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Start out slowly. You need to conserve your energy to recover from labor and delivery. Many medical practitioners advise waiting until after your first postpartum checkup (usually six weeks after delivery) to resume an exercise program. But if you were active before and during your pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says you can start as soon as you feel able. You can start walking and doing strengthening moves for your abdominal, lower back, and pelvic muscles the day after delivery, as long as you had a normal vaginal birth. (You'll need to wait about six to eight weeks if you had a cesarean.)
During the first six weeks, you can begin walking at 3 to 3 ½ miles an hour to increase circulation and get some general exercise. Do what you can handle, even if it's only 10 to 15 minutes, and increase your time as you get stronger. As you walk, don't overstride, and let your arms swing naturally by your sides. Warm up with five to 10 minutes of rhythmic activity such as marching, side-to-side lunges, shoulder rolls, and arm circles. (The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends exercising three to five times per week for 30 minutes, at an intensity at which you can talk but not sing.)
Once you've received your doctor's approval to participate fully in a training program, build up to 50 to 60 minutes of continuous walking, four to five days a week. Of course, you can take a stroller and your baby with you. Once you can walk comfortably for 20 minutes, begin to increase your speed to 4 miles an hour, or a 15-minute mile.
With a new baby around, finding the time to fit exercise into your daily schedule is difficult but not impossible as long as you make it a priority. Try to do three 10-minute sessions a day if you can't fit in a full 30 minutes at one time. And be sure to find an activity that you enjoy and look forward to so exercise isn't a chore.
Exercises that can be done with your baby are often easier to fit into your routine. In my case, I sometimes put my daughter in a front pack and did lunges, squats, and arm weights. You may want to consider purchasing exercise equipment for use during your baby's nap or when it's too hot, cold, or wet to go outside.
If that doesn't fit into your budget, exercise videos are an economical option. Before beginning, make sure your baby is secure in an infant seat, highchair, or playpen. Stow potentially dangerous equipment out of her reach or block access to it when you're done.
Be patient, and remember that your shape will eventually come back. Keep these tips in mind as you work toward your goal:
- Weigh yourself only once a week to keep the stress of slow weight loss to a minimum. Losing about a pound per week is safe.
- Once you get the green light from your healthcare provider, any type of aerobic exercise will help you shed the extra pounds. Exercises that use large muscle groups (walking, swimming, biking, or jogging) and elevate your heart rate are particularly effective.
- If you're new to exercise, start slowly and increase your intensity and duration over time. If you exercise too hard too soon after delivery, your vaginal flow (lochia) may increase or turn pink — a signal to slow down.
- If you're breastfeeding, exercise when your breasts aren't full of milk; for comfort and extra support, wear a sports bra over a nursing bra.
- This isn't the time to diet to lose weight. Though your milk production is largely independent of what you eat during the first few months of nursing (the fat accumulated in pregnancy provides a ready supply of calories), if your diet isn't adequate you're more likely to be fatigued and listless.
- Applaud yourself for small goals and achievements, such as exercising three times per week.
Getting back into prepregnancy clothes is exciting yet challenging for most new mothers. Don't expect to be able to get into your favorite pair of jeans for several weeks or even months. Keep in mind it took some 40 weeks to gain your pregnancy weight so it will take time to lose it.