Should new mothers work out after pregnancy? If yes, what should they focus on, strength or weight loss? These are important things to consider for any new or would-be mother, but sadly, in India awareness and sound advice around this is difficult to come by. Recently, actor Anushka Sharma posted pictures of her working out while pregnant, thus creating awareness about the importance of sticking a workout routine through pregnancy. At Lounge, we covered the subject in an earlier story. In this article, we take a look at postpartum fitness.
When and how to start?
Not before six weeks after delivery, say doctors and fitness experts. “Going to gym, brisk walks and weight lifting should be done only after six weeks to three months after delivery. This is because after six weeks the system comes back to the pre-pregnancy state,” says Dr. Indu Taneja, head of department and director, gynaecology, at Faridabad’s Fortis Escorts Hospital. However, one should also keep in mind the pregnancy, the type of birth and any complications experienced during delivery before creating a workout plan.
Giving yourself time to rest and recover after giving birth is important, says Dinara Mukh, a holistic health coach certified by the US-based Institute for Integrative Nutrition. “Returning to fitness will be up to the individual’s fitness level. For those who were pretty active prior to pregnancy and stayed active during pregnancy, it will be pretty easy to find their rhythm and get into the swing of things. For those who have taken some time off from fitness, it’s important to take things slow. Every woman’s experience will be different so the key here is to listen to her body and assess what it needs and choose exercise accordingly,” she says.
Two months after delivering her baby during lockdown in Bengaluru, Shwetambari Shetty, fitness expert at Cure Fit, started with walking 4,000 steps a day and simple pelvis and core strengthening exercises such as glute bridges and abdominal breathing. “I gradually built up my step counts with longer walks and finally started body weight strength training and 30-minute dance fitness sessions fourth month onwards,” says Shetty. She warns against the six-month bed rest routine that most elders in India advise new moms. “The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be for you to get fit again.”
In Pune, graphic designer Deepti Vora didn’t start working out until 100 days after delivering her baby boy. However, she stayed active after delivery, walked a lot and did chores around the house. “I got an online trainer during the lockdown and followed a body weight training programme with movements like squats, burpees and V-ups. Gradually, I added two yoga sessions a week to strengthen core and improve my mobility,” says Vora.
Leisure and brisk walks are a good starting point for new mothers, says Asheesh Grewal, nutritionist and founder of MyHealthBuddy. “Walks stimulate good sleep, help reduce stress levels, and keep away the risk of injuries,” he adds.
Many women get diastasis recti, which is the separation of abs, which happens because the uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen to accommodate a growing baby. It is important for that to heal before beginning anything strenuous, says Mukh. “Anything high intensity and heavy weight lifting can be damaging to your body right after pregnancy,” warns Mukh.
Focus on health, not weight loss
Many women typically get anxious to get to pre-baby weight shortly after pregnancy, says Mukh. “Feeling good in your body doesn’t have to be attached to a specific number on the scale or amount of pounds gained or lost,” she says.
The focus should be on recovery and overall health, advises Grewal. “Most new mothers, when they focus only on weight loss, try shortcuts like hypo-caloric diets or indulge in excessive exercising, which is not advisable as it can affect their lactation as well as hamper the healing process,” he warns.
Both Shetty and Vora started post-partum workouts with the aim of getting fit and becoming stronger, and not just for weight loss. “If your aim is getting fit and strong, weight loss would be one of the obvious benefits of that,” says Shetty, who lost 10kg in seven months. Vora, who had put on 20kg, had to be active six times a week to reverse the weight gain over nine months.
“The abdominal muscles get stretched during pregnancy, so the focus should be on the abdomen muscles,” says Dr. Taneja. Both Shetty and Mukh advise new mothers to start with exercises such as glute bridges that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which form the bottom of the core. Some other great exercises to start with at home are burpees, spider lunges, mountain climbers and squats.
Nutrition is crucial
In India, new mothers are usually made to eat too much and the diet is often fat and dairy-rich, says Vora. Shetty too had a similar experience when her mother kept putting too much ghee in every meal. “Lactating mothers burn up to 500-600 extra calories a day, so I understand where our parents are coming from. But too much of good fats like ghee is also a bad thing,” says Shetty. After six weeks, she took control of her diet chart and monitored her intake of ghee and carbs while adding nuts and fibre to her meals.
New mothers must incorporate complex carbohydrates like wild rice and sweet potatoes to ensure they have the energy to sustain them throughout the day, says Mukh. Each meal should be balanced containing protein, fat, and carbohydrates. “Since fat and protein are the building blocks of your hormones, it’s important they are the staple of your meals while your body returns to normal. Make sure you stay off of added sugars and refined flour. Avoid any pop, candy, cookies, and chocolate bars. If you have a sweet tooth incorporate some coconut oil, cinnamon with your cooking, eat sweet potatoes, and for chocolate lovers - dark chocolate and a little honey can go a long way,” she says.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.