Congratulations on your new baby! After going through labor and birth, you need and deserve time to rest and recover, of course. But sooner than you might expect, you may feel ready to start moving again and get back into shape. While your doctor may want you to wait a little longer to begin traditional workouts, he or she will probably support your doing some simple exercises soon after birth. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
The exercises described here are gentle and safe for most women. They'll help restore the strength and good posture that was lost during pregnancy, and that you'll need to care for your baby. Though the exercises may seem basic, they're essential for anyone at any fitness level.
Named after gynecologist Arnold Kegel, these internal squeezes help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which extend from your pubic bone to your tailbone and act like a sling holding everything up in place. If you've just given birth, Kegels are helpful for improving bladder control, tightening the vagina, and healing the perineum. But they're recommended for all women at all stages of life to help reduce or prevent urinary leakage and other problems.
What to do: First, locate your pelvic floor muscles by trying to stop your flow of urine while going to the bathroom. Now, contract those muscles. Hold the contraction for three seconds and then relax for three seconds. Repeat 10 times. You can do Kegels in a variety of positions — from sitting and standing to kneeling on all fours. If you like, you can vary the tempo and the level of contraction. No matter how you do them, make Kegels part of your daily routine.
Targeting your shoulder blades — the scapulae — is a great way to improve your posture. If you find yourself hunching over your new baby all the time, doing these retractions regularly will help realign your shoulders and make your back feel so much better.
What to do: Sit or stand with your spine and head erect (your ears should be in line with your shoulders). Squeeze your shoulder blades back and together as if cracking a walnut between them. Hold for one second and release. You can also do this exercise with your baby in a front pack carrier. Repeat 15 times, 3 times per day.
These exercises are effective for regaining abdominal strength and re — aligning your pelvis after pregnancy. Picture your pelvis like a bucket: When your baby grew, the bucket tilted forward (called an anterior pelvic tilt). Try this pose now (exaggerate as much as possible) and you'll discover that your tummy pooches out and pressure is exerted on your low back. Your goal in these exercises is get your pelvis back into a neutral position, not tilted forward and not tilted back. You'll like the results — you'll look better and feel better too.
What to do: Lie down on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Draw in your abdominals without squeezing your glutes (the big muscles in your butt). Tilt the pelvis back so the small of your back is pressed against the floor. (You may find it helpful to picture the bucket tilting back.) Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Though leg slides are gentle, they will help build the foundation for a strong core — those abdominal and back muscles that encircle your entire torso. If you can, do leg slides immediately following pelvic tilts.
What to do: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring your pelvis into neutral position (your bucket is not tilted). Engage your abs to keep your pelvis perfectly still throughout the exercise (this is the hard part!). Slide one leg out so that it fully extends without shifting your pelvis. Bring the leg back to starting position and repeat with the other leg. Do this approximately 15 times on each side.
The plank may be the most challenging exercise in this workout, and it's worth the effort. It actually strengthens and tones the entire body.
How to do it: Start face down on your knees, propped on your elbows. Without holding your breath, engage your abdominal muscles so they are drawn in toward your back, away from the floor. Now raise your hips off the floor so that your head, shoulders, and hips make a straight line — the idea is to hover in a position that is flat as a board. If this is too strenuous at first you can start at your knees, with just hips and torso raised, and eventually progress to full plank on your toes. Hold this position for five seconds and gradually build up to one minute.
Your Portpartum Workout Strategy
The most important guideline for a new mom's exercise program is to start small and to build up gradually. Respect your sleep — deprived reality and nurture your body. If you cannot do all of the recommended repetitions at first, do what you can and add more as you become stronger. I promise that baby steps can get you to anywhere you want to go.
Beyond doing these exercises, the best activity for you is walking. Start with a pace and duration that feels comfortable, not challenging. Again, build up gradually and you will increase your strength and endurance. Exercise should be energizing rather than exhausting. Have fun moving and enjoy your new baby.