Yesterday, Annie Martens, an ACE-certified fitness trainer, certified doula and founder of Hoboken, N.J.-based fitness studio Bella Bellies, gave the low-down on what to do during pregnancy to make getting in shape postpartum a little easier. Today she tackles what to do once the baby arrives to get toned and get your body back!
Once a woman has crossed the finish line and given birth to her beautiful baby, tackling all of a new mother’s responsibilities can feel like an impossible task. In addition to her previous responsibilities to her family and her career, a new mother must adjust to the demands of her baby and simultaneously address the new demands of her body. According to Martens, a strong body and support are necessary components of any new mother’s bag of tricks.
“Whether she had a vaginal birth or a C-section, a new mother’s body has been through the wringer and the battle wounds left behind are rarely exclusively physical,” Martens says. “The best way for a new mother to recover, physically and emotionally, is by pursuing an exercise regimen that makes her feel healthy and confident without monopolizing her time, making sure she’s getting the right nutrition and by connecting with other people in the same boat.”
The single most important physical goal for any new mother is to flatten out her tummy. According to Martens, eliminating the “mummy tummy” is instrumental in a woman’s self-confidence as well as her overall health. “In a very short period of time, her baby bump goes from a cute baby belly that people marvel at to something that’s not so cute at all. As if to add insult to injury, the presence of extra weight in her midsection poses a very serious health risk and is a real drain on her energy.”
Martens cautions that it’s important to heed health care providers’ advice regarding when a new mom can safely commence working out (four to six weeks after the birth for vaginal deliveries and up to 12 weeks for C-sections), but says there are safe steps women can take to begin feeling like themselves again immediately following the birth of their baby.
- Bind those bellies! Products that bind the stomach effectively tackle diastasis recti, or the natural separation of the abdominal muscles that takes place as a pregnant woman’s belly grows to make room for her baby. “The wisdom is that with belly binds, the bones and the muscles are guided back to the midline of the body, as are the tendons, helping the belly regain its natural non-pregnant shape,” she says. “It also helps eliminate some of the swelling after giving birth.”
- Blood flow. According to Martens, getting the blood flowing and breaking up the scar tissue where a C-section incision was made is vital to healing. “Women should spend at least two minutes a day massaging the scars from their C-section until they gradually begin to feel the scar tissue loosening.” One caveat: Wait until any stitches are removed and inform your doctor.
- Get going! When you get that green light from your doctor, get moving. Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of most workout routines, but it is particularly important for women recovering from pregnancy. “Cardiovascular activity lowers blood pressure, or prevents high blood pressure, depending on the situation and it actually cleans out the arteries, which feed a person’s bones and organs,” says Annie. “Basically, cardio trims the midsection. And immediately following pregnancy is when the vital organs of the midsection are under the most stress from excess weight and swelling.”
Those who aren’t comfortable running for their cardio workout need not despair. Excess fat in the midsection can also be targeted with cardio workouts in the form of brisk walking, swimming and other methods.
The most important thing to keep in mind during and after pregnancy is that all efforts to get into better shape are to benefit you and your new family. “Staying in good health during pregnancy and getting back into shape after pregnancy is essential to helping new moms feel their best, which in turn makes them happier,” Martens says. “However, it’s also important to remember that a healthy body does not come in one shape and size. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be a chore during pregnancy, immediately following or at any time.”
Great advice, Annie! A happy, healthy mom makes a happy, healthy family! —Erin