Four Key Post-Pregnancy Fitness Tips: Part 2

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”
upper cross syndrome

Good Posture – Poor Posture. You Pick.
Photo Courtesy of: http://zachdechant.wordpress.com/

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:
  1. Stand or sit up tall.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Fruits and Veggies: An Essential Component of Post-Pregnancy Eating

Fruits and Veggies: An Essential Component of Post-Pregnancy Eating
Photo Courtesy of Corbis / Microsoftimages.com

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:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=109

  • 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.

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=84

  • 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

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/breastfeeding-9/breast-feeding-diet

 

More Links/References:

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/

Four Key Post-Pregnancy Fitness Tips: Part 1

While pregnancy is a wonderful time for an expecting family, it can also be very challenging physically for the mom-to-be. The growing baby (with his/her weight), hormonal swings, impaired thermoregulatory ability (sweating) and altered metabolism can all work together to make climbing a flight of stairs difficult, let alone working out five days a week.

By the end of nine months, you will have a happy baby, but potentially a deconditioned body as well.  While the best defense for physical recovery after pregnancy is a good offense (staying reasonably active as long as possible during pregnancy), sometimes that doesn’t always happen.  So, now what?  Over the next two posts, I’ll be discussing four post-pregnancy fitness tips to get mom back on her feet and moving, before her baby does.

*Note: Today’s post will discuss getting your body up and moving again, gradually and safely.  The next post will discuss posture, movement patterns and nutrition.

1. Get your core and hips realigned and firing again

The baby bump does more than get a lot of well wishes from friends.  It has also probably tightened or weakened a number of your hip, core and lower back muscles.  This situation may also be exacerbated if you had a c-section or have diastasis recti (splitting of the abdominal wall due to the pressure of the baby pushing against your belly).  Often a result is what we call “lower crossed syndrome” where you’re standing more in a “swayback” position:

Lower Cross Syndrome

Lower Cross Syndrome
Courtesy of Zach Dechant Sports Performance Training

 

Getting your core and hips back in the game (and for some, the upper back muscles) is a crucial first step to exercising well again.  All of the forward weight will have likely made your chest, hip flexors and lower back tight while weakening your upper back muscles, trunk stabilizers (abs) and hip stabilizers (abudctors).  Here are a few stretches and exercises you can do to get everything in line again:

Hip Flexor Stretch

Chest Pinky Ball

Hip Pinky Ball

Cat/Cow (don’t force either movement, stay long through your spine, lightly engage your abs, return to neutral after doing a few repetitions):

http://www.ehow.com/video_4440759_cat-cow-prenatal-yoga-position.html

Bridges

Hip Hikes (you can put a small, soft ball between your hip and the wall to create pressure rather than your knee, focus on driving down through the heel of the standing leg – less is more with this exercise, don’t drive up through the raised leg or hip)

Mini Band Side Steps

*Interesting side note: If you have diastasis recti, you want to make sure you avoid spine-flexing movements that cause you to push your abdominals out like crunches and sit ups.  You need to focus on keeping your belly button drawn in and firm when moving and focus on trunk stability exercises (using your abs to stay steady, rather than actively moving your spine) like planks, side planks, cable extensions/Palloff presess and dead bugs.

2. Focus on consistency before intensity

Don’t try to hit the gym, or the ground running just as hard as you did before you got pregnant – unless you’re Paula Radcliffe.  Your body can start to decondition within a few weeks of stopping exercise, so if you’ve been doing little, to no exercise in the previous few months, you’ve got some catching up to do.  Your body has also gone through a number of changes (potential diastasis recti, c-section, altered hip/core firing patterns from the baby bulge) that could leave you at increased risk for injury if you go straight back into intense exercise.  Finally, if you’re not sleeping well (which is to be expected with newborns), your body isn’t setup to adequately recover from highly intense workouts.

If you want to get moving again, first get clearance from your doctor.  C-sections typically require a little more recovery time.  Once cleared, focus on moving a little bit each day, especially since you probably won’t be able to stay away from your newborn for more than a little while at a time.  Getting your core and hips firing again is a great place to start (see tip #1 above).

As far as intensity, consider starting at around 30-50% of your pre-pregnancy loads, but by all means feel free to do less if something feels out of sorts.  Bodyweight and resistance band exercises – squats, modified or wall/ledge pushups, resistance band rows/pulldowns, step ups, core exercises – in addition to walking/light jogging are a convenient way to get some exercise in at home while still being near your baby.  If you notice that you have rounded/hunched shoulders and forward head posture, consider doing more pulling/rowing exercises than pushing.  If you have access to a gym and dumbbells/cable machines, that’s fine too.  Again, start lighter than normal – you have plenty of time to build back up.

*Interesting side note: Research has shown that bouts of high intensity exercise (intervals, HIIT/Crossfit style classes) can potentially increase amounts of lactic acid in breast milk, which may not be appealing to breastfeeding babies.  If you do choose to perform HIIT while breastfeeding, you may want to feed your child prior to exercise, and/or wait a couple hours after HIIT exercise to let the lactic acid clear from your body.

That’s it for Part 1 – check out the next two tips in early September.  Let me know in the comments below if either of these tips were useful for you!

Close It