In my 25-plus years working in the fitness business, one thing hasn’t changed much. Many women still have trouble believing it’s OK to make their personal fitness a priority. There’s always something else they feel they should be doing for their family or job.
Sometimes it’s the arrival of a couple’s first baby that sets this way of thinking in stone, and it’s understandable. Mom will be recovering physically for a while, sleep is at a premium, and there are seemingly endless baby-care tasks on the agenda. But taking care of yourself means you’re setting a good example of healthy living and giving your baby the strongest mom possible.
Mary Bielawski, a personal trainer at Edward Health & Fitness Centers, just had her second baby in January. She can speak personally and professionally about the challenges of a new baby.
“Time management can be tricky, especially when you have more than one child,” Bielawski says. “But childbirth was also empowering for me. I figured if I could get through childbirth, I could do just about anything. After my first baby was born, I was motivated to get back into my fitness routine. I even worked up to doing my first half marathon about two years later.”
Not everyone needs a goal this ambitious, but fitting fitness into your new life is key. Start by getting clearance from your health-care provider to take on whatever exercise regimen you’re considering.
Then listen to your body. Start with a shorter or less intense version of your before-baby fitness routine, and gradually increase the time and intensity. If you experience pain, shortness of breath, heavy bleeding or other worrisome symptoms, you might be pushing yourself too quickly.
If you weren’t into exercise at all before baby arrived, this is a great time to develop new habits that will become part of your family’s lifestyle. Starting can be as simple as gradually adding distance to your regular walks with baby. Or sign up for classes that allow you to bring baby to yoga or exercise sessions.
“Exercise also helps you relieve stress and keep your sanity after your baby is born,” Bielawski says. “And talking with your trainer or others in an exercise class can be therapeutic.”
Bouncing back after baby also involves paying attention to what you eat. Don’t go for an extreme diet. Most women shouldn’t go much below 1,800 calories a day, especially if breastfeeding. Instead, surround yourself with nutrient-rich foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables. If you have a more severe weight management issue, talk with your doctor or dietitian about a plan that’s right for you.
Bielawski also cautions moms against unrealistic expectations.
“Many women’s bodies will be different than they used to be after they give birth even if they exercise like crazy, watch what they eat and get down to their pre-pregnancy weight,” she says. “The weight is not distributed the way it used to be. My advice? Try to embrace your new body. It helped create a new life.
“Your active lifestyle can help you stay energetic and healthy. Think of it as a gift to yourself and your family.”
Cindy Eggemeyer is the executive director of Edward Health & Fitness Centers, with locations in Naperville, on the campus of Edward Hospital, 801 S. Washington St., and in Woodridge, at 6600 S. Route 53. For more information, visit www.edward.org/fitness. Cindy can be reached at 630-646-7915 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Try these 6 Tips
More fitness tips for new moms:
1. Easy does it. Don’t try to lose more than a pound a week. Expect it to take a while to get to your pre-pregnancy weight, and longer if you were overweight before your pregnancy. As Mary Bielawski likes to say, “It took nine months to grow a baby, and it’ll take nine months to lose the weight.”
2. Be body aware. Try working one muscle group at a time. To focus on strengthening back muscles, for example, start by doing head lifts while lying on your back. Work up to shoulder lifts, and then to curls, where you lift your torso until it’s mid-way between the floor and your knees. These moves also will help tone your tummy muscles.
3. Hit the water. Exercising in the comfort of water can reduce stress while helping to build energy and endurance. Swim on your own or look for a post-natal aquatics class.
4. Stuck at home? Work at your own pace in the privacy of home. Just dig out those old workout DVDs or watch a cable TV exercise program.
5. Those other muscles. The bladder’s muscles might also need exercise to reduce the risk of incontinence associated with childbirth. Tone those muscles by doing the Kegel exercise. This involves contracting and holding the muscles that control the flow of urine.
6. Play dates for moms. If you know other new moms, form your own walking or exercise group or take a class together. Babies invited.