As a Certified Pre- and Postnatal Pilates Specialist and health coach who focuses on counseling mothers, I work with a lot of new moms desperate to lose weight after the birth of a baby. Many women cannot (and sometimes do not) wait for medical clearance before returning to the rigorous exercise regimens they had before they became pregnant. They're so determined to slip back into their skinny jeans that they don’t stop to think how their actions may be harming their health.
How can we convince new moms that it's perfectly acceptable and even important to embrace their postnatal figures and treat their bodies gently? Everywhere you turn, you'll find a magazine featuring the latest celebrity who's lost all of her pregnancy weight within three months of giving birth. These images set impossibly high standards that many feel pressured to meet. We overlook that these celebrities are paid to look a certain way. As a result, they often resort to unhealthy calorie restriction, fad diets and countless hours of grueling workouts with professional trainers. Let’s not forget that many of those images are airbrushed!
The reality is that childbirth is a tremendous ordeal which leaves a woman’s body with a long list of limitations and vulnerabilities. Here are a few good reasons for mothers to slow down and ease back into their fitness routine after having a baby.
Relaxin, the hormone that's responsible for softening your joints during pregnancy and delivery, remains in your system for up to five or six months after childbirth. Performing traditional forms of exercise such as aerobics, running or tennis during these early months will make you susceptible to injury. Why not try walking or swimming, which are kinder and gentler on your joints?
Weak Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is often significantly traumatized after a vaginal delivery. Think of your pelvic floor as a trampoline holding your vaginal wall, rectum and urethra together. During a vaginal birth, the muscles around the vagina will stretch and the bladder can start to drop, causing urinary incontinence. Incontinence is quite common and may continue for months after childbirth. The pelvic floor muscles work together to hold your organs in position and maintain continence. Kegels and exercises designed to strengthen those muscles are an important part of any postnatal exercise regimen. It’s best to hold off on forms of exercise involving jumping, running or other high-intensity workouts that will only magnify the problem.
Exercise should not adversely affect a nursing mother’s milk production so long as adequate fluids and caloric intake are maintained. Studies have shown, however, that long or rigorous workouts can cause a buildup of lactic acid in breast milk and create a sour and unpleasant taste for babies. Sticking with low to moderate physical activity should prevent any breastfeeding problems in that regard.
More and more women are experiencing a separation of their recti muscles (in an ideal world, the “six-pack”) during pregnancy. The increasing number of women with diastasis may be due to improved fitness levels and abdominal muscles that are too tight to accommodate a growing uterus. To prevent diastasis, it's important to do the correct type of exercises during pregnancy as well as after childbirth. Flexion exercises such as crunches and sit ups should not be performed after the first trimester of pregnancy. Similarly, flexion exercises should be avoided after childbirth if the separation of your recti muscles exceeds the width of 2 ½ fingers. Planks, on the other hand, are an excellent way to tone post natal abdominals.
There is plenty of time for running and vigorous cardio exercise once your body heals, but it's more important to rehabilitate yourself during those first few months after giving birth. A postnatal Pilates class can be a wonderful way to reconnect with your body, strengthen your core and pelvic floors muscles, and heal a diastasis. Walking and swimming are also a great way to improve aerobic fitness and get your heart pumping.
The most important thing is to embrace your body for all of the wonderful things it's capable of. You and your baby are truly a miracle!