For anyone who’s recently become a new mom, figuring out a postpartum workout routine may not be at the top of your priority list. You’re exhausted, stressed out, and still just trying to figure this whole parent thing out. I get it. I’ve been there. As a first-time mom, I was shocked at how a day could seem so long and yet so short all at the same time. Between the constant newborn feedings, the neverending pumping cycle, and piles of laundry a mile high (my son experienced major acid reflux), finding the time and energy to exercise felt impossible. And yet, it was definitely something I wanted to incorporate into my schedule. Something that belonged to just me and — unlike everything else in my life at the time — was within my control. The only problem was I had no idea where to get started and how to do it safely, given everything that my body had just gone through.
Don’t let the TV and movie depictions fool you, folks. Giving birth to a tiny human is no easy feat. It takes a significant toll on both your mind and body. That’s why having a postpartum exercise plan is key. So when you are ready for a post-pregnancy workout, you’re prepared with all the Dos and Don’ts that come with it.
How soon postpartum can I exercise?
One significant factor to consider when it comes to being ready to kick off your post-pregnancy fitness regime is if you had a vaginal or cesarean delivery.
If you had a vaginal birth: According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), if you experienced a normal pregnancy and vaginal delivery, you can start getting back into an exercise routine within a couple of days after giving birth. Not that there’s any pressure for you to do so, of course. Even if your body is ready physically, it should be whenever you personally feel ready. That said, light or moderate exercise should be your go-to early on — think brisk walks with the baby rather than a 5K run. If you want to up the intensity of your workouts, speak to your obstetrician first.
If you had a cesarean birth: A C-section qualifies as major surgery, which means you’ll want to give your body a longer chance to heal. It takes at least six weeks to recover from, maybe even longer depending on how you’re feeling. Keep in mind your uterus is going to need time (about 10 to 12 weeks) to go back to its pre-pregnancy size. Remember, Mama; you just grew a life in your body! It has stretched itself and its tissue to accommodate a baby. The skin will eventually rebuild its elasticity and shrink back down on its own. And of course, exercise will help you regain your strength and stamina, be patient with your body.
The best course of action would be to consult your doctor or health care professional about what your next step should be. Odds are, though, you won’t be given the green light until after you’ve had your post-operative checkup.
What postpartum exercises should I do?
The main thing to remember here is to take it slow and create realistic expectations for yourself. Listen to your body, determine your new limits and stamina, and have patience as you acclimate to your new body.
Here are a few ways you can get started:
Aerobics: The ACOG recommends trying to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. This could mean doing a 30-minute workout five days a week or splitting those sessions into smaller, 10-minute increments three times a day. You want to be putting enough effort to elevate your heart rate but still be able to talk. Walking can be a great way to accomplish this. You could also try riding a bike on a flat surface.
Core: In addition to aerobics/cardio, it’s a good idea to start working on strengthening your core once or twice a week as well. You can try yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, or even just taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Kegel exercises are also highly recommended as a way to tone your pelvic floor muscles.
Are there any exercises I should avoid?
The one thing I remember my doctor warning me about was postpartum ab workouts. She felt it was best to wait a while before attempting any sit-ups or crunches for several months post-pregnancy. It puts too much strain on your abdomen, which has stretched to its limit over the last 40 weeks. Not to mention, if you had a C-section, you don’t want to risk putting unwanted strain on your stitches. Also, given how common diastasis recti is postpartum, it’s just a good idea overall not to overexert these muscles right away.
What are the benefits of postpartum exercise?
As these last nine months have proven, your body is capable of extraordinary things and deserves as much R&R as you can give it in the weeks after giving birth. Believe it or not, exercising even just a little bit can help play a crucial part in that. Not only will it help to strengthen your abdominal muscles, but exercise will increase your energy level, relieve stress, and even help to prevent postpartum depression.
At the end of the day, though, it all boils down to doing what you feel is most comfortable. Listen to your body — it’ll let you know if something’s wrong.