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Getting in Shape With Baby on Board

What new moms need to know about easing back into exercise.
By Linda Melone
WebMD Feature

After having a baby, you might wonder what’s realistic for getting back in shape. How soon can you exercise and how much can you do to safely lose the weight before junior starts pre-school? The answer: One size does not fit all.

Robert O. Atlas, MD, OB/GYN, at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore says determining when a woman can resume exercising after giving birth is a highly individual decision. "Some women take a month to walk normally while others are back on the hiking trail with their baby within two weeks," he says.

In general, the healthier you are entering the pregnancy, the quicker the recovery time.

The type of delivery you've had also determines when you can resume exercising. "A cesarean delivery requires more time to recover than a vaginal delivery," Atlas says. Traditional teaching says to wait six weeks after delivery before exercising, but some women can safely return to exercising before that.

"It also depends on the type of exercise," Atlas says. For example, returning to high-impact routines such as running or sports requires more caution than resuming or starting a yoga or Pilates class.

Bonnie Berk, author of The Motherwell Eternity Fitness Plan says what you can do postpartum depends on what you did prenatal. "If a woman was fit before she got pregnant," she says, "she can start exercising earlier than a woman who was not."

Pregnancy affects every system of the body, so it can take four to six months to heal completely, Berk says. "Complicated births involving lacerations and bigger episiotomies, for example, may delay a woman's ability to exercise safely."

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Once your doctor gives the OK to start exercising, take into consideration the number of hours you need for sleep, care for your family, and everyday activities before pushing yourself too hard. "Exercise should not be another stressor," Berk says.

Start with simple walking for 10 to 15 minutes three times a day, Berk says. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends starting with easy exercises and slowly building up to more challenging moves.

Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine says to focus on core strength and balance training. "Use caution, however, as joints -- particularly knees -- may be lax due to changing hormonal level," he says. If your knees feel unstable when exercising, dial it down until your muscles become stronger.

Traditional programming for cardio and resistance should follow later, Comana says.

Starting a regimen that you’re likely and able to keep up is more important than starting right away after delivery, says Sara Morelli, MD, OB/GYN, at University Reproductive Associates in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. "Walking is a great way to start getting back in shape and prepare for more vigorous exercise later on," she says.

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