The right gear can transform working out from an uncomfortable chore to a welcome outing for new moms and their babies. And it's why this postpartum fitness program is centered on three key pieces of equipment: a front baby carrier, a backpack-style carrier and a jogging stroller. Each accommodates your growing baby at a different developmental stage so that she stays safe and comfortable while you get mobile and get your body back.
Because your strength and stamina will, ideally, increase steadily as you recover from pregnancy and childbirth, this program consists of three progressively more demanding exercise phases: walking, hill climbing and walk/jog workouts.
Here's how to get started:
The motion of walking will soothe even the crankiest little one. The perks of a front carrier is that it keeps baby close and secure so you can bond and get some exercise. Look for support for baby's head, neck (it should keep her chin off her chest) and spine. Make sure that the carrier is easy to put on, take off and adjust.
A lumbar panel that buckles onto shoulder straps to support your back is also a plus. Be sure to carefully check weight requirements for the baby.
Month 1: Until you get your doctor's OK to resume exercising (usually at your six-week checkup, later if you've had a C-section), don't do anything more than taking easy walks. If walking causes or exacerbates any bleeding, stop immediately and contact your doctor.
Month 2: Start off slowly and gradually increase the length of your walks by 5 percent to 15 percent each week, taking several short walks instead of one longer one if you want. From now on, begin and end each workout with 5 minutes of easy walking to warm up and cool down. Note: Also begin a mini-stretching routine after each walk so it's a habit by the time you add speed bursts, longer distances and hill climbs.
Total: 100 minutes/week
Month 3: Add speed bursts, which means alternately picking up the pace for roughly a minute, then resuming your normal pace. Note: If 150 minutes per week seems daunting, look at it as five 30-minute walks.
Total: 150 minutes/week
Month 4: Adding a sixth day to the program allows you to keep workouts relatively short and still make progress. Note: Meet a friend to socialize and walk with at least once a week, and gradually increase the length of your walks.
Total: 180 minutes/week
Month 5: Increase your total walking time to 200 minutes a week, and make sure that at least one walk is 45 minutes long. This will continue to build endurance and facilitate weight loss. Note: Reward your progress with snappy new workout clothes that show off your changing body.
Total: 200 minutes/week
Working against gravity increases the calorie burn without excess stress or pounding. Bonus: more defined legs. And a backpack carrier goes where rugged strollers can't and keeps your hands free.
Look for a smooth, padded frame, five-point harness, adjustable, supportive seat that keeps your baby's legs apart, and her knees below buttocks, and a stable kickstand that won't pinch little fingers. For you: an easily adjustable harness with plenty of padding and an adjustable hip belt with lumbar support. Before buying, try adjusting the harness and getting the baby in and out.
Month 6:Take it up a notch with easy climbing on gentle hills 1 day a week. Note: Try to hike with another adult, and bring your cell phone, water and plenty of sunscreen for both you and your baby.
Total: 210 minutes/week
Month 7: Escalate to a maximum of 2 hill sessions per week to let your muscles recover. Note: Attach toys to loops on the carrier to keep your baby busy on longer outings.
Total: 200 minutes/week (The extra challenge of working uphill compensates for the slight drop in total time.)
Month 8: Now you're fit enough to add speed bursts back in. Note: If the backpack routine becomes grueling or uncomfortable, go solo on your long walk each week.
Total: 225 minutes/week
You're fit enough to add jogging intervals, so your body gets challenged by both impact and a faster pace. A jogging stroller is lightweight, agile, shock-absorbing, fun ride for baby.
Look for a fixed front wheel, multiposition canopy, weather cover, supportive padding for baby, padded five-point harness, and foot and hand brakes. Suspension is a plus for trails and bumpy conditions.
Month 9: Gradually increase jogging time, but avoid the temptation to overdo it: Small increments are key to letting your body adjust. Note: Do straight-knee leg lifts and squats at least twice a week to prepare your quadriceps and knees, and stretch your calf muscles well after each workout.
Total jogging: 8 minutes/week
Total exercise: 216 minutes/week
Month 10: Even though jogging boosts intensity, keep one long walk on the calendar each week. Note: If you notice joint pain, particularly in your knees or ankles, reduce jogging time or switch to all walking.
Total jogging: 18 minutes/week
Total exercise: 231 minutes/week
Month 11 and beyond: Try adding short running intervals. But it's OK to stick with walk/jog or even all-walk workouts. Hills and speed bursts add intensity and fun, so continue to include them. Note: Avoid tough workouts on consecutive days.
Total jogging/running: 32 minutes/week
Total exercise: 233 minutes/week