After having my third baby, my body did not bounce back as quickly as after my two previous pregnancies with my boys. I needed to take my body back, so I worked with a personal trainer at my local gym. I hated every aspect of weight training. I had a tough trainer who would exhaust me and make me sweat. I cursed like a truck driver every session without fail, but I also laughed through every painful lunge. I simply adored my trainer, Carly Pizzani. With Carly’s help, I watched my body transform and lost the baby weight. Carly remains a dear friend, an incredible trainer, and she is now a new mother to baby Roman. Here, she shares some very important tips when it comes to pre- and post-baby exercising.
What are some of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
Benefits for mommy include all the benefits that exercise usually imparts: stress relief, more positive body image, better sleep quality and more energy—all super important during pregnancy. Regular exercise during pregnancy can also increase your endurance levels, which will, of course, be a huge advantage during labor—the ultimate endurance event!
What forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy?
Whatever you’re already doing is safe to continue as long as you feel comfortable doing it and your exercise of choice does not include any falling hazard or any chance of blows to the abdomen. Swimming, running, walking, weight training and yoga are fine to continue during pregnancy. Listen to your body during exercise. This is not the time to set world records.
If you’re currently not exercising, don’t start an intense exercise regime. You should start slow and preferably get advice from a pre- and postnatal certified trainer. It’s okay to start an exercise program, you just don’t want to start at a high intensity if you’re not used to it.
In yoga, or with stretching, bear in mind that the hormone relaxin, which your body is now producing, can lead to joint instability, so be careful that you’re not overextending yourself. If you suddenly find it easy to do a challenging yoga pose you’ve never been able to master, it may be your looser joints doing the work. Tendons and ligaments once stretched past their normal range of motion are very difficult to repair. You also want to watch out for temperature. You probably already know to avoid hot tubs and saunas, but likewise, you don’t want to do an exercise class where you’re sweating buckets and chugging water. You can regulate your body temperature, but your baby can’t yet.
What are the warning signs to stop exercising when pregnant?
Listen to your body. Signs that you should take a break include dizziness, feeling lightheaded, difficulty breathing (different than just puffing while doing aerobic activity), nausea or any kind of pain.
The best way to avoid these warning signs is to take precautions. Make sure your clothing is loose, comfortable and breathable. Ensure you’re working out in a comfortable, cool temperature. Drink plenty of water. Have a small snack about half an hour before working out (and have something handy to eat afterwards too). Take breaks as you need to.
How long do I have to wait to exercise after a cesarean?
Your doctor will most likely recommend postponing your regular exercise routine until six to eight weeks after your c-section. However, for those first six weeks, concentrate on kegel exercises, gentle stretching, simple abdominal work such as contracting your abdominals by holding and releasing and walking. Tell your doctor these plans to make sure you have the OK. After your post-partum check up, you should be able to resume your normal routine. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel discomfort, so just like when you were pregnant, listen to your body, and stop if you feel pain.
What’s the best way to lose the baby weight?
First of all, enjoy baby and your new role as a mother for a while before you even start thinking about losing the baby weight. This is an emotional bonding time, and it will be exciting and scary and stressful and wonderful all at once. You don’t need the extra pressure of weight loss right away! Once you’re ready, and in somewhat of a routine, you can start focusing on getting yourself back into pre-baby shape.
If you’re breastfeeding, that will be a huge help. You burn an extra 300-500 calories a day from breastfeeding. Focus your diet on real food—fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat, and try to avoid processed food and junk food. Drink lots of water. Remember your body will naturally try to hang on to an extra 5-10 lbs of fat for fuel while you’re breastfeeding, so don’t try to get back down to your skinniest weight. A lot of women find that the last 5 lbs just seem to fall off when they wean baby.
Cardio is great for fat burning, and it’s relatively easy to do with baby—you can pop your baby in the stroller and go out for a walk or a jog fairly easily. However, cardio works much more effectively if you have lean muscle as a base, so don’t neglect strength training. Since you’re likely carrying more weight than you were pre-pregnancy, body-weight strength training will actually be very effective for you. Think squats, planks, push-ups, triceps dips and lunges.
Once you’re more adjusted and have more energy, have Dad or a caregiver take baby for a while, and go to the gym or yoga or pilates studio and enjoy your workout!
image from babyzone.com
Ewww, my stomach is mushy after having the baby. Planks or sit-ups?
Relax, breathe. Remember how pushed out your stomach was when you were nine months pregnant? It will take a little while to get back to normal. So to begin, planks are definitely the best exercise. They are actually quite challenging for your abdominals without the extra stress of movement from a sit-up. Start with ten seconds. Once that’s easy, work your way up ten seconds at a time until you can hold it for a minute. Then you can move on to more challenging, movement-based abdominal work. Remember too that exercises such as push ups and lunges also work your abdominal muscles. Before trying sit-ups, you should also check that you do not have diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal wall). It’s fairly common after pregnancy. Your doctor will check for it at your post-natal appointment, but if you attempt to do a sit-up, look at your stomach. If there is a separation, you will see a bulge as you raise up. If you do have diastasis recti, a great way to rectify it as you begin to re-strengthen your muscles is to have a towel under your midsection, and literally use it to pull your sides in towards your body as you crunch. You are trying to hold the abdominal walls together as you work your muscles to encourage them back together.
Is it safe to exercise if I’m breastfeeding?
Definitely! Exercise will not affect your milk supply at all. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to replace fluids lost through sweat. You may find that your breasts feel uncomfortable during exercise, especially if it’s a high-impact exercise like running. If this is the case, try to feed or pump just before your workout, and wear a properly fitted sports bra.
The baby is napping; I don’t have a lot of time to spare—what’s the best exercise to get me back into shape?
You can always take baby out in the stroller while napping and go for a walk. If baby is a light sleeper or the weather is poor, you can definitely exercise in your living room. Try squats, forward or side lunges, planks, triceps dips and push-ups as a simple routine. Try ten of each exercise for two sets to start. A great idea for when baby is awake is to exercise while you’re having fun with your little one. Have baby lie on a blanket, and do push-ups over him, with a kiss for each push up. Hold baby as you squat. Lift baby above your head in an overhead press. Be creative! You have a beautiful little dumbbell to work with who magically gets heavier in weight as you get stronger! Built-in progression!
Carly Pizzani is certified in personal training through the American College of Sports Medicine. After working as a Tier 3 personal trainer at Equinox Fitness for several years, she now works as an independent trainer in clients’ homes and private gyms throughout New York City. Her specializations include training for weight loss, injury prevention and rehabilitation, pre- and post-natal training, training for runners, training for endurance events, boxing and cardio programs. Carly’s extra certifications include Pre- and Post-Natal Certification and Precision Nutrition Certification. Raised in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, Carly is an avid distance runner and also enjoys strength training and yoga.