Your body has done an amazing job of nurturing your growing baby for nine months, so give it time to recover from pregnancy and your baby's birth.
Don't believe for one second that most mums 'ping' back into shape six weeks after giving birth (like those celebrities who disappear from public view, then appear six weeks later in their size eight premiere dress with an attentive personal trainer, personal chef and ingenious stylist waiting in the wings, not to mention day and night nannies for the baby).
But exercise after the baby is born will make you feel better – both more relaxed and more energetic - by releasing those ‘feel-good’ endorphins.
1. Eat well. Don't diet
The demands of caring for a new-born baby, combined with sleep deprivation in the first weeks and months, mean you will often feel exhausted. Don't fall into the habit of reaching for sugary or fatty foods for a quick energy boost – and follow-up slump.
Make eating healthily and regularly a priority: cook once and eat twice by freezing extra for future easy meals, snack on raw vegetables and nuts, take up the offer of home-cooked meals from family and friends. Make sure your drink plenty of water, especially if you're breastfeeding.
2. Go easy on your tummy – and your back
OK, so you may not love your jelly belly, but don't put too much pressure on yourself too early: you're more likely to get back into shape - and stay fit and healthy - if you gradually build up your fitness levels.
Your ligaments and joints will be softer and more pliable, thanks to a pregnancy hormone called relaxin which remains in your body for up to five months after birth, so it's easier to injure yourself by stretching or twisting too much.
Your lower back and core abdominal muscles will be weaker than they used to be. It can take four to six weeks for the connective tissues between the two bands of main stomach muscle to realign after the pressure of a pregnancy. That’s why you should not do sit-ups, crunches and other intense abdominal workouts in the first four-to-six months after birth.
3. lt is not a race to impress your NCT class with your flat tum
Moderate, regular exercise can help boost your energy levels. But pushing yourself too hard, will just set you back. Listen to your body – if you’ve had a bad night and feel like a walking zombie, leave your exercise routine for another day.
4. Walking works wonders - honestly
In the first weeks, getting out of your home with your baby in a sling or buggy feels like a major achievement in itself, but it’s worth it. Promise! Take care not to walk too far (you have to get home afterwards), wear trainers and slow down if you feel breathless or dizzy.
A daily walk will improve your circulation, give you a gentle workout and lift your energy and mood, especially if you are feeling stir crazy stuck indoors.
Don't overestimate what you can do in the early days and weeks, though. Just do what you can manage, even if it is just 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
5. Gentle exercises you can do anywhere, any time
Start with pelvic floor exercises and gentle lower tummy muscle exercises whenever you get the chance. Imagine pulling your tummy into your spine. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Do this as many times a day as you can fit in.
Try pelvic tilts too: stand with your back to a wall, slide a hand into the gap between your lower back and the wall and use your tummy muscles to tilt your pelvis backwards. Hold for a little while before releasing. You'll know you're doing it right if you can feel your lower back pushing against your hand.
6. Sociable exercising. What’s not to like?
Joining a postnatal exercise class will help you get fit again, with the added bonus of meeting other new mums for natter afterwards. Most postnatal classes allow you to bring your baby, so you won’t need to worry about childcare. Your health visitor or midwife should have details of local classes or visit the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Instructors. Pushy Mothers, when mums power walk with their babies in buggies, has become increasingly popular and there are local groups springing up all over the UK.
7. Get into the swim
Swimming is a perfect postnatal workout as the water supports your body and it (if you swim steadily and for long enough) provides an effective aerobic workout.
Baby swimming is lovely but don’t confuse dipping your baby in and out of water with your own chance to swim. Slip away to the pool for an hour and leave your partner, mum or friend holding the baby.
Don't go swimming until you've had seven days without any vaginal bleeding to prevent picking up an infection.
8. Stretch and relax at home
If an exercise class is the epitome of horror for you, working out with a home exercise DVD can help you get back in shape with less embarrassment. Just make sure you’re doing the exercises properly. Look for a gentle workout that's been accredited by a professional body. Pilates is ideal, as it focuses on your pelvic floor and the core muscles that are weakened by pregnancy and birth (but you’ll still need to do an aerobic activity too).
9. It’s getting more intense
From around six weeks (10 weeks if you’ve had a C section) you can gradually increase the intensity of your exercise routine.
Build up to at least 30 minutes of continuous walking, five days a week. Once you can walk comfortably for 20 minutes, start to increase your speed. Walking a mile in 15 minutes is a good pace to burn fat and exercise your heart and lungs.
If you want to lose weight and get in shape, you need to increase your heart rate with aerobic exercise that makes you get a little out of breath for 20-30 minutes, three or more times a week. High-impact activities like road running should still be avoided until five months after your baby’s birth.
And not forgetting…. fathers
Having a new baby can be a tiring time for dads too. Sleep deprivation, new-dad anxiety, juggling work with being a ‘good dad’ and ‘great husband’ can all take their toll – although there’s the pretty amazing payoff of having your new baby.
Instead of eating extra in a bid to boost your energy, take time to exercise too.
It can be lovely to bond with your baby while your partner dashes out to an exercise class, but best of all would be talking a brisk family walk and exercising together.
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