Exercising Regularly After Childbirth

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Samantha, a patient of Ricki's, came to her appointment concerned about her weight, which was still more than twenty pounds heavier than it had been before having her first baby, now three years old. Ricki asked about exercise, and Samantha smiled and quoted a saying: Oh, I do get the urge sometimes. But I just lie down until it passes! Then she became more serious and added, I just can't find the time. My day is busy from 6 a.m. to 11 at night. Ricki wondered about her husband, and Samantha explained that He jogs from 6 to 6:45 every morning, then showers, bolts down his breakfast, and is out of the house by 7:30. The gears began to turn. You're right, she mused, he makes it a priority. Why don't I?

They talked about how exercise has to be important, or it just won't happen. As a result, Samantha went home and had a long talk with her husband, Ben, and he agreed to take over child care and dinner preparation three nights a week. Samantha began jogging on a treadmill in the bedroom while watching the evening news. Ben enjoyed becoming more than a "microwave chef," and he liked spending more time with their daughter, who stood on top of a stepstool helping him with nightly lettuce tearing and salad tossing. In a year, Samantha lost twenty-two pounds, felt more energetic, and had a sunnier mood.

To motivate yourself, remember that exercise will improve your cardiovascular health, strengthen your immune system, and help prevent obesity and adult-onset diabetes. It brings vitality, energy, and relaxation; lifts depressive feelings; and keeps you trim. Think about your reasons for taking good care of yourself, like wanting to live a long and healthy life. None of us really "finds" time for self-care and exercise. We make time for these crucial activities because they are essential to our well-being and health.

You probably already have an idea of what kind of exercise you'd do if you only had the time. And if not, you can get loads of information about exercise in the books or videos listed below, or from personal trainers in your gym or health club. If you've recently had a baby, your OB/GYN can make recommendations about safe and gentle exercises to strengthen stretched-out abdominal muscles or tighten up the pelvic floor; of course, if you have any orthopedic or anatomic problems that Interfere with exercise, please consult your doctor or physical therapist for specific suggestions. The real issue is how to shoehorn exercise into a day that's already crowded with work and family. That's our focus here, as we look at ways to fit fitness into everyday life with children.

Resources for Exercise

  • Strollercize: The Workout for New Mothers by Elizabeth Trindade and Victoria Shaw
  • Kinergetics: Dancing with Your Baby for Bonding and Better Health for Both of You by Sue Doherty
  • Strong Women Stay Young by Miriam Nelson (www.strongwomen.com)
  • Real Fitness for Real Women: A Unique Work-Out Program for the Plus-size Woman by Rochelle Rice

Getting Started
If you are just starting to exercise, take heart. It feels great simply to begin, to know that yes, you are really doing something wonderful for yourself. Set realistic goals that you know you can consistently attain, and perhaps write them down so you can see them every day and stay on track with your own care amidst attention-grabbing infant and child care. You can keep boredom at bay by doing a variety of things, like taking a brisk walk in the early morning on Monday while your husband handles the kids and breakfast, stopping at the gym on Tuesday and Thursday after work, and then going on a long bike ride with a friend over the weekend.

If you have a regular exercise partner, you can help each other stay motivated, and when she shows up at the front door, it'll be easier to extricate yourself from your housework or family. And if your resolve starts to sag, take a look at a picture of yourself as a child; she is precious and beautiful, and seeing her sweet face can help sustain your positive self-loving energy. Once you build up momentum after a few weeks, it will feel odd not to exercise, and every step you take on your own behalf - whether baby-sized or big ones - will make you feel better and better.

If you haven't exercised for a few months or more, take it easy when you start up again. The old adage "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" certainly applies to overzealous plunges into exercise. And if your body has become at all depleted, your muscles and connective tissue could be prone to strain, since they may have low levels of the minerals that keep them supple and resilient. So before you dive into a major program, we suggest you take a few days first to do ten to twenty minutes a day of gentle yoga or stretching. And try to do some stretches at the start of any workout; stiff muscles are like sleeping children: they need encouragement and a little time to wake up!

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excerpted from:

From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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