Body After Baby

Attention, ladies! There’s a surefire way to lose about 10 lbs…in one day! Of course, you need to first gain about 25-35 pounds, and how you lose that extra weight is a heck of a lot harder.

Yes, I’m talking about pregnancy. For a women at a normal weight, she can expect to gain about 25-35 lbs over the course of the 9 months. Underweight women need to gain more, and overweight women need less. Obese women might not need to gain any weight at all, according to the latest recommendations. Steady, moderate weight gain is good for both mom and baby, helping to prevent low birthweight (less than 5.5 lbs at birth) and high birthweight (greater than 9 lbs at birth).

Steady, moderate weight gain can also help women more quickly bounce back to their pre-pregnancy weight. For greatest success, follow a healthy diet and eating plan, and get some physicial activity, before the baby is born – ideally before you even become pregnant. But for those who find themselves weeks or months post-partum, struggling to lose the weight, all is not lost. Here a few tips and hints:

1. You are NOT eating for two.

Sure, when you’re pregnant a single body is carrying two beings, with two heartbeats, two digestive systems and so on. But a 130-pound woman does not deliver a 130-pound baby (can you even IMAGINE??), so strike from your mind any notion about eating for two. It’s more like eating for 1.2.

As I said before, most women can expect to gain about 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, and deliver on average a 7.5-lb. baby. So what about that extra weight? That’s placenta, amniotic fluid, extra blood vessels and several other ways your body grows and adapts to accomodate the being growing inside of you. Any weight accounted by the baby and placenta will automatically be lost at birth, but the other weight takes time to lose.

So even though you need to take in extra calories during pregnancy, the actual calorie amount needed is about 100-300 per day. If you’re breastfeeding, your calorie needs actually increase to about 500 extra per day. Continue to make those calories count by eating nutritious foods, having an extra snack or two, or using more calorie-dense oils and fatty/healthy foods such as avocadoes, fatty fish (no more than twice/week, and avoiding high-mercury fish), nuts and olives.

2. Drink up!

Staying hydrated during pregnancy helps prevent Braxton-Hicks contractions (those false-labor contractions). If you’re nursing, you tend to get very, very thirsty. Also thirst may mask itself as hunger, so before you reach for another bite, try drinking something first. Water is always a good option, but it can get boring after a while. Try mixing it up by serving it ice-cold, or adding a slice or two of fruit or veggies: lemon, lime, orange, cucumber – even some watermelon or frozen berries. Your calcium needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so you might even reach for a glass of lowfat or fat-free milk. Other good, low-calorie options are unsweetened iced tea (careful how much caffeine you’re getting), seltzer water, 100% fruit juice (try diluting with water, since a little goes a long way), even Gatorade or flavored bottled water. Of course, avoid alcohol during pregnancy and limit it when you’re nursing – try to time it until after the baby eats, and wait about an hour or more before breastfeeding again. Remember, alcohol can be dehydrating, so drink some extra water as well.

Fruits and vegetables also provide lots of water in addition to vitamins and nutrients, so don’t be afraid to load up on things like lettuce, celery, watermelon, oranges, and berries.

3. Get moving!

Gone are the days in which pregnant women need to stay off their feet and “endure” pregnancy. Research shows that being active during pregnancy can help keep weight gain in check and may even help ease delivery. Women who were not active during pregnancy should not suddenly take up a vigorous activity such as running, and all women should first check with their doctors before doing any kind of physical activity. Certain exercises such as bicycle riding, horseback riding, skiing – even volleyball and basketball, aren’t recommended during pregnancy due to their high risks for falling and colliding with others. Also, after the first trimester, pregnant women should avoid anything that has them laying flat on their backs. Activities that are typically safe during pregnancy include yoga, most cardiovascular machines (elliptical, treadmill, stationary bike), weightlifting (some modifications may be needed)…and, of course, walking.

In the immediate post-partum days, you need to give your body time to recuperate. Labor and delivery is a major event, and there’s a tremendous amount of recovery going on inside your body. Especially if you required stitches or had a c-section, it’s important to take it easy for the first 6 weeks, or at least until your doctor gives you the green light to exercise. Even then, take it slow.

Keep in mind –

Remember, it took 9 months to grow a pregnant body. It will take some time to lose the weight. Pregnancy is not a time to diet, but it is a great time to think about reassess your eating habits and to set yourself and your baby up for the best possible success.

Lap it up!

Swimming usually isn’t my first choice for being active, but once I get back into the pool I start getting addicted. There’s something about emerging from the water after some serious laps, peeling off a wet swimcap and releasing the suction cup of goggles that makes me feel so alive.

Let’s face it, though, swimming isn’t one of the easiest sports to get into. It requires special equipment (a heated pool), some basic skills and a fair amount of time. Getting in a “quick swim” is no easy feat – you have to get to a pool, shower, swim, and shower again – it’s not like yoga or a brisk walk where you can sneak back to the office after a workout with a quick towel-dry.

Yet there is something addictive about swimming, especially when you’re pregnant or just starting out a new fitness regime. And according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, it’s a sport that pretty much anyone can do, from childhood into older adulthood, and even among those with disabilities or chronic health conditions such as osteoarthritis. Once you have access to a pool, the rest of your “gear” needs are easy – you really just need a swimsuit and yourself. A pair of goggles is helpful for being underwater, and a swim cap is nice to have to protect your hair. I also use silicon ear plugs, since I hate hopping on one foot to get the water out of my ears.

Here are some great reasons to consider swimming as part of your exercise plan:

  1. It’s perfect for people with joint issues or those who need a non-impact workout. Swimming is a great exercise when you’re pregnant, as it’s easy on the joints and ligaments and makes you feel weightless. The breaststroke in particular can help strengthen muscles needed for childbirth, as well as stretch back muscles that can get tight during pregnancy and early motherhood. If you’re new to a workout routine, are overweight or recovering from injury, pool exercise is a gentle but effective workout.
  2. It can be a serious cardiovascular workout. Lap swimming engages your entire body, especially the freestyle (crawl stroke) which works your arms, legs and core. Timing your breathing with each stroke also works your respiratory system. Water running and water aerobics are also major calorie burners.
  3. You don’t sweat! Sure, at the end of your workout you’re completely drenched, but unlike other cardiovascular workouts, the temperature in your physical environment (the pool) is fairly regulated, with your body corresponding to the temperature. Your chances of overheating are very low, and if the pool is cold your body will warm up to it as you begin exercising. Perhaps the biggest shock to the system is the initial surge in the water, if the water is cold, and emerging from the pool – particularly if you’re swimming in a heated outdoor pool on a cold day (don’t scoff – it’s actually really neat!)
  4. It’s meditative. I first got into swimming during a particularly tough time in my life. Being underwater was a welcome silence and allowed me to be free with my thoughts. For some people, the silence can be deafening, but there are actually waterproof mp3 players you can get if listening to tunes is the best way for you to pass the time and keep you energized during a workout.
  5. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. “It’s boring!” is the first thing people say to me when I suggest swimming as an activity. Yes, you swim up one length and back, but there’s so much that can happen in between – so many ways to challenge your muscles. You can do alternate strokes with each lap, working different muscle groups and giving your breath a break (if you do backstrokes, sidestroke or water running), work with props such as kickboards to concentrate on your legs or a wedge between your legs to challenge your upper body. Play with your cadence, speed, etc. When I swim as part of my prenatal exercises, I like to swim 40 laps to coincide with each week of pregnancy (or I swim to whatever week I’m currently in, depending on how my body feels). If I get bored, I think about the particular “week” I’m swimming, either reminiscing about what things were like that week, or planning what I’ll look and feel like if it’s a week in the future. I guarantee you, with a little mindplay or shaking up your activities, your time in the pool will fly by.

While the Physical Activity Guidelines rate swimming among one of the lower-risk activities, people must take certain precautions. First of all, never begin any new activity without first consulting your doctor. And second, swimming – like any cardiovascular activity, can be dehydrating. Keep a water bottle poolside and sip regularly throughout your workout.

Don’t be afraid to put that bathing suit to use and get in the pool. It’s refreshing, and you’ll feel great.

For all the strong pregnant ladies…

A friend and I were recently talking about all the crazy comments and looks we get from others when we’re pregnant, especially at the gym. Given all the research that shows activity should be encouraged, even during pregnancy, you’d think we should get praise for continuing to pound on the elliptical machine, stretch out our kinks and yes, even strengthen our abs to prevent diastasis (the separation of the rectus abdominus muscles, the vertical muscles that run in front of the abdominal muscles. Working the transverse abdominal muscle – the “seat belt” that runs across the bottom of your abs, helps).

When we’re pregnant our bodies are different, changing every day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re delicate flowers who need to rest and wait for the baby to arrive. In fact, it’s the opposite. In addition to the energy boost and typical benefits associated with exercise, there’s some evidence that certain exercises done during pregnancy may in fact help prepare the mom for labor and delivery. A recent study also found that regular aerobic exercise during pregnancy may lead to healthier birth weights. Even though my first daughter was born face up, I credit my daily walks and regular prenatal yoga, strength and swimming to help me through the rigors of childbirth (most of which I was able to withstand without pain medication) and deliver her without a c-section.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, most forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and using cardiovascular machines at the gym are great for working muscles and keeping your heart and lungs strong. Any sport with a high risk of falling, such as skiing and bicycle riding, should be avoided, as well as contact sports (basketball, soccer, hockey) and scuba diving (due to increased water pressure). Also, after the first trimester, pregnant women should avoid any activity that involves lying flat on your back, since the added weight from the belly can compress the vena cava – the blood vessel that carries blood back to the heart.

With so many exercise options, I would hope to see more pregnant women at the gym. I suppose many are as guilty as I am, and as soon as I see the plus sign on the pregnancy stick, I think about all the prenatal yoga classes I should take or sequester myself to the pool. And while these activities are great – and I look forward to each one – I wish more expectant moms would join me on the elliptical machine or in the weight room. Let’s show people we’re not delicate flowers! Who’s with me??