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Postpartum Exercise

By By Lisa Druxman, MA, Carl Petersen, PT

A targeted exercise programme and proper body mechanics can help new moms deal with the physical challenges of motherhood.

Regular participation in a pre/postnatal exercise programme has many benefits for a woman. Research has demonstrated that pregnant and postpartum women who exercise at a mild to moderate intensity at least three times per week experience increased cardiovascular fitness, improved well-being, reduced constipation, fewer leg cramps and a quicker return to prepregnancy weight compared with their nonexercising counterparts.

However, fitness professionals working with women in the postpartum period should be aware of the challenges new mothers face. A woman goes through more physical changes in the nine months of pregnancy than a man is likely to face in his lifetime, and many of these changes may continue to affect her throughout the postpartum period. She is expected to deal with these changes (while getting less sleep!) and at the same time take on one of life's biggest physical challenges—caring for a newborn.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) notes that the physiologic effects of pregnancy may persist for up to six weeks postpartum and therefore advises gradual resumption of activity as tolerated. Before working with this population, you should obtain clearance from your client's physician and make sure you are familiar with the current ACOG exercise guidelines (ACOG 2002).

Oh, My Aching Mommy!

In addition to experiencing all of the physical changes brought on by pregnancy, the new mom is challenged by various movements that can cause serious distress to her body if not performed functionally. You can help clients lessen the risk of injury and even permanent degeneration by teaching proper movement patterns for the following typical activities.

Pushing a Stroller. Simply pushing a stroller can pose postural challenges, since the natural tendency is to hunch over, lock the elbows and extend the wrists while pushing. Teach clients to:

• keep the head and chin up, with ears over shoulders;

• keep the shoulders depressed and retracted slightly, with chest leading;

• hold the arms in a softly bent position, not locked;

• keep the wrists in neutral (because of swelling caused by fluid retention during pregnancy, carpal tunnel is prevalent in the pre/postnatal population);

• engage the abdominals throughout the movement; and

• take full, comfortable strides

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