Many who are near the end of pregnancy or who have recently given birth are eager to get their "pre-baby body" back. For some, weight gain and body shape shifting in pregnancy can be hard to accept. It can come as a disheartening reality, then, to realize that losing weight and toning muscles (especially around the core) after baby is born, can be challenging and takes time. It's important to maintain a realistic outlook on your postpartum body and fitnes goals. First and foremost, keep in mind that:
- "Health" means more than losing weight and toning muscle. Health, especially during early postpartum, means respecting your body's limits, nourishing yourself appropriately with balanced foods, and heeding your need to rest, sleep, and recover.
- A "pre-baby body" does not exist. While you may be able to get back down to pre-baby weight (eventually), your body will always be "post-baby" and there will undoubtedly be things that will feel and look different. Aim instead for a "new normal" body.
- It took 9-10 months to grow your baby, for which your body slowly adjusted. It will likely take at least 9-10 months for your body to readjust to not carrying and growing a baby. Be patient -- your body and your life are different now. It's important to mold your life with these differences in mind.
So what is realistic when it comes to exercise and fitness during the postpartum time? Let's take a look.
Resuming exercise. If you maintained a consistent level of fitness during pregnancy, you may be especially eager to know when you can return to exercise. The answer to this depends mostly on how you gave birth (vaginal, cesarean, or vaginal with complications like severe tears or otherwise). It's important to gauge how you feel and consult with your doctor or midwife. It may be that you can gradually resume exercising within days of giving birth, or it may be that your body requires significant time to recover. You will likely be somewhere inbetween. No matter your unique situation, it's critical to start slowly and build up slowly, listen to your body, and realize that you may tire out earlier than you thought. Know that it won't always be this way -- with time and effort, you can get back to your pre-baby strength and endurance!
Losing weight. Losing weight during the postpartum time can be tricky. For many who breastfeed, weight comes off easily (even without or with minimal exercise). For others who breastfeed, taking off weight can be very difficult, as their body tends to hold onto the extra weight until breastfeeding ends. Though it may be easier said than done, try stepping away from the scale and instead gauge your progress on how you feel and which pair of pants fit. Keep in mind that it's normal and common to continue wearing maternity pants throughout the first weeks and months postpartum.
Exercise routine. The fitness routine you maintained pre-baby and/or during pregnancy may not work (initially, at least) for postpartum. It's possible that your body may do better with another choice of exercise (perhaps walking instead of running, pilates instead of weight lifting, swimming instead of Zumba). The intensity and impact of the sport or exercise you choose will impact how well your body cooperates. If at first your don't succeed with one choice, don't give up -- change direction. Additionally, consider the time of day and the frequency with which you choose to exercise. Infants don't follow consistent schedules, which means that you too will need to be flexible with fitting in exercise. It may be that you fit in 20-30 minutes of exercise at home while baby sleeps near you, and that's OK. Or it may be that you find ways to exercise with baby, which can be fun and challenging!