Exercising during and after pregnancy to avoid the “blues”

A lot of my blog ideas come from everyday questions from my campers and future campers. One of the most compelling questions I often come across comes from women who have just given birth and are looking for answers (any answers)…  I am not a doctor or anything along those lines but my advice comes from firsthand experience from working with hundreds of women soon after their childbirth. In addition, I am a mother myself and can completely understand the joy and sadness that first time motherhood can bring. These mix feelings mostly come from confusion and not having all of the answers. Rest assured, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

First of all Congratulations!!! The baby has arrived and you can once again see your feet! Now let’s make sure you start feeling like yourself again as soon as possible. The sooner you start feeling normal, healthy and strong the sooner you will get to enjoy your new bundle of joy. I guarantee this new life you’ve created will reinvent your life in a more fulfilling way you have ever experienced before. I am a stronger and wiser woman thanks to my son, Nikos.

Now without further ado… a word or two about postpartum depression and how I think exercise can help:

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a serious illness that can occur in the first few months after childbirth. Postpartum depression can make you feel very sad, hopeless, and worthless. You may have trouble caring for and bonding with your baby.

Postpartum depression is not the “baby blues,” which many women have in the first couple of weeks after childbirth. With the blues, you may have trouble sleeping and feel moody, teary, and overwhelmed. You may have these feelings along with being happy about your baby. But the “baby blues” usually go away within a couple of weeks. The symptoms of postpartum depression can last for months.

Most of the symptoms are the same as in major depression. In addition to depressed mood, you may have the following symptoms nearly every day:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling withdrawn, socially isolated, or unconnected
  • Lack of pleasure in all or most activities
  • Loss of energy experienced
  • Negative feelings toward the baby
  • Trouble sleeping

 

The Prenatal & Postpartum Benefits of Exercise

There are few changes that alter a woman’s life – hormonally, physically and mentally – as dramatically as pregnancy. Not to mention the topsy-turvy world of new-motherhood! There are many different ways we can be better prepared for these experiences, and one of the most important is exercise*.

For pregnant women, the benefits of exercise are directly linked not only to how you’ll feel during pregnancy, but also to how your body will be prepared for labor and delivery. An exercise program during this time should focus on things like posture, abdominal strength, support of the pelvic organs, energy and endurance. While exercise may not be able to eliminate all of the discomfort associated with pregnancy (hello, heartburn and back pain!), it can help with circulation, digestion, and constipation, as well as improve posture and muscle tone, which you’ll need to support joints that are loosened by various hormones as your body prepares for childbirth. Additionally, exercise can counteract the hit that body image and self-esteem take as clothes get tighter and bellies get bigger.

Most importantly, an appropriate exercise program can help prepare for the mental and physical demands of labor and delivery. Focused breathing drills, core and pelvic floor strengthening exercises, and cardio/endurance and flexibility training are all integral components, and will help you not only through delivery, but also to be better conditioned for taking care of your baby after it is born. Better still, you’ll be in much better shape for returning to your pre-pregnancy fitness level!

Once the baby is born, a whole new set of challenges awaits you. Not only is there concern about getting back into your old jeans, but how you are going to feel like yourself again – physically, emotionally and socially. Exercise programs at this time in life also have to work with your new schedule – assuming you have a schedule, considering that newborns tend to have minds of their own! Issues such as exhaustion, lack of energy and for some, “baby blues” or postpartum depression are paramount.

For postpartum women, there are many benefits of exercise. From a functional standpoint, exercises that strengthen your back and abdominal muscles will help with the additional bending, carrying and lifting you’ll be doing (and unlike weights at the gym that you can control, babies just keep growing and squirming! There’s no going back to the 3- or 5-pound dumbbells in this scenario!). And again, endurance and cardio training will help combat flagging energy levels due to strange new sleep patterns and anxieties, and eventually, keeping up with a toddler.

Certainly exercise has, in combination with a proper diet, the benefit of helping you lose baby weight, but from an emotional perspective, being active gives you the opportunity to do something for yourself at a time when much of your energy is directed toward the care of a dependent baby. Whether you choose a workout video in your living room, a visit to the gym, or a group fitness program catering to post-partum women, taking the time for yourself can help you be better able to take care of you, and your baby.

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