Caution is required before jumping back into an exercise program, especially with your abdominals. During pregnancy, your abdominals will separate from the added pressure of the baby. This is called diastasis recti. It's important that you minimize the separation, allowing the abs to function properly, and also before doing any strenuous abdominal work. Simply perform the following test to gauge your separation.
Lay on your back with your knees bent and your fingers placed above your belly button. Now, lift your head, neck and shoulders off the floor and you will feel if you have a gap in between your abs. If you do feel a gap, measure by fingers the size of the separation, 2 fingers and above, I recommend you do the following exercise every day before doing any other abdominal exercises. This will train the abdominals back together again, creating a stronger, stable spine.
Towel abs exercise
Lay on your back with your knees bent and heels inline with the sit bones (Those bony parts you feel under you when you sit). Wrap a towel around your midsection and cross the towel over the abs (holding at each end). Lift your head, neck and shoulders off the floor, exhale and draw your abdominals in toward the spine and pull the towel tight. This will pull the abs together, retraining them in their correct position. Repeat this for 10 times every day and keep monitoring the separation.
Benefits of postnatal exercise
- Helps to reduce post-natal depression known as the "baby blues"
- Quicker recovery back to your pre-pregnancy body
- Increased much-needed energy
- Stress release (time to focus on yourself)
Be patient with your post-pregnancy body
After childbirth I was amazed how my once-tight tummy looked like a deflated balloon. Don't panic, this is normal. Over the next few weeks your uterus will naturally contract back to its pre-pregnancy shape. Breastfeeding will expedite this process, causing the contractions to be stronger and more frequent. However, I must stress that this alone is not enough to get your pre-pregnancy body back. Post-natal exercise will speed up the recovery process and build valuable strength your body needs to keep up with the hectic schedule of caring for your newborn. Be patient with yourself. It may take a few months or possibly longer, depending on how much time you can dedicate to working out.
Tips to find time to exercise
- Buy a daily planner and loosely plan your workouts around your baby's schedule. For example, in the morning after the first feeding, go for a nice walk with the baby in the stroller. (Start with a flat terrain and then progress to different elevations). Next when the baby goes down for her nap you have can take 15 minutes to do some core conditioning exercises. Yes, it does require willpower but when you start seeing results this will keep you inspired to do more.
- Join a "Mommy and Me" exercise class. Check out your local hospital or pediatrician to find classes. These are a great way to bond with your newborn and fit in much needed exercise time for you. A win-win situation for both parties!
- Create a library of exercise videos that are different lengths so you're already equipped for when you find unexpected time.
- Perform exercises while you're doing daily activities. Pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) can be done anywhere and are very valuable for achieving a strong, stable pelvic area, which is usually lax due to pregnancy hormones still present (especially if you're breastfeeding).
Exercise safety tips
- Invest in a good support bra. Your breasts are going to be larger than normal from the milk production and will need a lot of extra support.
- Be careful of high-impact sports due to lax pelvic ligaments and joints left over from pregnancy. This is why core (abdominal work is key after pregnancy preventing lower back and joint injuries).
- Make sure you drink lots of water to replenish yourself, especially when breastfeeding.
- Listen to your body. If you're feeling tired, go easy on yourself. Try not to push yourself until you feel ready.
- If you start to feel light headed and nauseous, or notice a change in the color of your vaginal discharge, consult with your doctor. You may be exercising too strenuously.
I recommend Pilates for core conditioning and weight training and cardio for weight loss. Try to fit 2-3 times a week of cardio activity (walking, running and hiking) for 30-45 minutes and general body conditioning at least 3 times a week.
Enjoy this amazing time with your baby. You have created the miracle of life. A little extra weight is a small price to pay for a bundle of joy. Be patient and your body will be back to normal in no time.