After nine months of pregnancy followed by labor and delivery, one of the last things on your mind may be getting back to your pre-baby exercise regimen.
However, postpartum exercise may be exactly what your body needs. However, just like with any activity, it’s important to listen to your body.
There are many benefits of postpartum exercise, including how it can:
- Promote loss of baby weight.
- Strengthen and tone your stretched abdominal muscles.
- Boost energy levels to combat those sleepless nights.
- Relieve the stress that motherhood can induce.
- Reduce symptoms of postpartum depression.
While getting back to a workout routine may help your postpartum recovery in many ways, it’s important to take precautions that will make sure you’re helping and not harming yourself. This article will review some tips and information that can help you as you get back into activity after pregnancy.
When to Start Exercising After Baby
Let’s face it—your body has just done something absolutely incredible, and it’s never been more important to give it some time to rest and recover.
As your baby grew larger, among other changes, you may have noticed that your posture changed as your center of gravity shifted, your abdominal muscles stretched to accommodate your growing baby, and your pelvic floor—the muscles and ligaments that support your uterus, bladder and bowel—may have been weakened.
To avoid injury, simple guidelines should be followed depending on whether you had a vaginal or cesarean delivery.
Exercise After a Vaginal Delivery
If your pregnancy and vaginal delivery were uncomplicated, you should be good to begin very basic and simple exercises a few days after giving birth or as soon as you feel ready. For example, you can start with pelvic exercises—such as Kegels—as early as the first day or two after delivery.
Walking is another great option to help you ease back into an exercise routine. Build your strength slowly by taking a gentle five-minute walk and, in your own time, increase your pace and time slowly.
Aerobics, high-intensity training, and running should wait until your 6-week postpartum checkup, but you know your body and can determine if you want to try light strength work and short bursts of moderate activity sooner.
Exercise After a Cesarean Section
It’s important for you to remember that if you’ve had a c-section, you have just had a major operation and it’s going to take time—six weeks minimum—to heal. Any kind of exercise routine should be postponed until after your first post-operative check with your doctor to confirm that your stitches have healed and your body is ready for an exercise routine.
After a c-section, you should avoid exercises that put pressure on your scar, including sit-ups, crunches and abdominal curls. After six to eight weeks, and after you’ve been cleared by your doctor, you can start walking and doing low-impact aerobics and other activities, like cycling.
Like all exercise postpartum, stop if it hurts and listen to your body.
Postpartum Exercise and Breastfeeding
As you add exercise back into your routine, there are some important considerations if you are also breastfeeding your baby.
If you are breastfeeding, exercise alone should not affect your milk supply, but you may need to take a few extra precautions to ensure your milk supply stays consistent.
- Drink lots of water. Stay hydrated before, during and after your workouts to make sure your milk supply is not affected by dehydration.
- Consume at least 1,800 calories a day. Not getting enough calories to nourish your body while it’s nursing not only will affect your personal health but your milk supply may decrease as well.
- Get a supportive bra. Always wear a support bra while you are exercising. It can also help to empty your breasts before your start by nursing your baby or pumping so you don’t get uncomfortable.
Exercises to Ease Into After Delivery
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy women engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes spread throughout the week.
As a new mom, the likelihood that you have that much time to devote to exercise is slim. However, as your baby grows, keep this goal in mind as you start building up your exercise routine.
Some activities you could start with include:
- Kegel exercises. These exercises will strengthen and tone your pelvic floor muscles to reduce urinary incontinence. Simply contract your pelvic floor muscles—as though you were stopping urination midstream—and hold for several seconds before releasing. Kegels are recommended to begin as soon as you can remember to start after your baby is born.
- Pelvic tilts. Try this a few times a day to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Tilts are done by lying on your back with bent knees, flattening your back against the floor with your abdominal muscles and tilting your pelvis up slightly.
- Walking. Getting outside in good weather with the baby is a great way to begin. Start slow and steady and build up as your body feels up to it.
- Water aerobics. Because of the buoyancy of water, this is a great low-impact way to get your cardio in without causing additional pressure and pain.
- Push-ups. Push-ups are a good way to strengthen and tone your upper body to make it easier to carry your growing baby.
When you’re ready to begin your exercise routine, you should:
- Take time to warm up and cool down.
- Begin slowly and increase your pace gradually.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Take a couple of ibuprofen prior to help with post-workout soreness.
- Wear a supportive bra and wear nursing pads if you're breastfeeding in case your breasts leak.
- Stop exercising if you feel pain.
Know Your Body, Know Your Limits
No one knows your body like you do. Pay attention to when your body feels good during activity and what types of exercises may be too strenuous.
Some signs that you need to stop the activity you’re doing and consider calling your obstetrician include: abdominal pain, vaginal pain or heavy bleeding.
To ensure your physical and mental well-being, avoid these common mistakes when you resume your activity regimen:
- Doing too much too soon.
You don’t have to be a superwoman. Your body needs time to heal, and remember that everybody is different and you should only return to exercise when you are ready. Overdoing it before your body is ready could cause injury and muscle strain.
- Comparing yourself to other moms.
No two women will have the same pre-baby body, the same pregnancy experience, the same delivery experience, or the same healing process. Comparing yourself to other moms may frustrate you. Be happy with your own journey and progression.
- Putting too much pressure on yourself.
It’s understandable that you’re anxious to get your body back into shape. However, being a new mom is hard enough as it is. Keep in mind that your postpartum and long-term health will benefit from patience.
- Not asking for help.
It’s important to build a support system around yourself as you adjust to life with your new baby. Asking friends and loved ones for support during this time will make you feel less lonely on your journey. Reaching out for information from medical professionals, like our team at Moreland, also will make you feel confident as you navigate your new postpartum world.
Support is out there for you! Reach out to our team of professionals at Moreland for guidance and assistance with all your questions about getting back in shape after you’ve had your baby.