Benefits for Mom

If you’re here, you’re probably already sold on exercise. You probably already know that exercise decreases your risk for type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, obesity and becoming overweight, and improves your joint health (BTW to respond to anyone who says exercise wrecks your knees, take this as your license to tell them that sitting on the couch wrecks your whole body).
What you probably don’t know is that right after you have a baby, research shows that you are actually poised to gain more from exercise now than at any other time in your life.1 I know, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah right. I’m covered in spit-up, I slept 2.5 hours total last night, and it hurts to sit.” Let me explain.

 

You don’t need me to tell you that having a baby is a pivotal time in your life, if not the most pivotal time of your entire life. If you start an exercise program during a pivotal time in your life, that habit has more staying power as time goes on. Weave exercise into the fabric of your crazy new schedule and life as a mom, and it’s far more likely to be a way of life for you in the years to come.

 

Women who exercise in the first year after having a baby are going to lose about the same amount of weight as their non-exercising peers by the 1 year mark, with 2 key differences.2,3 The exercising moms will have lost more fat mass but kept more of the lean mass compared to the non-exercising moms, who will have lost more lean mass but kept more of the fat mass.4 Second, years after giving birth, without accounting for what happens in the years in between, those who exercised in the first year after giving birth are significantly less likely to be overweight or obese for years to come.1,4,5

Here’s a rundown of some other benefits you may not know about:

Immediate Benefits – In the Hospital

I’m not saying you should bring your sneakers to the hospital or pack your dumbbells in your overnight bag for the delivery day, but if you do simple exercises like ankle pumps (that’s moving your feet to point your toes, then pulling back for sets of 20-30 reps) and slow walks with assistance around the maternity ward during your hospital stay, you’re less likely to develop blood clots, you’ll have improved circulation, and you’ll get a jump on recovery.1

 

Just be absolutely clear with the obstetrician or midwife who delivered your baby about your plans to do ankle pumps or walk the hallway before you go – your situation may be different, and it’s extremely important to listen to your own medical providers during your hospital stay.

VO 2 max: Your Free Gift!

During pregnancy, research shows your VO 2 max increases, and it stays that way after you have a baby. If you keep exercising in the first year after giving birth, you can maintain that increased VO 2 max – it’s yours to keep!6 Your VO 2 is the rate at which you breathe in oxygen and get it to where it needs to go throughout your body. Your VO 2 max is the maximum rate at which you can do that. You can think of it like the fuel efficiency of your car, and the VO 2 max is the highway miles efficiency.

Feeling Good

Ever notice that when you exercise you just feel more even-keeled all day? Research shows there’s a good reason for that, and it has to do with insulin.1,2 Whenever you eat something, the hormone called insulin transports the energy from that food to where it needs to go through your bloodstream. It’s most sensitive to sugar, but it transports everything (fat, carbohydrate, and protein). After the energy has been transported, you’ll have a bunch of insulin loitering around in your blood, and that makes you feel sluggish. Exercise improves both insulin’s response to energy and your body’s response to insulin, which helps you to avoid that sluggish feeling throughout the day.

Feeling Better: Postpartum Depression

Among American moms, research shows that 11-15% experience mild postpartum depression (PPD), and 17-23% experience moderate to severe depression.7 Postpartum depression can be serious, and it’s nothing to take lightly. If you suspect you may be experiencing postpartum depression, even if something just doesn’t feel “right,” (for example, if you feel like this should be such a wonderful, happy time, but deep down it’s just… not), discuss it immediately with your doctor. You can also visit www.postpartum.net for more information, including how to get help. If at any point you think you may harm yourself or your baby, go straight to the emergency room or call 911.

 

You’ll probably take a questionnaire at your doctor’s office, and that’s called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Answer those questions honestly. I know I have the tendency to try to paint a rosy picture at the doctor’s office, and that includes trying to answer the “right” way on those questionnaires. Don’t do that. PPD, as you can see above, affects about a quarter of all moms, so if you’re feeling that way, you are far from alone.

 

Exercise can help to prevent PPD, and it can be part of a program to help recover from PPD. It isn’t a treatment of itself, so if you’re getting help for PPD, mention to your doctor that you’re interested in starting an exercise program. Your doctor can help determine if, when, and how exercise should be a part of your overall recovery program. Research shows exercise can help with depression symptoms by improving your overall self-esteem and mood, decreasing fatigue, and lowering your feelings of anxiety.1,8

Fatigue

Here’s a news flash: 44-95% of women feel fatigue during the first year after having their baby.9 I’m really skeptical about the 44% number there, and having done this twice now, I’m even skeptical about why this isn’t 100%. Often people confuse fatigue with tiredness or sleepiness, with good reason – they’re close cousins. Tiredness or sleepiness happens when you just didn’t get enough sleep. Fatigue on its own happens when you know you got the hours of sleep you need, but you still just don’t have the get-up-and-go that you normally do or you just can’t concentrate as well as normal. You can, unfortunately, and adding to the confusion, be both fatigued and tired, and I do believe I’ve been there myself. If you are choosing between sleep and exercise and you’re sleep deprived, GO TO SLEEP. You have to be a mom to your baby more than you need perfect exercise attendance. (By the way, as you’re reading this now: Goodnight, and read the rest later.)

 

To dig even deeper, there are 2 main types of fatigue: physical and mental. Physical fatigue relates to how much you feel like you can physically do and whether you feel like you’re in good or bad condition. Mental fatigue has to do with your ability to concentrate or focus. Exercise can help with both. It may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. Research shows that just 60-120 minutes of exercise per week can reduce both physical and mental fatigue, especially severe mental fatigue (that’s about 10-15 minutes per day of exercise).10

 

So if you just aren’t feeling like doing your workout because fatigue has you by the throat, just commit to 10 minutes of exercise. According to the research, you’ll still benefit from those 10 minutes, even if you stop after 10, and those 10 minutes just might give you enough energy to keep going for a full workout.

References:

1. Larson-Meyer E. The effects of regular postpartum exercise on mother and child: review article. International SportMed Journal. 2003;4(6):1-14.
2. Meyer DL. Effect of Postpartum Exercise on Mothers and their Offspring: A Review of the Literature. Obesity research. 2002;10(8):841-853.
3. Lovelady C. Balancing exercise and food intake with lactation to promote post-partum weight loss. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2011;70(02):181-184.
4. Adegboye AA, Linne YM. Diet or exercise, or both, for weight reduction in women after childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013;(7):1-67.
5. Gaston A, Gammage KL. Health versus appearance messages, self‐monitoring and pregnant women’s intentions to exercise postpartum. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 2010;28(4):345-358. doi:10.1080/02646830903487367.
6. Melzer K, Schutz Y, Boulvain M, Kayser B. Physical Activity and Pregnancy. Sports Medicine. 2010;40(6):493-507.
7. Mayberry LJ, Horowitz JA, Declercq E. Depression Symptom Prevalence and Demographic Risk Factors Among U.S. Women During the First 2 Years Postpartum. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing. 2007;36(6):542-549.
8. Norman E, Sherburn M, Osborne RH. An Exercise and Education Program Improves Well-Being of New Mothers: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy. 2010;90(3):348-355.
9. Ko YL, Yang CL, Fang CL, Lee MY, Lin PC. Community‐based postpartum exercise program. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2013;22(15-16):2122-2131.
10. Dritsa M, Costa D, Dupuis G, Lowensteyn I, Khalifé S. Effects of a Home-based Exercise Intervention on Fatigue in Postpartum Depressed Women: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2008;35(2):179-187.