Postpartum Workout: Here's a Primer for New Moms on Fitness
The 'Quarantine or Lockdown Generation' is well and truly amongst us now. In May last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had estimated that 116 million babies — of that 20 million in India — would be born during the pandemic. India had the highest birth rate in the world with China a distant second with 13.5 million babies followed by Nigeria (6.5 million) and Pakistan (5 million).
With the pandemic stretching well into 2021, the numbers of the Quarantine/ Lockdown Generation are likely to go up further.
The current trend of posting workout routines on social media has brought pregnancy workouts, not just prenatal yoga, and postpartum fitness journeys of new mothers sharply into focus.
From when should one start working out after delivering a baby to addressing apprehensions, from what to expect in a postpartum fitness routine beyond yoga to what to eat, Quint Fit presents a primer for new mothers looking to embark on a journey of fitness.
Read about working out while pregnant here.
(Re)Starting After Delivery
Parul Arora, head of human resources for Africa, Middle East and South Asia at Levi’s, delivered her first child in March this year. The 38-year-old followed her own doctor’s advice and did nothing for two months as the doctor was worried about her internal stitches bursting.
Even though many medical professionals might prefer to play it safe and advise a blanket two months’ rest after delivery, depending on the individual, any kind of physical or fitness activity could be started after six weeks post-partum, advise doctors and fitness experts.
Definitely don’t blindly follow the received wisdom that goes around advising complete bed rest for six months for new moms, says Cure.
Fit fitness expert and new mother Shwetambari Shetty says, “The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be for you to get fit again.”
“All exercises, including brisk walking, gym and yoga, should be done only after six weeks to three months after delivering the baby because it takes six weeks for the system to come back to the pre-pregnancy state”Dr Indu Taneja, head of department and director, Gynaecology, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad
Whether you were active before and during your pregnancy, after delivering your baby, you must take it slow with exercise, as it is important to give your body the time to rest and recover from the toll pregnancy takes on it.
Start with walking, get some of your strength back and then progressively move on to more intensive fitness activities, suggest doctors and fitness coaches.
After two months of as much rest as her newborn allowed, Arora started with short walks of 15 minutes within her residential complex in Mumbai’s northern suburb of Andheri. Over the course of next two weeks, the duration of her walks gradually increased to up to 30 minutes.
After that she reintroduced easy yoga routine and Pranayama back into her routine. It was only after three to four months that she started with the more dynamic and strenuous Suryanamaskaras.
While Arora stuck to yoga, Shetty, 41, in Bengaluru, along with walking, did easy pelvis and core strengthening exercises. Once she felt strong and confident four months after her delivery, she started doing body weight strength and conditioning routines as well as dance workouts.
Shetty remained active all through her pregnancy and despite that she took it slow and gradually progressed to weights only after four months or so.
Leisure and brisk walks are great because they stimulate good sleep, help reduce stress levels, and keep away the risk of injuries, says Asheesh Grewal, nutritionist and founder of MyHealthBuddy.
Focus on Pelvic Region, Glutes
While walking is a great way to get moving again, Gemma May, an England-based personal trainer who specialises in prenatal and postnatal fitness, says new mothers need to focus on strengthening abdomen and the pelvic floor.
“The abdominal muscles get stretched during pregnancy, so the focus should be on the abdomen muscles,” says Dr Taneja.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps activate the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, says May and recommends doing these while lying flat on your back on the floor.
Another great pelvic floor strengthening movement is the cat-camel exercise. She suggests performing seven to 10 breaths and five cat-camels three times a day for eight to 12 weeks.
Shetty also advises new mothers to start with exercises such as glute bridges that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which form the bottom of the core.
After the pelvic floor, May recommends working on the gluteal muscles which would help stabilize the pelvis and improve balance.
“Start with stretches and then move on to the strengthening exercises,” she says, suggesting kneeling adductor stretch and seated hip stretch for a minute or two each.
After that, move on to performing two to three sets of 12 repetitions of the clam, side lying abduction and hip bridges, she says. Do this three to four times a week.
Some other great exercises to start with at home are burpees, spider lunges, mountain climbers and squats.
Every woman’s experience will be different so the key here is to listen to the body and assess what it needs and choose exercise accordingly, warns Dinara Mukh, a holistic health coach.
Have a Clear, Healthy Goal
Due to the image of the mother constructed in social and mainstream media, there might be some anxiety among new mothers to lose weight and do so in a rush.
That isn’t the right way and could even be harmful, warn doctors and coaches. The focus should be on recovery and overall health, says Grewal.
“Most new mothers, who focus only on weight loss, try shortcuts like hypo-caloric diets or turn to excessive exercising. Neither is advisable as that can affect lactation as well as hamper the healing process,” he says.
Arora’s reason for starting exercise was to regain her strength and posture. Moreover, she just needed to start moving. “I was experiencing a lack of energy and movement after 40 days of lying in my bed like a beached whale. Losing weight was not my primary goal."
I wanted to strengthen my muscles and regain my posture which has changed a lot due to constant sitting and feeding,” she says.
“If your aim is getting fit and strong, weight loss would be one of the obvious benefits of that,” says Shetty, who lost 10 kg in seven months.
Nutrition Is Crucial
Everyone knows it already but nutrition is key for new moms. Despite being asked to eat ghee and fat-rich food by her family as it usually happens in India, Shetty cut down on ghee and carbs while adding nuts and fibre in her food intake. “Too much of good fats like ghee is also a bad thing,” says Shetty.
New mothers must make sure their meals are balanced and contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates, says Mukh, suggesting them to eat complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes so as to ensure they have sufficient energy to go through the day.
“Since fat and protein are the building blocks of your hormones, it’s important they are the staple of your meals while your body returns to normal. Stay off of added sugars and refined flour. Avoid candies, chocolate bars and cookies. Switch to dark chocolate instead,” she says.
(Shrenik Avlani is a newsroom veteran on a break from full-time work since 2012. He is a location independent writer, editor and journalist and co-author of The ShivFit Way, a book on functional fitness.)
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