Post Pregnancy Fitness

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Everyone says having a baby changes your life, but feeling flabby and exhausted is not the 'new you' you were counting on! If you want to lose those postpartum pounds, get back in shape, and boost your energy, check out these pregnancy fitness tips from women's exercise expert, Lyn Leddy. She joined us on July 1, 2004.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Lyn. Please tell our new moms and soon-to-be new moms a little bit about yourself.

LEDDY:
I'm president of Evolving Fitness. I have a degree in exercise science and a certification from the American College of Sports Medicine. I've been practicing exercise physiology since 1992 in various settings: at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire, AT&T Phone Company in Boston, and Teradyne Systems in Nashua, N.H.

I have a 10-month-old daughter. And my main mission currently, for the past three years, has been focusing on the needs of women throughout pregnancy and beyond.

MODERATOR:
What's the first step new moms should take toward getting into shape?

LEDDY:
First they need to be mentally ready, which means you are no longer feeling overwhelmed. Next you start slowly, after gaining consent from your doctor. This could mean walking for 10 minutes, three days a week, then gradually increasing your minutes as you feel comfortable and ready.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am so sleep deprived I can't imagine working out, but I know it will give me energy. I feel overwhelmed. What can I do to get moving again?

LEDDY:
Every child is different. Just because you may see one mother fitting exercise in easily does not mean you should be at her level. Be creative with ways to get more active. For example, taking a stroller walk during nap times every day could be a realistic achievement.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I could live with being big and round during my pregnancy, but I was pretty shocked at how big my stomach was after delivery! It's gone down a little now that a couple of months have gone by, but I need to do something to this flab. Is it too much to expect a flat tummy ever again?

LEDDY:
No, that's not unrealistic. Exercise performed four days a week regularly, along with a good eating plan, will shed pounds; about 2 to 8 pounds per month. The key is being regular, consistent, and patient; and the pounds will come off. Strength training at least two days per week will tone your abdominal muscles back to fighting condition. It took you nine months to gain weight; it can take four to 10 months to take it all off.

"The first thing you should think of is your overall sense of well-being, which is making sure you are not fatigued, you get some sleep, and you're eating well."

MODERATOR:
Are there specific exercises you recommend for post-pregnancy?

LEDDY:
A sample exercise prescription for post-partum pregnancy would be walking or using a cardiovascular machine four to five days a week, starting at 20 minutes, working up to 50 minutes, making sure that you can talk comfortably yet feel like you're getting a brisk walk and that your heart is pumping and you're breathing heavily.

To tone your midsection, sit on a stability ball and perform a pelvic tilt:

  • Curl your hips towards your chest without rounding your shoulders, and then slowly bring your hips back to a normal sitting position. Think of it as scooping your hips toward the ceiling.
  • Start with as many as feels comfortable, about eight to 10, working up to 25 repetitions.
  • Take a 30-second break, and then perform the same amount of repetitions again for three to four sets.

Then to strengthen your lower back, which helps pull in weak abdominal muscles:

  • Lie on the stability ball with your stomach and head facing towards the floor, toes touching the floor (you should look like an upside down V).
  • Cross your arms so your hands touch your shoulders and slowly lift your upper torso towards the ceiling, your body is in line, making sure your shoulders are in line with your hips.
  • Then slowly bring your head back towards the floor.
  • Repeat this movement, working up to 25 repetitions, the same as the abdominal exercise I just explained.

These two exercises are the basic fitness moves two to six weeks after pregnancy. After six weeks you may begin standard abdominal exercises, such as lying on the floor and bringing your shoulders off of the floor and slowly lowering them down, which is called an abdominal crunch, and the bicycle, which is performed lying on the floor, hands behind your head, and touching your elbow towards your opposite knee, which is being brought in towards you.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Although I am active (I have a 20-month-old to chase around all day) I am not really working out. We walk, but that is about it. I am 122 pounds and 5 feet 4 inches tall. At 37 I feel I should be doing more to prepare my body for another pregnancy, but feel limited on time to myself to have a set routine. We are trying to conceive baby No. 2 now and I am wondering if I start adding 15 minutes of yoga a day now if I can continue this type of workout if I get pregnant this month. Is it too late to start?

LEDDY:
No, it's not too late to start. Exercising prior to conceiving and during the first trimester is most beneficial to mother and baby, research has shown. Yoga is a safe and effective exercise for pregnancy so yes, start yoga now. Your yoga instructor should be modifying moves as your pregnancy progresses. Your body will start to be conditioned for yoga moves, and you will be able to carry out your exercise regimen of yoga and walking throughout your whole entire pregnancy. Yoga will help tone your body, relax your mind, and reduce stress, which are all key components of a healthy and fit pregnancy.

Walking will help you increase your energy and stamina, combat depression, and prepare your body for the rigors of labor, as well as help heal your body faster after delivering.

MODERATOR:
Do you recommend a specific pregnancy yoga class, or will most yoga instructors know how to help with a pregnant practitioner?

LEDDY:
If you can find a prenatal yoga class, that's wonderful. If you can't, then ask the yoga instructor about his or her credentials and how familiar they are with pregnant women performing yoga. Ask them how they would treat and modify yoga routines for pregnant women. For example, one key is you should never lie on your back for a long period of time after the second trimester. This reduces blood flow to the mother and baby. Educate yourself on safe exercise for pregnant women so that you can also be an advocate for yourself.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I had a C-section and am worried about my stomach muscles. Are they permanently damaged from the C-section? Can I do sit-ups and other abdominal exercises without hurting myself? Will they do any good if I can?

LEDDY:
No, your muscles aren't permanently damaged. You can train them to be stronger and well toned after cesarean sections. For instance, I worked with a woman throughout her pregnancy who delivered for the second time by C-section. Upon delivering in the hospital, she was able to lift her torso off the bed so the nurses could change the sheets. The nurses were very impressed by her ability to do this. They asked if she exercised throughout her pregnancy and she said yes. She was also able to twist in her bed to pick up her infant lying next to her, which she was unable to do with her first pregnancy.

"A good rule is to take exercise easy the first three months to condition your body back to the level it was before becoming pregnant."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I'm going to be a single parent and I also work 48 hours a week, what can I do to relax?

LEDDY:
One thing you can try is during work seeing if you can take three 10-minute walks sometime throughout the day. For example, as soon as you get to work, take a walk around your building, if that's possible, for 10 minutes. Then at lunchtime, after eating or before eating, take another 10-minute walk. Before leaving for the day, take another 10-minute walk.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports that accumulated exercise totaling at least 30 minutes each day improves a person's overall health. This means reducing stress, managing weight, preventing disease, and giving a person an overall sense of well-being.

Try this for up to six months. After six months you'll need to be creative with other ways to get exercise into your schedule, because your body will have become accustomed to this exercise regimen, and it will need to be challenged in order to continue reaping overall benefits from exercise.

MODERATOR:
Thinking about this mom, who will be away from her baby for so long each day, it seems that exercising at home might take more time away from holding her baby. Can she do any exercises safely, besides walking, while using a baby sling or front pack? Or is that just asking for trouble?

LEDDY:
Baby slings and front packs don't really support the baby's head and neck very well. For exercise-type walking a jogger stroller is your best bet; the kind that tends to hug the baby.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do any exercises help tone the skin and diminish stretch marks?

LEDDY:
Exercise will help tone the overall body. It won't help with stretch marks. Saggy skin will most likely go back to being taut if you burn fat and perform strength-training exercises.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How soon after delivery can I go back to spinning and aerobics?

LEDDY:
Again, I would suggest you would start slowly after consulting with your doctor. If you gave birth vaginally the bike seat may not be too comfortable, especially if you had a traumatic vaginal birth, such as extreme tearing. If you gave birth vaginally or by C-section, you may attend classes four weeks after delivery. If there were complications, such as tearing, you may need to wait six to 10 weeks. Again, consult your doctor and don't push yourself in the beginning.

A good rule is to take exercise easy the first three months to condition your body back to the level it was before becoming pregnant. After three months you can push yourself a little bit more, making sure you are fully hydrated and eating well and that you are not fatigued, so that if you are breastfeeding, your milk supply will be full and not diminished.

Key things to look out for when exercising while breastfeeding are to make sure your urine looks very clear, which means you are well hydrated, and making sure your baby's growth is along normal, healthy lines each time you have a visit with your child's pediatrician.

MODERATOR:
Are there any books or web sites you recommend for new moms who want to read up on fitness?

LEDDY:
Yes. First of all, you can feel free to call me, free of charge. My number is (603) 566-8375.

I highly recommend a book titled Exercising Through Your Pregnancy , by James Clapp, III, MD, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Dr. Clapp is the leading authority when it comes to exercising throughout pregnancy and post-partum. I've done a lot of research on the topic and Dr. Clapp's clinical studies overwhelmingly pop up.

A web site you'd want to look up is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (acog.org). They can send you a pamphlet of information.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I need some stretches to loosen up. I'm so tired I don't think I could handle much more at this point.

LEDDY:
After delivering a baby your body is pretty loose, because it needed to expand, the ligaments needed to loosen up and joints needed to expand in order to deliver the baby, so therefore I don't feel stretching only, during the first two months, is all that beneficial.

If you're looking for stress reduction because your body is tense from tending to the baby's needs and your list of things to do at home and/or at work I would suggest finding some time to give to yourself to take a bath, read a book, get a massage, or get outside and take a walk with headphones on. Enlist the help of your partner, friends and family at least two times a week to help you recharge.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I have a colicky baby and spend a lot of time holding him and pacing to calm him down. I am finding that my shoulders and neck are getting stiff from carrying the baby. Are there any exercises I can do to strengthen those areas?

LEDDY:
Yes, there are exercises you can do to help strengthen neck, shoulders, chest, and back:

Grab some soup cans, stand tall, and hold your hands at your side.

  • Lift both arms up in the air until they're parallel to the floor, and slowly return to the starting position with your hands next to your hips.
  • Then hold your hands in front of your thighs and again lift your arms in front of you until parallel to the floor.
  • Return to starting position.

Next, sit in a chair:

  • Lean forward as if you're going to touch your chest to your knees, but don't round your back.
  • Dangle your arms in front of you, knuckles towards the floor, palms facing each other.
  • Raise your arms out to your sides until they're parallel to the floor.
  • Slowly return to starting position.

For your back, grab those soup cans again:

  • Stand tall, put your arms in front of you, resting on your thighs, and then hold the soup cans together until they touch.

  • Keep them together, and slowly bring the soup cans up to chin height. Your arms should look like a V, because your elbows will be high in the air.

  • Slowly return to starting position.

Another exercise is a chest press, also called a wall pushup.

  • You want to be on your toes. Put your hands on the wall, making sure your arms are straight.
  • Slowly bend your elbows and bring your chest towards the wall, keeping your back straight the whole time.
  • Then slowly push yourself back to the starting position.

All of those exercises I explained will strengthen the shoulders, chest, and back. Perform up to 15 repetitions for two to three sets.

For your neck, you want to stretch that area out:

  • Stand tall, rest your shoulders and drop your ear toward your shoulder until you feel a stretch in the neck. Hold for 15 seconds, and then do the other side.
  • Another great neck stretch is dropping your chin toward your chest. You should feel a stretch right up the back of your neck. Hold for 15 seconds, and then you're done.

Perform all of these exercises and stretches every other day, or at last two times per week.

"Be creative with ways to get more active. For example, taking a stroller walk during nap times every day could be a realistic achievement."

MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time. Lyn, do you have any final words of advice for us?

LEDDY:
My final bit of advice is to be patient with yourself. Each person has different struggles with each new baby. What worked for you for your first pregnancy may not work for you with your second. The first thing you should think of is your overall sense of well-being, which is making sure you are not fatigued, you get some sleep, and you're eating well.

After that, be creative with getting exercise into your life, remembering this is a lifestyle change, not a short-term quick fix. Getting exercise into your lifestyle doesn't mean having to hit the gym with weights. Taking your baby for a walk, playing actively on the floor with your baby, getting together with other moms to go for group walks, or getting together with other moms so maybe you can get some time to yourself are all creative ways to get active.

I've recently worked with a mother who gave birth to her fourth child and hasn't returned to her prepregnancy weight of her first child. She gave birth seven months ago. As of today, she's back to her prepregnancy weight from before her first child. Now, this is because she has a wonderful little boy who loves to watch his mom exercise for a good 30 to 45 minutes, so therefore she can exercise with him in the same room two times a week and other days take him for walks. She's getting about four to five days a week of exercise in.

So remember, with finding time to get some activity in your life regularly, the pounds can and will come off. It just may take a good four to 12 months to do it. Rapid weight loss in one to two months after pregnancy like the celebrities, Kate Hudson, etc., is unrealistic. They are able to do so because they have tons of help, money, and personal trainers every day. So please do not compare yourself with the magazine covers of the celebrity new moms.

Good luck, be patient, and enjoy your time with your babies.

MODERATOR:
Unfortunately, we are out of time. Thanks for joining us, members, and thanks to Lyn Leddy for sharing her post-pregnancy exercise tips with us today.



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