Postpartum: Exercise Tips

Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC

This month, our special guest bloggers, Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC, authors of 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition & Exercise, offer expert postpartum exercise tips.

You have just given birth.  Congratulations!  Now you are probably wondering “how soon after birth can I start exercising?”  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a gradual resumption of exercise as soon as you feel up to it.  However, it would be prudent to wait for your six-week postpartum checkup to ensure everything is okay before launching into an exercise routine.

Generally, if you exercised throughout your pregnancy and had a normal vaginal delivery, it would be safe to begin light exercise such as walking, stretching and modified push-ups within a week of giving birth.  It is important to begin slowly by doing light aerobic exercise such as walking for a few minutes and increase the duration of each walk by an additional few minutes each day.  Try not to push yourself too hard too soon.  Let your sense of comfort be your guide.

If you had a c-section, make sure that you check with your doctor first and expect to wait until you recover from your operation before going back to your exercise program.  A typical incision from a c-section can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to heal and may be some time after that before you feel ready to start exercising again.  However, easy walking is recommended as it can promote healing, help prevent blood clots, postpartum blues and other complications.

If you weren’t active during your pregnancy or tapered off your regular fitness routine during the months leading up to your delivery, make sure that you check with your doctor or midwife before beginning exercise.  Remember that your joints and ligaments will still be loose for about three to five months after delivery, which can make you susceptible to falling and joint injuries.

Some women like to engage in group exercise classes and if you want to participate in group exercise classes find one that is taught by a postpartum exercise specialist.  Many YMCAs, recreation centers, gyms and yoga studios offer excellent exercise classes for new mothers.  Additionally, low-impact classes that focus on toning and stretching are very effective.

Remember, exercise is good for you, but don’t overdo it for the first few months after giving birth.  Your body needs time to heal, and you need time to adjust to your new role and bond with your baby.  If you have any concerns about developing a workout routine, consider consulting a professional such as an exercise physiologist that has certifications with either the NSCA or ACSM for help.

Many women that have given birth have legitimate questions and concerns about exercise and their body. The following lists some of those questions:

How careful should I be with my abdominal muscles after birth?  During pregnancy, some women develop a gap in their abdominal muscles as their stomach expands during pregnancy and labor, a condition called diastasis recti.  It takes four to eight weeks after giving birth for this gap to close.  If you start doing abdominal exercises before this gap fully closes, you run a very real risk of damaging those muscles.  To find the gap where the muscles have separated, lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Place the fingers of your left hand, palm facing you, just above the navel.  Place your right hand on your upper thigh.  Inhale deeply and then exhale.  As you exhale, lift your head and shoulders off the floor and slide your right hand up your thigh toward your knee.  This will make your abdominal muscle tighten; you should be able to feel the gap where the muscles have separated.  If you feel a gap, consult your doctor to see if it is safe to begin an abdominal strengthening program. Your health care provider can provide you a program that incorporates pelvic tilts, leg slides, crunches and/or sit-ups.

What effect does exercise have on breastfeeding?  The simple answer to this question is it won’t.  As long as you drink plenty of water, vigorous exercise will not impact the amount or composition of your breast milk.  If your breasts are sore or tender; avoid any form of exercise that aggravates the condition. Try wearing a supportive sports bra while working out, and try to nurse your baby before you exercise so your breasts won’t feel uncomfortably full.

Are there physical signs that I’m exercising too much too soon?  Too much physical activity after birth has the potential to cause your vaginal discharge to become redder and flow more heavily, a condition called lochia.  This is a warning to slow down.  It is important to inform your doctor immediately if vaginal bleeding restarts if you thought it had stopped or you experience any pain while exercising. Another sign of over exercising, is feeling exhausted instead of invigorated when you are done.  This is a warning to slow down and take it a little easier.

What is the best way to lose weight after giving birth?  From an exercise standpoint, the most effective way to lose weight after delivery is to engage in regular aerobic activity such as walking, jogging, swimming or biking.  Exercise duration should amount to 150 minutes or more each week and involve the major muscles groups of the body to be effective.  The key is to be patient and consistent and with proper dietary intervention the mother should aim at losing no more than a pound a week, especially if breastfeeding.  For further information on postpartum weight loss, view the Postpartum: Nutrition Tips.

The key to regaining normalcy after childbirth is to listen to your health care provider, listen to your body for any unusual changes and give yourself the time needed to get back to your normal lifestyle.

This six-part blog series discusses the current nutrition and exercise recommendations for women before, during, and after pregnancy.  Pregnancy can certainly be a trying and confusing time and these articles are intended to provide answers to the most popular questions women (and often their providers) ask.

http://www.jblearning.com/catalog/9780763778866/More information can be found in 100 Questions and Answers About Sports Nutrition and Exercise by Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC.

Do you have a nutrition or exercise question? If so, submit them to adefronzo@jblearning.com. Questions will be answered on a monthly basis.

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