Robert O. Atlas, MD, O.B.G.Y.N., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, is of the opinion that when a woman can resume exercise depends on the individual. Some new moms are ready within two weeks while some others may take a month or so to get back to normal routine. In general, the healthier you are entering pregnancy, the easier the recovery.
The type of delivery often will determine the time needed to get back to an exercise routine. “Vaginal delivery recovers easily, when compared to cesarean delivery," says Atlas. Traditionally women are asked to wait for six weeks before resuming exercise but some women can return to exercise earlier. The time taken may also depend on the type of exercise. High-impact workouts, including running or other sports may require more time compared to yoga, walking or Pilates sessions.
Bonnie Berk, MS, RN, HNB-BC, author of The Motherwell Eternity Fitness Plan, says that women can resume an exercise routine which they did prenatal after the delivery. Women who were fit before the delivery can return to an exercise routine postpartum earlier when compared to women who were not fit. Women who had complications like lacerations and episiotomies may take more time to heal and return to their prenatal routines, says Berk.
After meeting with your doctor and getting the go ahead, ensure you're taking care of yourself and getting adequate sleep and nutrition first. It is then recommended you begin walking 10 to 15 minutes a day at least 3x a week. According to the recommendations of the The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), start with easy exercises and then gradually build up the moves. Fabio Comana, MS, exercise physiologist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), suggests beginning with exercises for the core muscles and balance training. But be careful as the joints may not be very flexible because of the changes in the hormone levels. It is better to scale down the activities till the muscles are strong enough.
“Simple exercises can be followed by cardio and resistance training later," says Comana. Sara Morelli, MD, board certified OBGYN. at University Reproductive Associates in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, suggests that women should start with exercises that they are able to maintain and continue. Walking is the best way to start getting back into shape and this also prepares the body for more vigorous exercises later.
Breastfeeding may not affect the exercise regimen of the new mom and moderate physical activity may not affect the quality or quantity of the breast milk. Moderate loss of weight during lactation may not compromise the weight gain in the child. “If the exercise levels are more, lactic acid levels may not be so palatable to the child," warns Morelli. It is better to feed the baby before exercise if the child is not feeding well after the activity. Feeding before exercise will also make the breasts more comfortable during exercises.
Women should always keep in mind that it will be sometime before they can see the result of weight loss when they are lactating. “This is because the body keeps the weight when they are breastfeeding," says Berk. It will be six to seven months before they can see the results of their efforts.
StrollerStrides and BabyBootCamp are some of the most popular programs for new moms which allow them to exercise with the babies. This provides opportunity for the new mom to spend time with other moms. “One can burn calories the fun way too”, says Berk. Dancing with the baby around the living room helps to make fitness more enjoyable.
“Vigorous exercises including resistance training may lead to complications like prolapse, in which the uterus drops," says Atlas. These types of exercises increase the pressure in the abdominal region, particularly in women who are thin and who have poor nutrition. “Women who had a laceration or episiotomy may have a breakdown in the episiotomy with vigorous activities," warns Atlas. The abdominal muscles may feel tender if they had a caesarean section and hence women who had a section should wait till the area feels stronger before starting with abdominal exercises.
Women who were on bed rest prior to delivery and those who had twins may take more time before getting back into the exercise routine. They should try to increase the intensity gradually over a period of time and remember to consult with the doctor before starting with the exercises in these cases.
“If you have bleeding of more than one pad or if you feel dizzy, one should immediately call the doctor as this may be signs of anemia or dehydration," warns Atlas. Loss of blood may lead to extreme fatigue for up to six weeks after delivery.
Women who had preeclampsia during pregnancy may also have to wait for sometime before starting with the exercises. “Thus, the time to start exercises and the intensity of the activity will depend on the complications and experiences during and before pregnancy," says Atlas. Women should also remember the importance of rest after delivery. Remember to sleep when the baby is sleeping. “Finding the right balance between the physical and emotional requirement of getting back into shape is the key to success," says Atlas.