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Exercise – Before and After Baby Arrives
By Allison Ridilla, RN, BSN

Exercise During Pregnancy?
Many women are able to exercise during pregnancy if they were active prior to becoming pregnant. During pregnancy, many women experience conditions that dictate that they slow down, or even stop physical activity. Such conditions range from pre-term labor to issues with blood pressure. It is important that the mother discuss all of her activities with the obstetrician/care provider at each visit so they can work as a team for a healthy outcome.

Alternative Exercises
For women who experience back pain or sciatica during pregnancy, the obstetrician/care provider may suggest swimming as a form of exercise. Physical therapy may be ordered if symptoms are severe. As always, walking is a great activity and can be done throughout the pregnancy barring any complications. Right after delivery, a new mother may start to walk as tolerated. Women must be careful to listen to their bodies. If bleeding or pain increases, they must slow down. It is always a good idea to discuss activity with the obstetrician prior to starting any regimen.

Get Your Rest
Rest is important right after delivery. When baby sleeps, mother should use that time as well to take a nap. If breast feeding, the mother must increase caloric intake and be mindful that calcium is important to replenish in the diet. There's an added bonus to breast feeding – it helps mothers lose weight!

When Can You Start?
1. Normal vaginal delivery – Return to the obstetrician after six weeks for a postpartum exam to learn if you can start physical activity.
2. Cesarean sections – Usually women are cleared for regular activity at eight weeks, post-delivery.
3. All new mothers – Remember that each delivery is unique and it is best to discuss post-delivery activity with your obstetrician or care provider prior to starting any activity.

How To Get Started
A simple and inexpensive activity is walking with the baby in the stroller. It is an easy way to work on getting the pre-baby body back while spending quality time with baby. Walking at the mall is a good alternative when the weather is bad.

Some experts suggest starting at the activity level that the mother was on in her third trimester and then work backwards. The mother should slowly add what she did in the second trimester and gradually add what she did in the first trimester in the form of exercise. This process should stretch over a 4-6 month period.

Joint Concerns
Many experts discourage any strenuous activity during the postpartum period that puts stress on the joints. During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is secreted. This hormone relaxes the joints to assist in the delivery process. For weeks after delivery, this hormone continues to be present in the mother's system and strenuous activity may lead to injuries to joints.

Remember to start slowly and gradually add to regimen over the next few months. A mother's body will tell her when she is doing too much.

Get Baby Involved
If you want to include baby in your regimen, get a "Mommy and Me Yoga" video. These videos are for babies who are not yet crawling.

Or, you can turn on some fun music and dance with your baby. This activity is good for fussy babies as well; the movement and the auditory stimulation can be soothing and provides a good distraction.

Do some research to find local mom-and-baby groups. Networking with other new mothers is a great way to pick up pointers and tips for getting a pre-baby body back.

Depression can be a factor in the post-partum period. Many experts feel that not only does exercise decrease depressive symptoms, it may even provide benefits in terms of dealing with postpartum depression. As always, if a new mother is feeling down, depressed, or anxious, please call your caregiver for assistance as soon as possible.

Allison Ridilla, UPMC Health Plan, Maternity Nurse Health Coach, can be reached at ridillaal2@upmc.edu

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