Postpartum Fitness and Prevention of Disability

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The process of being pregnant and delivering a child can take a major toll on your body and can become a disabling condition. This article will go over some big changes that the body makes while pregnant and how best to approach a fitness plan after delivery.

Body Changes During Pregnancy

Weight gain

Most women gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy when starting from a normal body mass index.

Weight gain can vary greatly for different reasons though, with some women gaining only 10 to 15 pounds and others gaining upwards of 50 to 70 pounds. Regardless of the amount of weight gained, this extra weight puts extra stress on the body's joints and cardiovascular system, meaning that a woman may experience aches and pains that she had not before. She may also tend to get more out of breath than before (this may also happen for other reasons as explained below). 

Increased blood volume

Maternal blood volume increases by about 40-50% during pregnancy along with an increase in cardiac output and heart rate. These changes help to account for the demands of the placenta and fetal blood and nutrition needs. These changes, along with some respiratory changes, can lead to increased shortness of breath during pregnancy that makes it difficult to exercise or exert yourself. 

Musculoskeletal changes

Many changes occur to the musculoskeletal system during pregnancy that can affect things after the baby is born. As pregnancy goes on, a woman's center of mass shifts forward to account for a growing belly. The amount of curve of the low back increases. Ligaments throughout the body, but especially in the pelvis, tend to relax and let the bones of the pelvis move a bit more which can cause pain.

The arches of the feet tend to flatten a bit which can lead to a slightly bigger shoe size. The abdominal muscles stretch and are not as efficient to maintain core strength. All of these things combined can cause changes in a woman's balance that do not go away as soon as delivery occurs, but may take a few weeks to months to return to their pre pregnancy state. 

Fitness After Pregnancy

One of the most common questions after pregnancy is, "how fast can I return to working out after the baby comes?" This is a great question, but some women are a bit disappointed with the common answer. Most physicians would agree that waiting 6 to 8 weeks after delivery to begin a workout routine is safe. This is because it takes about 4 to 6 weeks for a woman's cardiovascular system to return to pre pregnancy parameters. The increased blood volume and physiologic changes that the heart undergoes to react to it take time to return to normal. Another good reason to wait is due to the bleeding that commonly occurs after delivery and the time it takes for the uterus and vagina to heal.

 

This exercise recommendation is for strenuous aerobic activity. There should be no harm in walking, stretching, or other low impact exercise. The bottom line in this area is that you really need to listen to your body to determine if you're overdoing it. Increased bleeding, severe shortness of breath, chest pain, or other musculoskeletal pain should tell you that you've gone too far. 

A great postpartum exercise routine should include the philosophy of "start low and go slow." Rushing into a workout routine can be dangerous and frustrating as your body needs time to adjust to its new situation. A good example of specific exercises can be found here. 

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