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Getting Back Into Shape After Giving Birth – A Woman’s Odyssey
Congratulations on your new baby! Now that you have figured out diapers and breast-feeding and your energy is coming back, you are probably looking at your body and thinking, what happened? How do I get my body back? Are you wondering how to lose the baby weight instantly like Katie Holmes and Heidi Klum? Are you starting to get the baby blues? Thinking about a crash diet as a solution? Hang on for a moment before you do anything radical that requires a full time staff and thousands of dollars. You can get fit sensibly and not spend tons of money.
Adding a new member to your family that demands 24/7 care is a big adjustment. Where do movement and nutrition fit in? Since we are not all movie stars and super models, try not to hold yourself up to those standards. Instead, do your body recharge in a sensible, everywoman’s way. A little can go a long way; just like cleaning your house, start with small reachable goals so that you set yourself up for success. After clearing the start of an exercise program with your doctor, you are ready to begin in a sensible way. (Most women can return to exercise four to six weeks after a vaginal birth or after bleeding has stopped; or 8-10 weeks after a cesarean with a physicians approval.)
Start by carving out time for your exercise. I know, you are wondering how to find the time and energy to exercise when you have a hard time just getting showered and out the door. You don’t have time for coffee, let alone exercise at a gym. But, I’ll bet you have a stroller or baby backpack. Walking with your baby is a great place to start. Put the baby or toddler in and hit the mall or the sidewalk. Your baby will be excited because it will give them some relaxation, fresh air and new things to look at. Start slow and move up to a faster pace and longer walks as you feel the pounds drop off and the worries slide off your shoulders.
If you are more of a workout-on-the-mat type of gal, don’t worry about trying to arrange childcare; it is challenging enough to lose the baby weight. Use your baby in your workout. You and your baby can re-shape your body right from the comfort of your home, have fun doing it and reduce the stress you may feel about leaving baby behind. Exercising with your family gives you the opportunity to start on a healthful, daily life pattern that includes fitness and quality time as a family. (see sample exercises in box)
Continue the focus to get your body back by reactivating and building the pelvic floor, the transverses abdominis, the obliques and lumbo pelvic stability. If that is confusing lingo then think of all those muscles as your “core”. You need to rebuild your core. A classical Pilates class is ideal for rebuilding your core for pre and post-natal women for the same reason it has been labeled an exercise program for a lifetime. It is a complete coordination of body-mind-spirit with a custom approach which ensures every client benefits from a workout tailored to their fitness level and their body’s unique intricacies. Women have used Pilates worldwide to strengthen their pelvic area and stomach muscles.
If you have the luxury of leaving baby in the care of others take some “me” time. Try to relax your mind and workout in the moment. Your baby is in good hands, now take this time for yourself to take a class or walk the neighborhood. You will come back to your family more relaxed, able to give more, and be a better Mommy. Exercise is an antidepressant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists promotes exercise as a key factor in the health of new Moms and a paper published recently in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health suggests that it offers benefits to help with postpartum depression.
Do not spend time on crazy, frustrating methods of losing weight. Some women think a crash diet is the way to go. Ever notice the word “Die” is in diet? Breast-feeding is your best diet because it burns calories, which helps in your weight loss efforts. If you are not breast-feeding then stick to sensible, whole foods that nourish your body without adding fat or non-nourishing calories. Cutting out whole food groups is never good for you because your body needs all food groups to be healthy, especially if your body is healing from giving birth and breast-feeding. If you are breast-feeding, you should be eating 1500 calories or more, or you could be short-changing you and the baby. Remember, you need whole, healthy foods to re-new, re-store, heal and re-energize your body.
Finally, do not depress yourself or hamper your progress by comparing yourself to others. Especially when you are up in the middle of the night with the baby, watching television, and you see the tabloid entertainment shows creating a spectacle of these high-profile women, who just bounce from the delivery room to supermodel shape overnight. You might be thinking, “What is wrong with me?” I have news for you. It isn’t a realistic expectation, or a healthy one, for you to return to a “slim self” just days after giving birth. An important point to remember is that these women’s jobs depend upon their body. Heidi Klum as a supermodel is required to keep her body in perfect condition no matter what it does to her or her babies. Actresses are also known for their bodies, it’s sometimes all they have so they must keep in shape to keep on top of their game.
Laura Riley, M.D., a high risk pregnancy expert from Massachusetts General Hospital and spokeswomen for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states: “We don’t have the kind of lifestyle that would allow for that kind of quick loss-and the sooner women recognize that, the better they will feel about themselves.”
So, check out the ideas above, and check with your doctor and start a program today that fits your lifestyle. Pick a program that is true to you and your goals. Remove the supermodel images from your head. You have already run the marathon of pregnancy and delivery. You are already a SuperMommy. Make sure the program that you choose is something that honors you, and if it feels good doing it, you will maintain the program over the long term. Stay away from fitness gimmicks and muscle wrenching workouts that punish you into reaching your goals.
One final reminder, don’t let a lapse derail your efforts and become a collapse. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong commitment and no one is perfect at it. Lose the “all or nothing” attitude and instead focus on one day at a time.
Side Bar #1
Check out your local Community College. Most have a great mix of classes that will help you reach your goals. Our local college, Monroe County Community College has re-aligned their class mix to be forward thinking and inspiring the community to movement. Programs are affordable because you share the cost with a group of “like-minded” peers; the local public transportation system runs bus schedules to the college and they have a complete list of classes to help you with each aspect of getting your health and body back in order.
o Pilates, corrective exercise to help you re-align your posture and activate and strengthen your core;
o Yoga, to help you reduce stress, increase flexibility, and be a better self.
o Intuitive Eating will help you learn to eat healthy and intuitively without diets and will provide you with a program that the whole family will want to follow.
o Fitness Coaching will help you start an exercise routine, pick cardio sessions that aren’t boring or help you get to that next level and win the triathlon.
The list at the college is endless to choose from. Start with the area that works best for you. To learn more about what Monroe County Community College has to offer call 734-242-7300 and request a Life Long Learning Catalog. Not in Monroe County? Look up your local college, call the administration office and inquire about their programs today.
Side Bar #2
Tips for Postpartum Moms
o Be physically active (at least 30 minutes) most days of the week
o Relax, breathe and enjoy this special moment in you life
o American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2007; 32, 305-11) found that a sound walking program may be what postpartum moms need. New moms who watch fewer than two hours of TV daily, walk 30 minutes or more per day and eat fewer trans fats are 77% less likely to retain the baby weight.
— IDEA Fitness Journal July/ August 2007
o There are two main components that you are trying to accomplish.
1. Restoring your abdominal muscles and core strength…Pilates is an excellent choice for this.
2. Dynamic stability: I know this is a little odd, but you just passed an object the size of a large eggplant.
You have loose joints, weakened abs, etc. After pregnancy it is very easy to exercise out of alignment. You need to learn how to properly position your body’s alignment so that you develop core strength, healthy spinal function and prevent injury. Pilates wins the vote again to accomplish this.
o How do you pick a movement program that is right for you at the different stages of getting your body back?
Consider the following:
o Start with bonding, where you, and baby exercise together.
o Include total body workouts, do movements that work your entire body.
o Consider practicality, a workout that is tailored to meet your needs so that you don’t have the fear of wetting your pants forever.
o Gradually increase your intensity, start out easy and make it harder as you get stronger.
Here are two short workout sessions to try: (Be sure your doctor has released you for exercise first) 30 minute indoor workout:
o You and baby need to move around the house for about 10 minutes.
Have fun and walk briskly until you feel warm.
o Lay your baby down on a blanket.
Position yourself so that you can do kneeling push-ups over the baby. Each time you lower your body, give your baby a kiss, As you lift up, give your baby a smile. Do this for 2 minutes.
o From your hands and knees (all fours position) lift your hips toward the sky and step into the position where your hands and feet are on the ground, and your body is over your baby (downward facing dog).
You will still be gazing into your baby’s eyes and you get a good stretch through the posterior side of your body (back side)
Remember! Your abdominals should still be hugging your spine to protect your low back.
Hold this for about 2 minutes.
o Dance with your baby to children’s music for 16 minutes and you have a 30-minute workout in.
30 minute outdoor workout:
o Start on your hands and knees (all fours position), starting at the tailbone, arch your back up to the sky one vertebra at a time.
Starting at the tailbone, reverse the arch to a “sway back” one vertebra at time. (Cat & Cow)
This articulation of the spine is coming from using your abdominal muscles, not your legs or arms. Inhale into cow and exhale into cat. (About 10 cycles). Use your breath to help you work deeper into your abdominals. Do this for one minute.
o Lying on your back with bent knees and feet close to your bottom, arms long at your side.
Inhale and lift your hips to the sky and then exhale and roll down bone by bone. (Shoulder Bridge)
Insure that your abdominals are hugging your spine while you do this (no pouching of the belly)
o Lying on your back with legs bent Inhale, roll back tucking your tail and snapping each vertebra to the mat. Roll from your tailbone to your bra strap and then progress to rolling from your sacrum to lying flat. Hold onto the back of the legs and allow the spine to peel and articulate on and off the mat. Inhale to prepare and exhale to scoop your abdominals and lift up (Modified Roll Up) Lying on your back with bent knees Inhale and lift the head off of the mat, Exhale and crease at your sternum with the tips of your shoulder blades on the mat, shoulders open, Slide your arms along the mat, keep your eyes on your navel, (Neck Curls) Return to the mat– lengthening through the crown of your head. As you curl up, ensure that your abdominals are pulling in and up.
o Standing flat on your feet, sweep your arms up to the sky. Bend your knees to protect your low back and bend at the hips until your hands reach the ground. Try and straighten your legs as much as your flexibility will allow. (Forward Fold). Inhale, bends your knees and return to standing, exhale bends your knees and forward fold. Always be mindful of what your abdominals are doing.
o Turn so that you are facing away from the stroller handle then reach back for the bar and give yourself a big stretch through your chest. (Chest Expansion)
o Out for an interval walk with the baby and stroller: 5 minutes of walking at an easy pace, 5 minutes of walking at a brisk pace, 5 minutes of walking at an easy pace, 5 minutes of walking at a brisk pace
o Do 2 minutes of walking lunges behind the stroller
o 2 minutes of holding your baby, peaceful relaxation outdoors
Side Bar #4
Food suggestions and tips:
o Limit caffeine to no more than 300 mg per day. Better yet, reduce it further (March of Dimes 2007)
o Avoid alcohol if breast-feeding. If you must, please drink only a moderate amount and wait 3 hours before you breast feed (LaLeche League International 2006)
o Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
o No smoking
o Also, talk with your doctor about continuing with a DHA supplement and prenatal vitamin while you are breast feeding
o The LaLeche League’s philosophy is “Good nutrition means a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible” Eat fresh and healthy food in a variety of choices. Anything you are happy to eat is okay while you are breast-feeding.
o A healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grain and lean protein is important for any person. It gives a mother the nutrition’s to produce milk for her baby as well.
o The most important thing is to start small, for example reading labels and looking for foods with no high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or colored dyes. Once you have this mastered, think about offering more than one vegetable choice at dinner (green leafy salad (no iceberg) and a steamed vegetable of choice), then move to only purchasing whole grains, etc.
o With simple steps paced out over time it is less overwhelming, you gravitate toward healthier and healthier choices over time
Sample menu from the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid for a 1200-1500 calorie diet.
o 1 medium banana,
o 1 cup bran cereal,
o 1 cup fat free milk,
o Herbal tea.
o Tuna salad sandwich (tuna, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, ½ teaspoon of curry, chopped celery) top with leaf lettuce,
o 2 slices of whole grain bread,
o 2 cups of raw baby carrots, jicama and bell pepper strips,
o 1 small apple
o 3 oz of boiled cod sprinkled with juice of 1 lemon wedge
o 1 teaspoon drained and rinsed capers,
o ¾ cup steamed green beans,
o ½ cup sliced beets,
o Salad made with 1 cup of variety of green leaf lettuce, ½ cup cherry tomatoes, splash of balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
o Sparkling water with lemon.
o Snack: 1 small pear and 1 ounce of cheese
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