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Fitness After Baby

Are you starting to itch for some postpregnancy exercise -- other than lifting baby? It's best to wait at least six weeks after delivery or until your doctor gives you the go-ahead before you resume or begin a vigorous fitness program. This gives the uterus enough time to return to its normal size and gives you a chance to get a sense of routine with your new baby. But there are no hard-and-fast rules about when and how much to exercise. It depends largely on how fit you were before and during your pregnancy, the nature of your delivery (you'll need to wait for your incision to heal if you had a cesarean), and how much rest you get once baby arrives.

____ Supportive shoes Your center of gravity shifts during pregnancy and doesn't return to normal for several weeks.

____ A sports bra This is essential, especially if you are nursing.

____ Cool, comfortable clothing Wear these in layers so you can remove them if you get overheated.

____ Water, water, water Drink plenty of water before and after exercise to stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle with you at all times. If you're working out in a gym or in a park, familiarize yourself with the locations of water fountains.

It's not surprising that for many new moms, exercise often gets set aside by other priorities such as sleep, but daily exercise actually gives you more energy, not less. To lose, or "burn" fat, you'll want to do some form of aerobic exercise: fast-paced movements using large muscle groups that elevate your heart rate. With choices that range from walking or running to swimming or biking, there's a type of aerobic exercise for everyone, at every level of coordination.

A good goal is 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times a week. If you weren't active during your pregnancy, start gradually. If you tapered off your fitness routine as your pregnancy progressed, begin at that modified level, and increase the intensity or time as you feel ready.

In combination with an aerobic workout, strength training also helps speed up your postpregnancy weight loss. Although most yoga routines aren't fast-paced enough to raise your heart rate to a fat-burning level, yoga classes can stretch your muscles and ease your mind, as well as improve your posture. In addition, as a mom who exercises, you'll be providing a great role model for your child. The key to exercise is finding an activity that fits in with your schedule and lifestyle -- and that you enjoy -- and then sticking with it.

It's understandable that you might have some qualms about exercising in a room of fit individuals when you don't feel good about your body. To help you feel confident, invest in a new exercise outfit. (Black is most slimming.) Other options are finding a class geared to new mothers of all shapes and sizes, or working out when the gym is less crowded, in the late morning or the early afternoon.

Some mothers seek out an exercise class that incorporates baby, or activities such as jogging or cycling with baby in a special stroller or bike trailer. These options are for children 6 months of age and older, because they don't offer enough head and neck support for younger infants. Younger infants also lack the neck strength to support the weight of safety helmets, which must be used with joggers and trailers.

Another option is using an exercise video at home with baby nearby. Just make sure he's secure in an infant seat, high chair, or play yard where he won't get underfoot, and be sure to stow potentially dangerous equipment, such as weights or rubber stretch bands, out of his reach when you're done.

Some health clubs offer child-care services while you work out. Look for a specialized child-care staff rather than trainers or locker-room attendants who double as babysitters; a low staff-to-child ratio (about one adult to four or five children); and clean, inviting facilities stocked with age-appropriate toys.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your won health or the health of others.