No matter how much we try to pretend we love it, and no matter how proud it makes us feel, changing body shape in the later stages of pregnancy can be quite unsettling. After the baby is born, most of us can’t wait to get back in shape and start feeling like ourselves again. Doing so is quite a challenge, however. First, you need to prioritize being healthy, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Looking after a baby is tiring and it can be hard to find the extra energy for getting fit. You’ll need to be realistic and set out a sensible plan. If you can stick to it, you’ll not only start to get back in shape, you’ll also feel better.
Start out carefully
No matter how keen you may feel to make a start on exercising, you will need to take things slowly to begin with. Getting too active too early can cause serious muscle injury and may result in you being laid up for months. Most experts recommend doing as little as possible for the first two weeks. If you feel strong enough, you can go for short walks around the hospital or around the block where you live, taking your baby in a stroller and using the stroller to give you some extra support, but you should stop and rest whenever you feel tired. If you have had a natural birth, you should be ready to start getting back to serious exercise after four months; if you have had a caesarean section, you will usually have to wait for six months. Ask for advice when you go for your regular check-ups, because everyone is different. In the meantime, focus on gentle exercise, such as walking or swimming, and don’t try to push yourself.
One thing you can start working on from an early stage is strength-building exercise. Pelvic floor exercises can usually start right away and will help you to heal. You can also do exercises that focus exclusively on your limbs, as long as you’re not exhausting yourself. Be wary of anything that puts a strain on your abdomen. About six weeks after a natural birth, or 10 weeks after a C-section, you will be able to start doing gentle sit-ups. Pull in your stomach muscles before you start and this will help to protect you from injury. You won’t need to lift your back up very far to start making progress. Just do them in small batches, whenever you feel able to. After the first few months, you should be able to start doing pull-ups, which will help get your breasts back into shape.
Although breast feeding helps quite a bit with getting rid of pregnancy fat, you will need to do aerobic exercises in order to get your belly back to the shape it used to be. This should begin after four to six months and you will need to build up gradually, as if you were learning to exercise for the first time, but if you have worked out in the past, you’ll find that your progress is faster this time around. You may find that exercise is interrupted by sudden dizzy spells or unexpected exhaustion. If this happens, don’t try to push through it, just rest until you feel normal again.
Pain after pregnancy is your body’s way of trying to tell you something, and if you feel any severe pain in your abdominal area then you should stop exercising immediately. Pain that comes on suddenly is a particular warning sign, but if you rest and it goes away, you can try exercising again, more gently, a little later. As seen on TV, there are various aides that can help you to control pain in a healthy way, such as compression gear designed to help support weak or damaged muscles so you can get back in action more easily. Over time, exercise itself will reduce your day-to-day pain as it helps repair the muscles that were strained by the pregnancy.
A healthy diet
When you’re a new mom, it’s vital that you have the energy to cope with your baby’s needs, and you’ll need a good balance of nutrients, especially if you’re breastfeeding. With this in mind, dieting to try and lose weight is a bad idea, but what you should be doing is making an effort to eat healthily. As your metabolism is undergoing many changes at this time, it’s a good opportunity to develop new eating habits and stick to them. You may even find that your tastes have changed and you enjoy healthy foods you once hated.
If you eat healthily and stick to a sensible exercise plan, you should be back in shape within a year. That might not be as quickly as you’d like, but it will be sustainable and the best choice for you and your baby.
Photo credit: Michael Coghlan on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0