The nine months during pregnancy your body goes through some pretty dramatic changes. But for the most part it’s pretty gradual… giving you time to accommodate and get used to everything that is going on. Then in a whirlwind of labor, you birth a baby and all of a sudden your body is different again. In our fantasies our bodies magically transform back to their pre-pregnancy state… but anyone who has given birth knows that’s not the case at all. The good news is that with the right kind of postpartum exercise, you can enjoy healthy weight loss.
But before we jump into the idea of shedding those pregnancy pounds, let’s make sure our body is really up for it.
When can I begin postpartum exercise?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s generally considered fine to start exercising as soon as you feel up to it, especially if you were active before and during pregnancy. That’s not to say you should start running half marathons or lifting heavy weights. Your body needs to recover and any postpartum exercise should begin gradually and with a LOT of mindful awareness of how you feel as you’re doing it.
It’s also a good idea to check in with your midwife or doctor who, depending on your circumstances and pregnancy/birth, may want you do wait until your six-week postpartum checkup. For those who had high-risk pregnancies or a C-section, you’ll especially want to consult your healthcare practitioner before jumping into exercise.
Listen to your body. Embrace your beauty.
My general rule of thumb is to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Be aware of any irregular pains or sensations like severe cramping in your legs, heavy bleeding, or abdominal issues. Remember, your body went through nine months of significant changes and it will take time to get “back to normal.”
And for many women, “back to normal” doesn’t necessarily mean back to your pre-pregnancy self. Stretch marks, wider hips, or wider feet may be your new reality. Motherhood brings a new beauty. Embrace it.
The best kind of postpartum exercise
My advice when it comes to exercise is true whether you just had a baby or not: Do what you love to do.
There is so much pressure out there to look a certain way and attain “fitness” by whatever trend is in vogue. Maybe all your neighbors are runners, but you hate it. So don’t do it. Maybe everyone in your family does Crossfit, but you prefer yoga. Do yoga.
The best kind of exercise is the kind you will continue to do… so do what you love.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to start with light postpartum exercises as your body recovers:
- Gentle yoga or stretching
- Modified push ups
- Low-impact aerobic activities
- Low-impact toning/strengthening
Your joints and ligaments will still be loose for a few months after giving birth, so be careful. I know how eager we women are to get “back with it,” but use those first few months to gradually build up. Enjoy bonding with your baby and honoring your body by giving it time to heal.
Diasastis Recti is a condition that is very common among women who have given birth. A gap develops in the abdominal muscles due to the expansion of the belly during pregnancy. It can take several weeks after giving birth for this gap to close, and for some women the gap doesn’t close on its own without some concerted effort. Learn how to check for diasastis recti here. Here are some tips to heal diasastis recti:
- Avoid crunches and other traditional abdominal exercises and these will widen the gap. (Of course I don’t think crunches are ever the best approach to ab work.)
- Focus on strengthening the Transverse Abdonimal Muscles and the pelvic floor muscles.
- Check out this book that provides lots of information on the best methods to heal diasastis recti naturally.
- Consider getting a belly support (like this one) to help heal your diasastis recti faster (although I’d still highly recommend doing appropriate exercises at the same time so as not to lose your own natural support!)
Keep in mind: The sooner you address your diasastic recti the easier it will be to recover.
Post Pregnancy Weight Loss
Now for the topic that so many women want info on: Postpartum weight loss. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic pill that just magically transformed you back to your pre-pregnancy self? Wish I had good news, but the truth is that weight loss after pregnancy is very individual. Some women seem to drop their pregnancy weight effortlessly and quickly. Others have to work and work and work. Others still work and find that the weight won’t budge. What gives?
Pregnancy, birth, and nursing take their toll on our bodies, especially on our hormones. It’s important that you take time to recover so that your body finds a healthy balance and can work its way back to “normal.”
Unhealthy Approaches to Postpartum Weight loss
- Fad or highly restrictive diets
- Extreme calorie restriction (this is especially a bad idea if you plan on breastfeeding!)
- Extreme exercises
- Anything that interferes with getting as much sleep as you can (which I know is hard with a new baby). Sleep is your best friend for healing hormones and metabolism.
- Not dealing with stress, either emotional or physical (Again, stress plays a HUGE role in our metabolic health, so don’t ignore it.)
Healthy Approaches to Postpartum Weight Loss
- A nutrient-dense diet of whole, real foods
- Gradual but consistent exercises and daily activity
- Meditation for stress-reduction
- Adequate sleep (even if it means giving up a workout on the day baby cries through the night)
- Nourishing your metabolic health (check out this book for more information.)
- Working with a healthcare practitioner if there seems to be any major hormonal imbalances or other issues.
The last point is really critical. My first birth was long and hard and kept me up for two nights straight. By then my stress hormones were working overtime and I had a hard time recovering. More than a year after her birth, I was still dealing with major insomnia despite not having a single good night of sleep for 14 or so months.
I finally went to my Homeopathic Doctor who took some blood work and found what MY body needed to heal. I wish I would have gone in sooner.
Get professional help when you need it. Your health is worth it.
Remember, healthy weight loss only happens when our body is truly balanced. Take the time to heal, get whatever help you need, stay active, and eat real food.
What would you add? What are your tips for healthy postpartum exercise for weight loss?