I like to hold a baby out in front of me as I squat for an extra challenge; the babies like this fun game.  Obviously, once my babies get bigger, I’ll no longer be able to use them as “weights.”

Superman


  • Lie face down on your tummy; baby can be next to you or facing you, enjoying “tummy time” as well.
  • Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, engage your core muscles as you lift your arms and legs toward the ceiling, forming a gentle curve with your body.
  • When you raise your body, do it slowly and methodically to prevent back injury.
  • Hold as long as you can comfortably do so, anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute.
  • On an exhale, lower yourself back to starting position.
  • Repeat two more times.

Plank


  • Position yourself over baby on your hands and knees.
  • Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, your knees and feet together.
  • Inhale deeply, and on the exhale, extend one leg back, and then the other, so that you are holding yourself up with your palms and your toes.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged and hold; head, neck, and back should be in a straight line.
  • Hold for as long as you feel comfortable, from 15 seconds to several minutes.
  • On an exhale, bring the knees forward one at a time back to starting position.
  • Repeat twice more.

There are many other exercises you can include in your repertoire, including variations of the above moves. 

If you have a favorite exercise, think of how it may be possible to involve baby.  I have found by doing this, it is not necessary to wait for Dad to get home or leave my babies with a sitter in order to exercise (though it can be a nice break once in a while!).  As long as I include the babies in my routine and break my workouts into mini sessions, I’m finding it manageable to fit at least 30 minutes of exercise in per day.

How do you include baby in your exercise routine?

 

2 comments:

  1. just thought I should let you know that your squat form is incorrect, which can cause more stress on your knees and ankles, leading to injury! your knees should be directly over your ankles, not in front of them. you should also squat with your core tightened, abs in, head up, butt. out, and squat deep until you are parallel with the ground. correct form is much more important than doing lots of reps

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