The first part of Key Post-Pregnancy Fitness Tips discussed getting the right muscles firing again and returning to exercise gradually and safely. Part 2 goes a step further by discussing how to re-balance your body physically and nutritionally in the weeks and months following giving birth with the goal of promoting long-term post-pregnancy fitness.
Get to know your body…again
Your body may have locked down into new, less ideal positions and movement patterns over the final months of pregnancy (any aches or pains?). The problem is, if you don’t address them within the first months, those new patterns can stay with you and become a source of chronic discomfort. The first way to combat them is to be aware of them and take steps to re-balance the equation (see Part 1). The next step is to become aware of any new stresses on the body that result from having a bundle of joy around:
- Will you develop a tendency to shift your weight to one side of your body, such as holding the baby in one arm vs. the other. See if you can stay balanced by alternating and paying attention to posture and not shifting your weight over too far while holding your child.
- Reaching over repeatedly to pick up your baby. Just like picking up any other precious load, be sure to get as close to your child as possible before picking him/her up to minimize the strain on your lower back. Also, if you have to pick them up from the ground, be sure to squat rather than lean over from your back.
- Carrying/pushing baby seats, strollers, etc. I alluded to this earlier in the post with the tight chest/weak upper back muscles, but another potential side effect of anterior weight is a rounded chest and hunched shoulders called “upper cross syndrome”
If you’re constantly carrying a baby seat or pushing a stroller, you may be feeding into this syndrome if you don’t pay attention to posture. Stay tall through your spine, keep your shoulders down in their sockets, keep the handle(s) close to your body, don’t reach with the arms when pushing, and alternate which side you carry the baby seat with.
- Less attention to movement and posture due to poor sleep. Being sleep deprived is never a good thing, and it can creep into all aspects of life – eating, exercise, and even how we move throughout the day. Gentle movement and breathing exercises including low-intensity yoga can do a lot to realign and reinvigorate yourself. Simply try this sequence 6 to 10 times:
- Stand or sit up tall.
- Take a deep breath in. While breathing in, get long through the spine (imagine a string is pulling the crown of your head up toward the ceiling – do not tip your neck back or chin up) and slowly raise your shoulders up toward the ceiling (don’t force them fast or hard). You should feel the weight of your torso almost lifting off of your legs and back.
- Then slowly exhale. Maintain the height you gained by lengthening the spine, engage the abdominals and allow your shoulders to slowly fall down and away from the ears. Aim to feel the muscles underneath the armpits engage at the bottom of the shoulder motion in addition to the abdominals. Advanced progression: If you’re standing, as you’re exhaling, engage your butt muscles (glutes) a bit and try imagining like you’re trying to lightly twist the ground apart with your feet – without actually moving your feet. You should feel your butt muscles engage without any strain in the lower back or down the side of the leg.
Nutrition: Focus on recovery at a time when recovery is hard
For the first few months after having a child: think recovery, not record-setting. This tone was already established with the previous tips from a movement/exercise perspective, but as a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, I had to touch on the food component as well.
Most of the general rules for healthy eating apply – eating lots of veggies and fruit, whole grains, lean meats, etc. – however there are a few extra things to note for new moms:
- Breastfeeding burns about an extra 500 calories per day in the first 6 months, and about 400 in the next 6 months (assuming you’re still breastfeeding). This often leads to a gradual weight loss over the first year post-partum. But be sure not to over-restrict your calories, as you then may start to produce less breastmilk.
- Breastfeeding also requires increased intake of Vitamin C (which also helps with iron absorption too!). And vitamin C doesn’t just come from citrus – you can get great amounts from red/yellow bell peppers, broccoli, dark leafy greens, strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe. Here is a great list of foods rich in Vitamin C:
- Higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, has been associated with lower rates of post-partum depression and reduced inflammation. DHA is typically found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines. Salmon tends to be lower on the mercury scale for fish, but they still contain some, so you may need to limit your weekly portions of salmon intake to 2 or 3. Vegetarians can consume foods rich in another type of omega-3: ALA (a precursor to DHA). ALA can be found in flax, walnuts and dark leafy greens and soybeans/tofu.
- Limit caffeine intake, as more than a couple of cups of coffee per day can cause caffeine to reach significant levels in breastmilk and potentially cause a reaction from your baby.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! You’re using a lot of fluid to produce breastmilk, stay active, and remain focused. Studies show that even 1 to 2% dehydration can lead to a decrease in mental and physical performance, so be sure to drink water and eat foods that are rich in fluids like fruits and veggies!
- Consider that certain spices are anti-inflammatory such as ginger, garlic and turmeric (often found in curries and other Southeast Asian food).
Here’s an interesting link to “12 Foods For New Moms” by WedMD.com
More post-partum nutrition and weight loss information: http://www.nmh.org/nm/prentice-postpartum-nutrition-weight-loss
Exercise after pregnancy: How to get started: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-after-pregnancy/MY00477
Critical micronutrients for pregnancy, lactation and infancy: Considerations for future research: http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/332062
Nutrition and the psychoneuroimmunology of postpartum depression: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564601/