The ABCs of Exercise

This article can help you adopt a sensible attitude toward postpartum fitness.
Postpartum Fitness
Table of contents

The ABCs of Exercise

Few would deny that the pregnant body is glorious to behold. While it doesn't exactly match the description of Western culture's ideal form, the curvaceous body of a visibly pregnant woman draws admiring glances and compliments from many. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture of a woman about to bear a child is worth all of the words that seek to describe the miracle of new life coming into the world.

After gradual swelling and softening over ten months' time, the suddenly changed appearance of your body postpartum can be a bit of a shock. For the first week postpartum, your belly is still as round as it was when you were five months pregnant. Once your uterus contracts more fully, that roundness may subside – or, if you are still carrying a few excess pounds, it might not. For the first time in months, you can look down and see your legs, and if you gained a lot of weight with your pregnancy, you may find that you don't like what you see. If you are nursing, you may find that your newly larger breasts are a pleasing counterpart to the rest of your rounder figure – or you may be uncomfortable with your suddenly bountiful bosom.

In the first weeks postpartum, as you rest up from the birth and get acquainted with the new arrival, you may begin to wonder: When can I start exercising to try to get rid of this extra weight I've gained? How hard can I exercise? What's safe and what's unsafe for my body right now? And when am I going to find the time to exercise?

A Sensible Attitude Toward Postpartum Fitness

Our weight-conscious culture often fails to discriminate between fitness and thinness. Being thin does not make you fit, and being heavier than society's ideal does not necessarily mean you are unhealthy. It is true that obese people are at increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, but this is because people who eat poorly and avoid exercise have a better chance of ending up fat than those who watch what they eat and exercise regularly. If you are living a healthy lifestyle – getting your exercise and eating well – you may not be thin, but most likely you are fit. This is especially true of new moms, whose bodies tend to hang on to at least some of their pregnancy fat gain until their babies are weaned from the breast.

Recently, a news program did a story on a highly successful model who was prized for her reedlike thinness. It turned out that she was so thin because she was battling cancer. The weight of most women on television programs and in fashion magazines is that of someone who is ill, not someone who is healthy. Pleasingly plump talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who runs marathons, is an excellent example of radiant good health and fitness in a body that does not fit society's definition of perfection. And most would agree that she is beautiful.

When you are fit, you are energetic, strong, able to resist stress and infection, and able to meet the normal demands of daily life without pain or undue fatigue. Whether your physique is rail thin and rock hard, soft and bountiful, or some combination of these, you can be fit.

Our culture gives the most approval to the women who bounce back fast after pregnancy: "I can't believe you just had a baby – you look so slim! " Or, "It's so great that you're back to working out every day so soon!" Rarely do you hear anyone say, "You're taking it easy and not worrying about losing weight? That's terrific!" When we talk to women about their issues with weight and fitness, we find that many of them simply need to be told that it is perfectly okay to be heavier and to exercise more moderately during the first year postpartum, and that they should not expect to regain their prepregnancy figures while their babies are young.

Please keep this in mind. The conventional wisdom is that it took you nine months to gain the weight, and it will take at least as long as that to lose it. Pushing the envelope will not only drain your body of the resources it needs to recover from pregnancy and nourish your baby, but it will also most probably be an exercise in futility (pun intended). You need to be patient. In the meantime, instead of focusing on becoming thin, focus on becoming fit.