Thursday, 7 October 2010

Exercise after pregnancy: looking after yourself

Exercise after giving birth is probably the last thing on your mind with a newborn requiring much of your time and attention, not to mention the sleep deprivation and change in lifestyle. However when you are ready, finding the time to exercise is important and will make you feel a lot better both physically and psychologically. 
This article will cover the following:
1. Benefits of exercise
2. When to start
3. Exercise and breastfeeding
4. Some tips to get you started
5. Exercise suggestions 

As discussed in a previous article "Exercise during pregnancy", your body goes through many changes which impacts on fitness, muscles, joints, and not to mention your energy levels and overall well-being. It is important that you look after your own health following giving birth by having adequate rest when possible, exercising sensibly, and eating a well-balanced diet to provide the best for both you and your baby.

1. Benefits of exercise after pregnancy
  • Promote weight loss
  • Assist recovery following labour and contraction of uterus
  • Improve overall health and fitness
  • Improve muscle strength
  • Strengthen and condition your abdominal muscles
  • Strengthen pelvic floor muscles 
  • Improve posture
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Improve your mood
  • Facilitate better sleep
  • Relieve stress and anxiety
  • Prevent postnatal depression
  • Assist in coping with the physical demands of motherhood

2. When to start?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you exercised during pregnancy and had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you can resume physical activity as soon as you feel ready. It is important that you start with some light exercise (eg. walking, gentle stretching) and progress gradually at your own pace within limits of comfort and fatigue.

If you had a Caesarean section, birth complications or extensive repairs, then it's generally recommended to wait for the tick of approval from your Doctor or midwife (usually around the 6-week mark) before commencing exercise.

Exercise in water may begin after stitches have healed and vaginal discharge has finished (usually around 6 weeks).

3. Exercise and breastfeeding
Research has shown that exercise does not have any adverse effects on breast milk production or composition, nor does it compromise the baby's growth. It is however recommended that breastfeeding mothers should consider feeding their infants before exercising to avoid the discomfort from engorgement, and to prevent potential problems related to lactic acid build-up causing the milk to taste sour.

4. Some tips to get you started
  • Remember to warm up and cool down
  • Choose exercises that you enjoy and feel good (rather than cause unnecessary stress)
  • Keep yourself motivated by setting simple and realistic goals
  • Start slowly and progress gradually at your own pace
  • Avoid high-impact exercises that may cause pain or strain on your muscles and joints
  • Feed or express before exercising so you can feel more comfortable
  • Wear a supportive bra, comfortable clothing and supportive footwear
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Stop exercising if you feel pain or other unusual symptoms

5. Exercise suggestions
The following are some simple exercise ideas that you may choose to use and most can be performed at home. If you prefer, you can also attend your local gym (if you are able to organise a babysitter!). Many gyms now also offer low-impact exercise classes for mothers which incorporates fitness, strengthening and stretching in their programs.
  • To improve fitness
    • Walking
    • Swimming
    • Cycling
    • Low-impact gym classes
    • After 6-8 weeks, if your body feels ready you can slowly try and return to normal sporting activities but at a much lower intensity (eg. jogging, social sports such as tennis, netball, etc)

I hope this article has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please click here.

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