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After having a baby, many women are anxious to begin exercising or return to their previous routine. It is often recommended that women ease back into exercise and check with their doctor or midwife before doing so. Depending on the type of birth and any complications that arose, more recovery time might be necessary before beginning postpartum exercises. Sometimes a separation in the abdominal muscles called diastasis recti can occur during pregnancy. This is a condition that should be addressed before performing any abdominal exercises.
Some of the most important postpartum exercises are those that help tone muscles in the pelvic region. These can often be done shortly after delivery and will help control bladder leakage and heal an episiotomy or perineal tearing. Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and are done by contracting and releasing the muscles used to stop the flow of urine. Kegels are usually done in sets and a common technique is to contract the muscles for up to 10 seconds, release, and repeat up to 20 times. A set such as this can be repeated throughout the day.
Pelvic tilts are effective in strengthening the abdominal muscles and are often recommended as postpartum exercises. A pelvic tilt is done while lying on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. On an inhale, the stomach and buttock muscles are tightened to roll the hips backward until the lower back is lifted off the floor. This position is held for three seconds and then released on an exhale. It is common to start with five pelvic tilts, building up to 15 repetitions.
Some postpartum exercises are actually performed with the baby. An isometric abdominal contraction can be done by starting in the same position as the pelvic tilt with the baby held on top of the belly. On an inhale, the abs are contracted and the baby is lifted straight up. On the exhale, the abs are relaxed as the baby is lowered. Repeating this for 10-15 repetitions will help strengthen the abdominal and core muscles.
Arm and shoulder exercises with a light dumbbell help to tone and strengthen the muscles required to carry and lift the baby. One to two sets of 12-16 repetitions of lateral raises, bicep curls, and tricep kickbacks can be very effective postpartum exercises. Modified push ups, those completed against a wall or on the knees, can also help to build upper body strength.
New mothers often find that walking is one of the best forms of postpartum aerobic exercise because it can be done with the baby in a stroller or baby carrier. There are many postpartum exercise groups and classes that incorporate stroller walking with total body conditioning, giving the mother the opportunity to exercise with her baby while interacting with other parents.
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