Source: Healthy Bones, Muscles & Joints, Reader’s Digest
You’ll have so much to think about after giving birth that it can be difficult to find the time to look after yourself. But a good diet, relaxation and gentle exercise will help your body to readjust to your post-pregnancy state and undo some of the unwanted effects of giving birth, such as loss of muscle tone and a weak pelvic floor.
When to start exercise
Almost as soon as the soreness begins to subside—as early as the day after the birth if the delivery was straightforward—you can start some gentle toning exercises to target the areas of your body that feel particularly weak. If you had a Caesarean section, you may need to wait a little longer—talk to your doctor about when to start.
Start off with some gentle exercises to regain your pre-pregnancy abdominal tone. To start, simply contract your stomach muscles: pull your stomach tight as you breathe out, hold a few seconds without moving your body, and relax. After this, progress to modified sit-ups: lie on your back on a firm surface and slowly raise then lower your head, keeping your shoulders on the floor. As your stomach muscles get stronger, you can start to curl your shoulders up, too.
You should also start exercising your pelvic-floor muscles as soon as possible. These muscles support your bladder, bowels and womb, helping to prevent urinary incontinence. The best way to strengthen them is to perform specially devised “Kegel” exercises.
To do these exercises correctly, you need to get a feel for the muscles involved. Begin by trying to stop your flow mid-stream when you are urinating. Once you know what to contract, you can start by squeezing the muscles for a few seconds at a time and repeat 3–4 times. Try to do this several times a day and build up to holding the muscles for 10 seconds at a stretch and for 25 repetitions.
Establishing a routine
From a few weeks after birth, try to establish a daily exercising routine with a variety of gentle toning exercises such as abdominal curls or side bends. You can also do exercises with your child—lifting your infant is a great way to work your muscles and bond with your baby.
Walking is a good way to build up gently to a more strenuous aerobic-type exercise, as long as you avoid anything too demanding over the first few weeks. After a straightforward birth, you can usually start a more challenging aerobic exercise program within 6–10 weeks. If you have had a Caesarean section, you may need to give your abdomen longer to recover—at least 10 weeks. Check with your doctor or local health clinic to find out what types of exercises are appropriate.
Nutrition for new mums
Pregnancy and birth place high demands on your body, so you’ll need to eat well to replenish your body’s nutrients and get enough energy to care for your new baby. You’re probably keen to regain your pre-pregnancy figure after birth, but you shouldn’t be too hasty about dieting: Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, pregnancy will have depleted your stores of vitamins and minerals, so you should continue to eat well.
Good nutrition is particularly important if you are breastfeeding—your diet has to provide enough vitamins, minerals and energy to supply your needs and the needs of your growing baby. A vital part of breast milk is calcium for your baby’s bones. Osteoporosis Canada recommends that all adult women, including breast- feeding mothers, get 1,000 mg of calcium per day—equal to about four glasses of milk. You should also eat lots of iron and vitamin-rich foods and get plenty of fluids.
You may need to increase your energy intake while breastfeeding—as a rough guide, you’ll need an extra 350 to 400 calories per day. It you do wish to lose weight, wait until breastfeeding is well established before restricting your calorie intake in any way. Even then, take any weight loss slowly and gradually.
Lifting and holding your baby
Babies love to be hugged and held; it is one of the best ways to make your child feel loved and secure. Feeding, rocking, carrying and comforting helps you to bond with your baby—but must be done correctly as the extra weight can also place a lot of strain on your back and arms. By the time your baby is a year old, you may be regularly lifting and carrying a weight in the region of 8–12 kg (18–26 lb).
Carrying your baby
Newborns feel safe cradled in your arms while older babies may prefer a hip hold so they can watch the world. Unfortunately, cradling your baby with your shoulders or upper back rounded can cause muscle spasms. Regularly carrying your child on one side of the body, particularly with jutting hips, can cause muscular imbalance.
To avoid problems, make an effort to alternate and use both sides of your body. Try to keep your shoulders down and your stomach tight. Baby carriers and slings can exacerbate back problems; if you have backache, look for an ergonomic carrier with wide, padded, adjustable straps.
Holding for feeding
Over the first few months of life, you may need to feed your baby every 1–3 hours, so you should make sure that you use a chair with good back support. You may find it helps to use a footrest.
Many breastfeeding mothers hunch over to reach their babies, which can cause backache. Instead, buy a special nursing pillow to lift your baby up into a more comfortable position. If you have had a Caesarean section, try holding your baby at your side, feet tucked under your arm while breastfeeding: this type of “football hold” can reduce pressure on your stomach.