Postpartum Fitness: Will I ever get my shape back?
By Susan Donovan

The process of childbirth puts stress and, often times, extra weight on a woman's body - but it does not mean that you cannot regain your shape and pre-pregnancy weight. Throughout your pregnancy, regular exercise and healthy eating is the key. By sticking to a moderate, consistent routine, your pre-pregnancy shape will return!

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not specify when it is safe for postpartum women to begin a regular exercise program, but four to six weeks is the typical recommended time. Those who have had C-Sections tend to need more time. Always obtain the consent of your healthcare provider before starting any postpartum exercise. Be sure to find out from your caregiver whether you suffer from "diastis recti," a condition that occurs during pregnancy causing a separation of muscles that run down the center of the abdomen. You must modify your abdominal workout if you have this condition.

To accommodate for your growing uterus and baby, your abdominal muscles were stretched and lengthened during the course of your pregnancy. It is important to strengthen your abdominal muscles, not only to regain stability of your internal organs, but to lower your risk of back pain and injury, as well as get your belly flat. Be sure to start slowly and avoid movements that require momentum or jerky movements since the soft layer of collagen fiber that helped your belly to expand will still be there for approximately 4 to 6 weeks postpartum.

Here are a few exercises to get you started:

Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, place your hands on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Exhale very slowly through your mouth and contract your abdominal muscles by pulling inward as you lower your back to the floor (empty your lungs completely during the exhale). Repeat 8 times.

Assume the same position, but place your hands on your thighs. Take a deep breath. As you slowly exhale, curl up, sliding your hands towards your knees by contracting your abdominal muscles. Keep your lower back on the floor. Reach as far as you comfortably can and hold for a second. Return to starting position while you inhale. Repeat 8 times.

For months your body has had a limited range of motion. During this time, ligaments and muscles may have shortened. Stretching exercises will help you regain your body's flexibility. Try this great lower back stretch:

Lying on your back, pull your right knee into your chest while your left leg remains straight on the floor. Hold 20 seconds and repeat with your other leg. Hold 20 seconds. Bring both knees to your chest and hold 20 seconds. Repeat series 3 times.

Exercise will help you regain your shape and strength as well help you to cope with the mild depression some women experience after childbirth. Remember to start slow, listen to your body and be consistent with your efforts!

Susan Donovan, is the owner/manager of Ultra Fitness, a woman's fitness center with a special focus on women's health and wellness. NOTE: This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your personal physician.


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