In the process of giving birth to a baby, you have also rebirthed as a mother. You are a different human now. You may have become physically weaker to start with, but now you are much more resilient now. Don’t expect or beat yourself up for not being able to lift weights. The mantra to easing into targeted weight loss is pacing it out. If you start too soon, then your recovering body is abused by this excess stress of activity and you will soon run out of steam.
Give yourself a minimum of three months, before you start conventional exercises as well as the NEAT breaks. Before that, take heart in knowing you are not being a slob, because these changes in your lifestyle are helping you too:
You burn a whopping 550 kilocalories a day by breastfeeding. It is amazing how you get to sit and burn off calories. Isn’t that what our dreams are made up of? Also, the breastfeeding woman in general has a higher metabolism, so more calories are burnt at rest. If you choose to breastfeed for one year, then you get the advantage of a high metabolism for that period of time.
More muscle mass means higher metabolism and a faster, more efficient weight loss.
And you need to eat quality nutrition and not run after exotic stuff to get “healthy” and lose weight. Stick to your local diet and traditional recipes, which will be better digested by your body.
Poor food intake in the name of dieting will predispose you to low energy levels, mood swings and chemical imbalances in the brain, which can cause postnatal depression. Protect yourself from hypothyroidism by eating a balanced diet. The thyroid hormone will keep up your metabolism.
All women are different and cannot be expected to hit these targets at the same time, but here is how you can start your exercise routine.
1. Keep your activity levels low. Small walks around the house to stretch your legs, and a few light ballet-like stretches once a day are fine.
2. Make sure you do kegels every day to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. This will prevent urine leaks when you cough or sneeze, or will at least reduce the severity. Every woman gets some degree of urinary incontinence after delivery so take heart in the fact that you are not alone. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold for a few seconds.
If you can’t figure out which muscle to control, then while passing urine try to stop the flow. The muscle which tightens is the one. But kegels are not supposed to be done while passing urine! (There was a case of a patient who did kegels while passing urine and developed a urinary tract infection because of that!)
At first, you will be able to hold the muscle tight for a few seconds but gradually aim for holding for up to 10 seconds. After each muscle contraction, give a gap of two breaths and do 10 repetitions. Aim to do three such sets in a day.
3. You can start with pelvic floor tilts a month after delivery. Lie flat on your back and stick the small of your back to the surface, and repeat ten times. This exercise engages your spine, the muscles and connective tissue around it. The entire trunk and abdominal muscles are strengthened. This is one of the first steps to strengthen your core.
4. You will feel stronger and more energetic at this stage. Continue with the kegels and pelvic tilts. In addition to those exercises, you can:
Start going for daily walks six–eight weeks after delivery. A 20-minute walk in the evening with your baby in the stroller is the ideal workout to begin with. The baby also gets exposed to a different quality of light, as opposed to the artificial lighting at home and gets plenty of auditory and visual stimulation out in the open for his little brain’s development.
Before you begin a workout schedule, get yourself examined by a doctor to rule out diastasis recti. In this condition, due to excess pressure of the growing baby, the abdominal muscles stretch and separate. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your head and neck slightly while feeling a bulge above and below your belly button. An isolated bulge more than two fingers apart could indicate you have an abdominal muscle separation. Consult a doctor for this. Many DIY core exercises do more harm than good, so it is best to get physically examined.
5. Simple asanas such as the pelvic bridge, spinal twists, leg lifts, cat pose, tiger pose, etc. can be a part of your at-home yoga routine. As of yet, I wouldn’t recommend you join a yoga class, as your day will still be revolving around the baby. The easier you go on yourself in terms of time management, the better it would be for you to stick to your workout schedule. Aim for three yoga sessions a week, each lasting for half an hour.
6. To prevent your breasts and belly from sagging, your back should be strong and not excessively curved inwards. Most women face lower back weakness or pain after delivery, due to the strain of carrying a baby for nine months.
The best back strengthening exercises are (again, get yourself examined for diastasis recti before adopting this workout):
It is usually safe to take up any form of aerobic exercise such as jogging, zumba or cycling at this point. Since you will be pressed for time because of the baby, one great way to get a moderate impact aerobic workout is to dance in front of your baby. I used to make my little one sit in his rocker chair, put on some music and do a whacky energetic dance. Babies are very happy to watch their moms dance at this age since they are not crawling about yet.
If the baby gets restless, you can take him out of the chair, bounce him in the air and use him as a weight too! The baby will have adequate neck control by now, so you can hold the baby on your hip and do a simple slow stepping dance with him. This is an enjoyable workout as well as a great bonding activity for mother and child. The jumping and bouncing to music are great for the baby’s development and cognition, as he picks on the rhythm and gets vestibular stimulation by the motion.