Oh, man. Exercise. The word is so polarizing among new moms that it’s sometimes easier not to talk about it at all. If you’ve got a sunken soufflé of a belly and stretch marks that speak not at all of your flexibility, it can be a daunting task indeed to consider committing to a fitness regime this month.
‘Tis the season, right? Health clubs and trainers earn their livings in January, and good on them for being there when we’re ready, and for making available to us all the tools we’ll need to sweat our way to firmer bodies. As new moms, we’ll take all the support we can get.
After childbirth, it’s not easy to find the motivation (or the time) to work out, but that’s not what this article is about. Both of those have to come from within, anyway, and making a lasting commitment to anything is the province of the mind. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you want to exercise, and that you’ve already found the motivation to do so. We’re going to assume you want your body back, but might not know how to go about it. Did you know you shouldn’t just jump onto whatever machine you can find at the gym? That the old standbys, like crunches and Kegals, might actually do more harm than good?
If not, please make it a new year’s resolution to read this article before embarking on a fitness regime. Postpartum fitness is not the same as regular fitness, and it would be a disserve to your body to pretend it hasn’t just undergone a radical transformation. Follow these tips, pair it with your motivation, and you’ll be all set for a better body in 2012.
For your own comfort, nurse the baby on both sides before beginning your workout. The added weight and fullness of new-mom breasts can really get in the way of brisk exercise, especially if there’s jumping involved. Once you’re as empty as can be, wear a supportive sports bra.
A body shaper might be your best investment as a mom in search of her pre-baby body. Not only will it feed your vanity and make you look a bit smaller and smoother than you are, but it will also literally help hold your organs in place as you ramp up the intensity of your workouts. That awful feeling that everything might fall right out if you movie too fast can be addressed by proper binding of the postpartum core, and some studies have shown that binding can help shrink your hips and belly faster.
We’ve yet to find a body shaper that is specifically designed to be worn during exercise (get on it, mompreneurs!), but might we suggest the very popular Cinch? We sell it in store because it’s the only wrap that has convinced us it actually does what it says it will do. Renowned for its moisture control and air circulating properties, the Cinch can be worn all day, every day --- including during exercise --- and it adjusts beautifully with your changing postpartum shape.
We’ve already written at length about the reality of your mummy tummy. It’s not extra weight as much as a weakened abdominal wall and stretched skin, so getting “back to flat” isn’t as easy as hitting the mat for some sit-ups. In fact, crunches are the worst thing you can do for a postpartum belly; they might even make the problem worse.
Your very first step is to retone your transverse abdominus, the corset-like muscle that wraps completely around your core. Check in with a postpartum personal trainer or physical therapist about isolating this muscle — it’s kind of like doing kegals — and only when you get the go-ahead from them should you embark on more vigorous abdominal isolation exercises.
Incontinence can be an embarrassing side effect of childbirth, regardless of whether you went natural or had a C-section. Take a bathroom break before you begin your workout, and wear a panty liner just in case. If you’ve still got some lochia (postpartum bleeding) going on, you may or may not be cleared to exercise, so check in with your care provider if you’re unsure.
The good news is that getting back into regular physical activity and toning will take care of the incontinence issue. Peeing when you laugh, cough, stand up too fast, or whatever, is not an inevitable, permanent condition. It’s a message from your body that something is weak and needs your attention. Which brings us to…
Question your kegals
Kegals are an important part of exercising your pelvic floor, but they are increasingly being regarded as more supplemental than we’ve previously been told. Read: doing kegals isn’t enough, and doing too many might actually be problematic. Check out this interesting blog post that turns the whole notion of kegals on its head and heartily recommends peeing in the shower as a way to strengthen your pelvic floor.
Working out with other new moms helps foster community and encourage commitment. Birth Source’s FitMommy bootcamp classes are ongoing, and babies and siblings are always invited. Join us for a workout that understands and accommodates the elements of the postpartum body, but will still leave you breathless. Check out our calendar of events for the next start date.