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I Want My Body Back!

May 28, 2024 11:50 am

So congratulations! You've had your baby, and now you're excited to get back into those favorite clothes that you haven't worn in quite awhile. You feel like they should fit, because after all, your baby is five weeks old already. But, your jeans are still two sizes too small.

So, what do you do? You promptly jump onto the treadmill, turn up the incline, and start jogging. Fast. For like, two minutes. And then something happens. You notice that you're wet. Not wet with sweat, just wet. In the saddle region, and at that moment you realize that your body is not quite like it used to be prior to that beautiful baby you now have. The very next thing you do is call your girlfriend, mom, sister, or all three and shout, "DID THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!?" 

It's true, and it happens all the time. Women have a baby, and then they want to pick up their life where it left off prior to pregnancy. The little story I just told you about is only one of several potential hiccups that new moms experience when they are ready to resume their pre-pregnancy workouts, or simply start exercising altogether.

So, let's take a step back together and figure out a safe, effective, and successful way to get back into a healthy and active lifestyle once your baby is born. After all, a "simple" thing like going for a jog may not be all that simple. 

The first thing you need to do is take into account exactly how the delivery of your baby went:

  • Did you have him or her vaginally, or via c-section?
  • If you had the baby vaginally, did you push forever and a day, or was the delivery very fast?
  • Did your perineum tear, or did you have an episiotomy?
  • If you had a c-section, did your incision heal properly in a timely manner?

These factors may influence how quickly you will feel ready to start a post-pregnancy exercise program.

You also need to think about what exercises you have available to you. For example, many women will begin a running program either because they own a treadmill, or running is easy because all you need to do is step outside. Problem is, when running, each time your foot strikes the ground, there is considerable force on your pelvic floor, like, seven-times your body weight. Think about that for a second. A 150-lb woman running strikes the ground with 1,050 lbs of force with each stride! In my opinion, that's way too much for any woman until she's closer to twelve weeks post-partum (I know there are plenty of moms out there who disagree with me, but for the vast majority of American women, twelve weeks is a better guideline).

Many women find exercise videos on YouTube. Often times the most popular are those that correspond with the latest exercise fad or reality TV show. Well, I'm here to tell you, as a physical therapist, the number one reason for a failed exercise program is burnout or injury from choosing exercises that are simply too tough for a de-conditioned body. I do in fact see plenty of patients in the clinic who have injured themselves doing a new exercise program. So please, if you do choose to do a work-out online, avoid any exercise that doesn't feel right, or stop doing any exercise that hurts to do.   

Finally, I do need to make one point about working out those abdominal muscles. Oh, our poor abs! First, we stretch them beyond recognition, and then we expect them to bounce back with vigor. Second, there's exercising abdominal muscles in order to get them stronger or more toned (which is the more correct mindset for exercising them). And there's exercising the abs in order to shed excess fat around the waistline, which is a less healthy to approach exercising them.

Let me explain why: you cannot spot-train any particular area of the body, especially the middle! In other words, you cannot achieve a smaller waist by simply exercising your abdominals. There are other factors involved. You need to increase your aerobic (cardio aerobic) exercise, AND decrease your caloric intake in order to decrease the size of your midline. This is a very hard concept to grasp for a lot of frustrated women out there, but once you embrace it, you will find that your clothes fit better and you will feel better about your body!

There are some wonderful exercise options out there for women. If you have access to a full-service gym, you can get your cardio aerobic exercise by swimming, and by using various pieces of exercise equipment like the elliptical trainer, recumbent or upright bikes, and rowing machines. Treadmills are excellent, but again, I recommend only walking for the first 12 weeks after your baby is born.

If you don't have access to the gym, and the weather is agreeable, taking your baby for a walk in the stroller is wonderful for you and him or her. Fresh air is great for the two of you, and the resistance of the stroller will help increase your heart rate for the cardio aerobic workout your body needs.

Resistance exercise, or weight training, is also great. Although I do recommend that you use weights for toning and light strengthening, versus heavy resistance training. Working out with heavy weights, particularly if you are doing standing-type exercises, is not good for your pelvic floor muscles for the first 12 weeks after the baby is born.

And finally, exercise classes like zumba and yoga will help you with balance, coordination, flexibility and strength. Plus, exercise classes give you the camaraderie that you might need to draw upon on those days that it is hard to motivate yourself to get going.

My point is really this: there are healthy ways to view exercise, and I'm here to help you pick out good, safe options to lose that baby weight. The healthiest way is to set realistic goals for yourself, and to stick with the basics of diet (i.e. portion control) and exercise. Please realize that your weight wasn't put on in a few short weeks, and it will not come off in a few short weeks. Eat right, and get your sleep, and pick some exercises that feel right to do. 

Michelle Landsverk is a Doctor of Physical Therapy at PT Center for Women, 3232 Ballard Road, Appleton, WI 54911. To make an appointment with Michelle call or text 920.729.2982.

PT Center for Women is one of the only physical therapy centers in Wisconsin that specializes in pelvic pain and pelvic muscle dysfunction, offering women of all ages comprehensive evaluation and treatment for their physical therapy needs.

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