Your Postpartum Fitness Program

You've recently had a baby and are anxious to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. You're probably relieved to be able to sleep on your stomach again, but you may be discouraged with your postpartum potbelly.

If you are an average woman who has gained 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, your weight should come off gradually without having to do much more than increase exercise and eat fewer empty calories. To assure a healthy and safe return to your pre-pregnant state, consider the following recommendations.

Get your caregiver's approval before beginning your postpartum fitness regimen. Find out if there are any special concerns or limitations that need to be addressed while developing your workout. Posture of the hips, shoulders and back will be assessed, as will complete closing of the cervix and establishment of a good milk supply.

Your hormonal levels are adjusting for approximately three to nine months postpartum, and even longer if you are breastfeeding. As your body produces less of the hormone relaxin, which was responsible for softening ligaments and joints in your pelvis to accommodate the growing baby and to aid in labor and delivery, you may safely resume exercises that will strengthen and tone the core muscles of the back and stomach. Pelvic floor exercises ("kegels") should be performed within the first days of delivery.

The hormone oxytocin was released during your labor and caused the uterus to contract and expel the baby. If you breastfeed, oxytocin will be responsible for the "let down" response -- as your baby suckles at the breast, you release oxytocin, which causes milk glands to squeeze or contract and let milk come down through the sinuses located behind the nipple. Oxytocin helps reduce your postpartum bleeding (or lochia), which hastens the return of the uterus to its pre-pregnant size. If you breastfeed, you have chosen an outstanding natural method of weight loss, since you burn 500 to 1,000 additional calories daily when you sit and relax to nurse your child. If you formula feed, you will have to reduce your caloric intake further in order to lose the recommended 1/2 to 3/4 lb. per week postpartum.

When choosing your activities, it is wise to think of the postpartum exercise program as a transition step toward your long-term fitness goals. You may be anxious about spending three or four evenings per week away from your infant, especially if you have returned to the outside workforce. Consider exercising at home with videos, or establishing a walking program. Walking has the lowest dropout rate of any exercise program and strolling your baby is a great way to show him or her off and spend time together. Strollers are now made to cover all sorts of terrain, and you can enlist others to walk with you on trails and in parks. Babies love being in the fresh air; strolling is calming and usually helps them sleep better -- enough said!

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