Think the only thing scarier than birthing a baby is the idea of getting back in shape afterwards? You’re not alone. Those first few workouts back are going to “almost be harder than when you were pregnant,” says Sara Haley, prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist (and mother of two).
“I call it the ‘fourth trimester’ for a specific reason, because it is like you’re pregnant — you still have to treat yourself that way — which is super frustrating because you’re not,” says Haley, who’s DVD Expecting More: The 4th Trimester Workout came out in April 2015. Here’s what you need to know about easing your body back into a fitness routine.
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Post-Pregnancy Weeks 1 – 6: Recover
We’ve all heard stories about women who hop back on the spin bike within two weeks of giving birth. You don’t need to be that woman. “My first pregnancy, I was totally that person…I did go back harder than I should have and felt like my internal recovery was harder as a result,” Haley recalls.
“Don’t forget about those kegels. Bladder control during Zumba is not underrated.”
How fast you bounce back will depend on a variety of factors. “For a cesarean, we tell them no real exercise until six weeks out. You can walk around but no vigorous exercise,” says Dr. Joanne Stone, MD, director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System. “For a vaginal delivery, I tell people do what your body tells you. Everybody is a little different.”
Depending on how fit you were before and during your pregnancy, some women can start being active again within a few days or weeks (as long as your doc gives you the OK). “I think for most people, after vaginal delivery, usually you want to give yourself around two weeks to recover enough from delivery,” Stern says.
Approved to Exercise? Start Gentle
You’ll either be psyched or horrified when your doctor tells you it’s OK to start exercising again. But don’t worry; it’s normal to go slow. “Once you’re approved, that doesn’t mean go back to what you were doing [pre-pregnancy],” Haley says. “To me, that’s light cardio, low impact workouts and focusing on your core work.” (And don’t forget about those kegels. Bladder control during Zumba is not underrated.) Just don’t forget to listen to your body. “Do you feel like halfway through spin [you’re] going to vomit? Then you need to scale back,” Stern says.
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Your abs have been through a lot over the last nine months, too, so try this move to gradually start getting your core back in gear.
The Heel Slide
How to: Lie flat on your back, arms by your sides (a). Keep your left leg fully extended, and bend your right leg, heel planted on the floor near your left knee (b). Slide your heel along the floor, until your right leg is straight, contracting your abs as your leg is moving (c). Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
Don’t shy away from cardio, either — that’s what will help you start shedding extra pregnancy pounds (or as Haley likes to call it, baby cushioning). Walking lunges, squats and or stationary jumping jacks are a great way to start. Do them Tabata-style (20 seconds on, followed by 10 seconds of rest), for an extra challenge. “It’s great for mom because you think, 20 seconds, I can totally handle that,” Haley says.
Feeling Good? Amp It Up
You’re at the point where you’re feeling strong (and you’re starting to get the swing of this whole ‘taking care of a baby’ thing). Now might be the time to push your workouts to the next level — as long as you’re being kind to your body. “You have to make sure you have the energy and you’re getting some degree of rest so you can function and exercise. And you have to stay well-hydrated,” says Dr. Stern.
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Start building up your cardio and endurance — and add this core move into the mix. “I still do this and it’s challenging and I’m 14 months out,” Haley says.
The Resistance Fight
How to: Lie on your back, with your knees bent to 90 degrees, feet planted on the ground (a). Bring your right leg up to tabletop position, keeping your knee bent and foot flexed (b). Place your left hand on your right thigh, and engage your core as you attempt to bring your thigh in towards your body, while creating resistance with your hand (c). Switch sides and repeat. Eventually, use two hands to create even more resistance.
As you slowly gain back strength, remember, post-baby workouts are extra challenging for a reason. “I think it’s great to work out with the baby in front of you because it’s like I want to be strong for this child and also, I have to keep in mind this is what I just created and that’s why this is so hard,” Haley says.
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