Dear Tara Marie,
I am 36 years old and just gave birth to my second child. I am finding it harder to get back in shape after this pregnancy. My first pregnancy was 5 years ago and I bounced back more easily. Can you offer any advice on getting back in shape after delivery?
Abby in Princeton, NJ
Thanks for writing! This is a common situation that I encounter in my practice as a personal trainer. I have worked with many new moms and have found that basic common sense paired with the following advice is very helpful. The main thing to remember is that your body will one day return to some semblance of your pre-pregnancy state, and there are things that you can do to help hasten this process.
You did not mention whether you delivered via C-section or the good old-fashioned way. In any event, getting your doctor’s clearance before returning to exercise is a must. Pregnancy and delivery present quite a trauma to the body, and a certain level of healing must occur before you place additional physical stress on yourself with exercise. Once your doctor gives clearance, consider these tips to help you drop your pregnancy weight:
Breast feed if you can. Breastfeeding can help you shed your excess weight while eating your regular diet. Producing milk uses 200 to 500 calories a day, on average. This may not sound like much, but that can add up to about a pound a week without making any other changes in your daily routine. I know lots of moms that hate to stop breast feeding because it helps them stay lean!
Do short bouts of exercise throughout the day. As a mom caring for a newborn, you can’t expect to have long periods of time during which you can exercise. Take advantage of 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, to squeeze in some movement. I had a client that had a treadmill in her home and every time she got a short block of time, she would jump on the treadmill and kick out a brisk walk. She clocked an hour a day by doing 10 minutes here and there. This allowed her to care for her new baby and make use of the brief breaks that she had.
Make sure every calorie you are ingesting is nutritious. If you are breast feeding, it is recommended that you do not eat less than 1,800 calories a day so you can produce milk for your baby. If you are not breast feeding, your doctor may allow you to diet. Regardless, your body is in recovery and you need to provide yourself with foods that offer you what your body needs to thrive. Stick to fresh whole foods that come from nature.
With your doctor’s OK, it is safe to slowly ease back into whatever exercise you were doing before you were pregnant. Right after you deliver is not the time to launch into a brand new, physically challenging routine. Walking (alone or while pushing a stroller) is a great form of exercise. If you are a runner, there are some wonderful jogging strollers on the market.
Best case scenario, you have been doing resistance training all along and it helped you with your delivery. If you have never embarked on a resistance training program before, work with a trainer at your gym that is knowledgeable about working with women that have recently delivered a baby.
If lifting weights is not your cup of tea, there are other forms of resistance training that are very effective, including resistant bands and tubing and using your own body weight. If you can’t afford to work with a personal trainer, most gyms offer a wide variety of conditioning classes. Always mention to the instructor that you just had a baby so she can help you make any necessary modifications.
The name of the game in weight control is increasing your metabolic rate, and building muscle will permanently rev your metabolism. Muscle requires calories to sustain itself and you will use more calories (even at rest) if you increase the muscle mass on your body.
If you can’t afford to go to a gym and you can’t buy a decent piece of exercise equipment like a treadmill for your home, you must be creative. The idea is to keep moving. Turn on your favorite music and dance, buy a jump rope and use it throughout the day, walk up and down your stairs, etc. You want to get moving and keep moving as soon as possible. This will not only help you physically but will also help you stave off postpartum depression.
There is a plethora of exercise DVDs on the market that specifically target different populations. Do some research and find a few that are designed to help moms bounce back after baby. Invite some of your new-mom girlfriends over and have an exercise class together! This camaraderie will be good for both body and spirit.
If you really want to be creative, use your baby as resistance! Holding a 12 lb. baby while doing plies is no different than holding a 12 lb. dumbbell. Lying on your back and pressing your baby up and down works your triceps as much as holding a light barbell would. There are “Mommy and Me” classes devoted to these sorts of creative exercises that involve your little one, so ask your friends or your doctor and find the one that works for you.
Your body will absorb and metabolize food more efficiently in smaller doses, and eating every 3 hours or so will keep your energy up. Taking care of a newborn is hard work and you will feel better if you don’t wait too long between your own feedings.
All of this basically adds up to common sense, creativity and patience. Take good care of your body and it will take good care of you. Do the best you can, when you can, as often as you can and relax about this process. Mother Nature knows what to do, and you will feel like yourself again soon!