Starting a moderate exercise program during the postpartum months is beneficial in many ways. Regular exercise improves immune function and increases the production of antioxidant substances in the body. It helps you to sleep better at night and feel more energetic during the day. A brisk walk does wonders for depression or anxiety. A bout of exercise helps to suppress your appetite for sweets and junk food and increases your appetite for natural, nourishing foods. Flexibility and muscular strength stave off uneven strain on the skeleton that can lead to pain and injury over time. If your muscles are strong and your joints supple, you are less likely to throw your back out or injure yourself in some other way as you lift, bend, twist, and maneuver through your day. And if you start easing into exercise in a balanced and educated manner during the first postpartum year, the transition into more strenuous exercise later should you choose to make that transition is sure to be much smoother.
While some exercise is a very good thing for a new mom, doing too much too soon can be harmful. This is especially true for women who are low on the adrenal hormone cortisol. When you exercise, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol to increase your heart rate and breathing rate, and to increase blood flow to your muscles. As explained previously, there is a significant drop in cortisol levels postpartum. Going out for a run two weeks after giving birth will draw on the tapped resources of your adrenals before they are ready, and this will knock your recovering body out of balance. If laboratory tests show that your cortisol levels are low, you should postpone all but the most mild exercise until those levels return to normal.
You may have enjoyed an increased degree of flexibility during pregnancy. Your joints will still be loose for the first few weeks postpartum, and loose ligaments mean greater risk of injury. Exercising too hard in those first weeks can also delay the healing of episiotomy and cesarean incisions. If you hemorrhaged after giving birth, you may be anemic, and you will need to build up your iron levels for a while before you're ready to exercise.
Unrelenting or recurring muscle or joint pain in the hips, legs, or back can be related to the skeletal strain of late pregnancy and birth. If you have this problem, you may need to visit a skilled chiropractor or osteopath, who can assess any skeletal imbalances and correct them.
From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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