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Shaping Up After Having a Baby Needn't Be the Impossible Dream

September 04, 2000|STEPHANIE OAKES

Caring for a new baby or toddler can keep you so busy that finding time to fit exercise into your schedule can be difficult. It may even seem impossible--though it doesn't have to be.

If you've recently given birth, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a fitness routine. By fitness routine, I don't mean all the lifting, carrying and stroller-pushing that may be a new part of your life--perhaps making you feel as if you've run a marathon every day. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that it is generally all right to gradually resume your pre-pregnancy fitness routine based on your physical capability. It might be helpful to visit a certified personal trainer who specializes in postnatal exercise and who can tailor a fitness program to your needs.

If your delivery was by caesarean section, your body will need more time to heal. Chances are, you won't feel like plunging into an exercise routine. Start slowly and use caution when exercising, especially with your abdominal muscles. You might want to begin with water aerobics or low-impact aerobics to improve your circulation and increase your muscle tone. But take it easy and consult your doctor if you experience discomfort or pain.

After giving birth, you may find your stomach muscles feel weak, but you can start gentle exercises within a few days, or as soon as you feel ready. Pelvic floor exercises are a good place to start. Don't worry if your muscles aren't very responsive when you start out. It's worth persevering, because exercise stimulates blood flow to the area, which helps repair damage to the soft pelvic tissues and ligaments.

This exercise is best done by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Breathe deeply and pull your stomach in as you exhale. As you contract your abdominal muscles, gently tilt the pelvic bones on either side of your navel toward your upper body and hold there for a count of five. This should help alleviate any backache as well as tone your stomach muscles. Build up gradually, doing a few at a time at regular intervals.

Another exercise is the cat back stretch. Begin on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and hands directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your back straight. Arch your spine toward the ceiling, tucking your tailbone under and relaxing your head and neck. Return to the starting position; then arch your spine slightly, head up. Repeat the exercise four to six times.

You might also try a chest stretch. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, clasp your hands behind your back. Relax your shoulders. Contract your abdominals and lift your rib cage. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together; then pull your arms gently away from your body until you feel a stretch across your chest muscles. Hold this position for eight to 10 seconds, breathing naturally, then release. Do four to six repetitions.

During the first six weeks after your baby is born, you can begin walking at 3 miles an hour on a treadmill--the equivalent of a moderately brisk walk--to increase your circulation. Do what you can handle, even if it's only 10 to 15 minutes, and increase your time as your endurance improves. As you walk, don't overstride, and let your arms swing naturally by your sides. Warm up with five minutes of activity such as a slower-paced walk, some shoulder rolls and arm circles.

Fit exercise into your new schedule. The key is finding an activity that meshes with your schedule and lifestyle. Additionally, pick activities you enjoy so you'll be more likely to stick with them.

Check out your local health clubs, YWCA or yoga studios. Whichever you choose, make sure it offers baby-sitting services, with specially trained child-care staff, not a locker-room attendant who doubles as a baby-sitter. Many clubs offer postpartum exercise classes where babies are welcome. If a postpartum class isn't available at your gym, look for a low-impact class that has a long warmup period (at least 10 minutes)--and includes some basic stretching.

Here are some other tips:

* Build a library of postnatal exercise videos, which can be a more convenient way to squeeze exercise into your day. Several tapes I've tried and recommend: "Baby and You Workout for Two" with Kathy Stevens; "Buns & Abs Post Pregnancy" with Madeleine Lewis; "A New Dimension" with Cindy Crawford and Kathy Kaehler. If you don't want to purchase the tapes or want a little more variety, try renting a few at the local video store.

* Take a hike with your baby and friends. Use a front pack or a backpack, whichever your neck and shoulders support best.

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