Postpartum Fitness and Exercise After Baby

Mother practicing yoga by baby at home
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Resuming or starting to exercise postpartum has many benefits. Many new moms are enthusiastic about getting back into pre-pregnancy shape—but the realities of life with a newborn often get in the way. Essentially, working out as a new mother is easier said than done.

Getting into a post-childbirth exercise routine is challenging because having a baby means a lot of changes. These include losing sleep, holding, feeding, soothing, and caring for a baby, recovering from childbirth, and getting accustomed to your postpartum body. But just because it's hard (and you're tired) doesn't mean it can't be done—and working fitness into your day is well worth the effort.

Overview

As you try to get your new routine down, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing—or think you have time for. However, being active now is more important than ever because it helps raise metabolism, improve heart health, shed extra weight, boost energy, reduce stress, and improve mood. In fact, research shows postpartum exercise can help combat depression and anxiety, as well.

Despite these clear benefits, studies show that most women do not resume pre-pregnancy activity levels during the postpartum period, which is generally considered to be the first six weeks after childbirth. Additionally, many also refer to the first year and/or up until the cessation of breastfeeding as an extended postpartum recovery and transition timeframe.

One reason many postpartum mothers stay inactive is that they often don't get sufficient exercise recommendations and instructions from their doctors. This is especially problematic as research also shows that not exercising soon after childbirth can lead to years of inactivity. But don't despair. Even simple workouts, such as walking, can lead moms on the path to fitness.

Postpartum Weight Loss

Guidelines vary for individual women, but generally, doctors recommend women gain around 30 pounds during pregnancy. Many women gain more and losing that weight is a common goal. But rather than put excessive attention on losing the baby weight, aim to start by focusing on simply becoming more physically fit and active. The bonus is that adding workouts into your day will usually result in weight loss.

In fact, on average, 18 to 20 pounds are lost within a month of having a baby. The truth is that the extra 10 or more pounds you're left with can be tough to get rid of, but with time and effort, you can get there.

Honor that your post-pregnancy body may never get back to exactly the way it was before pregnancy—nor does it need to.

Your body made a baby and is incredible as is. But, with a little patience and consistent exercise, you can get fit with a healthy exercise regime.

Getting Started

The first step is the get clearance from your doctor to begin exercising. Check with them about any limitations on your activities and intensity level.

Choose Fitness Activities

Once you've gotten the go-ahead from your doctor and are feeling sufficiently ready for exercise, you might need some ideas on what to do. Walking is a great place to start. If you exercised before, you may be able to ease back into modified versions of what you were doing. If you haven't exercised before, try a beginner program to allow your body time to get used to exercising.

The important thing to remember is to be gentle with yourself and follow doctor's orders. Focus more on being active, your energy level, and how your body feels than the number on the scale.

Consider Your Diet

Make sure you're eating a healthy diet. Aim for a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Limiting portion sizes can help. Stay well-hydrated as well.

These guidelines are particularly important if you're breastfeeding, which may require up to 500 extra calories a day, so don't limit your diet too much. In fact, many nursing moms eat multiple small meals per day to keep their energy levels up. In the long run, many breastfeeding mothers find that extended nursing ultimately helps them lose weight.

Great Exercises to Start With

You likely already know that getting back in shape should be a gradual process. Your body has gone through a tremendous change and it takes time for it to bounce back—whether you are exercising or not. Plus, you're also busy caring for a baby, so be kind to yourself and keep your expectations realistic.

Once you have the go-ahead for exercise, there are many simple exercises most mothers can do in the first couple of weeks after giving birth. Walking is almost always the perfect place to begin, but there are many other options as well. Ask your doctor for specific recommendations if you are unsure about which exercises are best for you. Some great suggestions include:

Kegel exercises

Kegel exercises involve making small contractions of the muscles in the vaginal wall. Kegels strengthen weakened pelvic muscles, which can cause bladder control issues that are common in women.

Pilates

With some modifications, you may also be able to do basic Pilates exercises to strengthen the core and increase your flexibility. Some studios offer postpartum classes or personal training that can be tailored to your needs.

Swimming

Splashing around in a pool will have to wait until any wounds (such as from a tear, episiotomy, or cesarean section) are healed and you stop bleeding, which typically takes a few weeks postpartum. But once you've healed, swimming provides a gentle, low-impact way to get both cardiovascular and endurance training, while toning muscles and burning calories.

Walking

Short, slow walks can help prepare your body for more vigorous exercise, as well as get you (and your baby) fresh air. If you exercised before pregnancy, you may need about six weeks before you can return to what you were doing before but most women can start going on walks soon after childbirth. Start with a few blocks at a time and add distance and speed gradually.

Yoga

Gentle yoga poses can be a great way to get your blood flowing and your muscles moving while reducing stress. You may need to avoid some poses (like inversions), but basic moves like supported bridge, warrior I, and pelvic tilts, are a great place to start. You may also be able to find a postpartum yoga class at a local gym or health club.

What About Your Abs?

You may be anxious to get back to abdominal exercises as soon as you can. But again, you may need some time before you can safely do traditional midsection work, especially if you have a separation in the abs or diastasis, which is a common side effect of the strain of pregnancy on the stomach muscles.

If you don't have diastasis, you may be able to start with simple abdominal exercises like pelvic tilts and isometric contractions.

Pelvic Tilts

Lie down on the floor with your legs bent, feet resting on the floor. Slowly tighten your abdominals and roll your pelvis towards you. Breathe evenly and try to initiate the movement with your abs instead of squeezing the glutes too much. Don't forget to tighten the pelvic floor when doing pelvic tilts, since they may place pressure on your core muscles and stretch them further.

Isometric Contractions

This is a move you can do with your baby if you like. Lie down with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, placing the baby on your belly. Inhale and, as you do so, squeeze the abs, pulling them in like a sponge and lift the baby up. Exhale and lower the baby back down. Repeat for 10 to 16 reps.

As you get stronger, you can progress to more difficult core exercises and longer workouts. Keep in mind that if you've had a c-section, you'll need more time before adding in strenuous workouts to allow your body to heal. Before you do anything, check with your doctor and work with them to develop a starting point for your fitness program.

A Word From Verywell

Fitting in exercise may be hit or miss as you adjust to your new life and baby. So, don't worry if you aren't exercising every day, just aim to add in activity where you can. Be kind to yourself and simply do the best you can, focusing your energy on what matters most—taking care of yourself and your baby.

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