All new mothers face stress. But military mothers who must be in top physical shape just six months later face even more stress. Here's how fitness centers can help.

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The stresses of being a new mother are many. Being a new mother on active duty only adds to the stress. Like other women, military moms still get up for feedings and diaper changes. Unlike civilian women, however, they also need to return their conditioning to pre-pregnancy levels in order to pass a physical fitness test six months after giving birth.

Just this month, MilitaryTimes.com reported that earlier this year one woman felt so stressed by the possibility of failing the Air Force fitness test for the third time since giving birth, and ending her military career, she went so far as to have herself stabbed to avoid the test. While she only received superficial wounds, she spent 90 days in jail and was busted down three ranks.

According to a report from Washington State University's College of Nursing titled "Experience of Postpartum Active Duty Women in Training for the U.S. Air Force Fitness Assessment," the first six months postpartum is a period of time when women might be feeling physical and emotional stress. Compared to the general population of childbearing women, active duty personnel have been found to have higher rates of depressive symptoms and fatigue during the postpartum bounce-back to their pre-baby body.

"Since most women will not lose all the baby weight right away, nor do bodies immediately bounce back, it may take several months to get your body back," says Jaime Guiod, an NASM-CPT from Austin, Texas who also teaches Zumba and kickboxing classes. "Typically, it may take nine to 12 months for most women to lose all the weight, get their body fat and waist circumference numbers lower and be able to perform at a level they had before the baby."

In fact, the short turnaround time from delivery to physical fitness test left among study participants a "sense of unfairness in the USAF policy to take the fitness assessment at 6 months postpartum regardless of type of delivery or any complications they may have experienced," according to Nicole H. Armitage, the study's author. "The participants were frustrated at the added pressure they had to bear due to the time constraints to perform the fitness assessment."

That doesn't mean it is impossible for women to get their pre-pregnancy body weight and fitness levels back in time for the physical fitness testing. But, it does mean there will be some hard work and planning for most to get there in the six-month time frame.

And fitness center staff can help these women - and all new moms - reach their goals by steering them to the most effective and efficient exercises.

"Functional exercises that use your entire body instead of isolating one body part are the most beneficial," says Guiod. "This will help to improve muscular endurance, overall strength, coordination, balance and agility. It helps with the performance of everyday activities as well as military duties. And if that isn't enough, it also speeds up fat loss."

This also opens up the possibility of adding small group training and other group activities to the schedule to not only help with fitness, but allow members to provide support and motivation to one another as well.

"Any post-pregnancy program can be developed at the center," says Guiod. "It could be done as a group class or small group training - something that would ease these new moms back into a routine, help build their strength, and progress the workouts each week. It would also build a network within the class setting for these moms to be able to get to know each other and ask questions."

Creating classes and small groups that can help both active duty moms as well as moms whose spouses are on active duty, can be an effective way to help those looking to pass the physical fitness test, while helping increase fitness center attendance and reach by offering something for all mothers (and mothers to be.)

Some creative class ideas from leading experts include:

  • Fit For Diaper Duty
  • Stroller Fitness Class
  • Baby and Me Yoga
  • Back to Basics Bootcamp

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