For many women, the first thing that’s on their mind after they have their baby is “I want to lose all of this weight that I gained during my pregnancy.” And so a lot of women think that they’ll just go on a crash diet and go into an exercise frenzy, and lose all the weight quickly.
Now that would be in an ideal world. But there’s a few things to keep in mind. First of all, it’s not good to start exercising until after you’ve let your body totally heal–and this especially includes your uterus, because the vessels that were feeding your baby are still there after your baby’s delivered, and your uterus needs to clamp down like a turniquet to control the bleeding. And as you’ve probably noticed, your uterus only shrinks down to about the level of your belly button right after delivery, but over the next six weeks it will shrink down to its normal pre-pregnant size, behind your pubic bone. If you increase activity too soon, you can start to bleed again, or you’re inhibiting your uterus from bleeding, so most doctors recommend that you don’t start vigorous exercise until about six weeks after a vaginal delivery, and about eight weeks after a C-section, so that your body’s totally healed.
And at that point, you can start any exercise program that you feel is going to suit you well. Some women like to start out gradually with just walking; some women are really into running; some like to go to the gym and just get out of the house for a little while; some like to do exercise programs or videos at their house–whatever is going to work for you, as long as you’re doing something then that’s good. Get your heart rate up, get into your target heart rate zone (and there’s tons of different calculators on the internet that you can check out to find out what that is, according to your weight and height and age), but just just get into a good fat-burning zone.
Research is showing that it’s best to combine cardiovascular exercise with strength training, so weight lifting (not like body builders weight lifting, but you know, just moderate weight lifting in combination with cardiovascular exercise) will help rev your metabolism, and help burn fat and calories even at rest, because the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body requires even at rest. So that’s a good thing when you’re trying to lose weight.
When it comes to exercise, you should exercise a minimum of 30 minutes on most days of the week. If you can only exercise though 30 minutes on 3-4 days of the week, then that’s totally fine. Just do as much as you can and develop a routine–which is possible, even with a young baby. And you’re going to be very tired from sleep deprivation, but you’ll find that exercise actually helps increase your morale and make you feel better about things overall.
As far as dieting goes, you need to be careful, because you essentially put in your milk supply for the whole breastfeeding experience during the first two months after you’ve had a baby, and you need to make sure you’re getting enough calories to provide for your body’s needs as well as to provide for the milk that you’re making for your baby. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you need about 400-500 extra calories a day, as compared to only about 300 extra calories during pregnancy. People feel like they can eat for two while they’re pregnant, then go on crash diets after delivery, and that causes a problem with milk supply. So exercise doesn’t necessarily have as big of an impact as what you’re eating might, so make sure you’re eating enough calories each day. And make sure that they’re good, healthy calories–it’s not necessarily an excuse to eat two big donuts every day–make sure that you’re eating more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, good lean proteins, and drinking a lot of water. Make sure that you’re well hydrated, especially if you’re exercising, because if you’re not well hydrated and not eating enough calories, that’s when it might start affecting your milk supply.
But generally speaking, women don’t necessarily notice a decrease in their milk supply associated with the time that they start exercising. Maybe if your’e doing super-vigorous exercise, you might notice a slight decrease in spite of eating enough calories and drinking a lot of fluids–just cut back on the intensity and see if it makes a little bit of a difference.
There are other techniques you can try, before you stop exercising–because exercise is good for you. Feed your baby more frequently throughout the day. So if your baby normally eats every 2-3 hours, throw in an extra feeding every now and then during the day. Or if you have a pump available to you, pump for 10 minutes after each nursing session during the day.
If you have any medical conditions that might affect your ability to exercise, be sure to talk to your doctor