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If you just gave birth to your baby, congratulations mama! You did it! Now there is a good chance that you are eager to get rid of all the weight you have gained during your pregnancy (although- don’t forget your top priority is healing and bonding mama- the rest will come with time!).
You may be feeling especially antsy if you had an active lifestyle before and you’re ready to get back to exercising as soon as possible. Before labor, I thought I’d hop right back into my workouts that I’d kept up with throughout my pregnancy. However, labor definitely took a toll on my body and it turns out I did need some time to take it easy and let my body recoup after such a major event! We are all different and you will know when the time is right if you listen in to that amazing body of yours 😉
Before you head to the gym, you need to consider a few factors to determine if it’s safe for you to return to regular exercise. Plus, you might need a postpartum workout plan as well!
Today, we will dive into the basics of postpartum exercise. That way you will know which type of workouts are safe after giving birth, when you can start to exercise, and when to return to your former exercise habits.
Why Postpartum Exercise is Beneficial For You
Of course, exercise is beneficial for you at any point in your life (unless you’re recovering from a new injury or birth that is!). Therefore, even if it may seem difficult to set some time apart for working out while you have a newborn to care for full-time, it is 100% worth getting moving when the time is right. It will help you with your recovery in many aspects!
If you are wondering what the specific benefits are for you during your postpartum period, here are some of the potential benefits:
- Stress relief
- Better blood circulation (this helps with tissue healing)
- Energy boost
- Improved sleep quality
- Stronger abdominal muscles (they need some love after being stretched so far!)
- Weight loss
- Better mood
- Prevention or better management of postpartum depression
- It’s easy to see that postpartum workouts can have a positive effect on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well.
Related read: Postpartum Hair Loss Treatment For Moms
When You Can Start to Do Postnatal Workouts
When it comes to exercising after giving birth, make sure to be realistic and patient. Both of them are important! Why?
First of all, keep in mind that it took 9 months to form your pregnant body. So don’t expect to be able to go back to your pre-pregnancy body in 2 weeks. It will definitely take some time!
Secondly, as briefly mentioned above, you need to see first whether it’s safe for you to start to do a postnatal workout. It’s crucial, especially if you had any complications during delivery or had a c-section. To be reassured about the safety of postpartum exercises in your particular case, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider. They can give you the green light to get started with these exercises. That being said- you truly know your body best and should have an inkling when the time is right 😉
Usually, women who had vaginal birth can do light exercises (here you can think of something easy like walking) even a few days after the delivery. However, you don’t need to rush things. Just because you may be able to do something, doesn’t mean that you have to. Pay attention to your body so you will know when your time has come for postnatal exercises.
Regarding normal exercise, most women get medical clearance during their 6-week postpartum checkup. If you feel that you are ready and could go back to your pre-pregnancy exercise habits before this checkup, ask your doctor about it.
Related read: The Complete Postpartum Care Checklist
A Few Useful Tips To Design Your Postpartum Workout Plan
While you are waiting for the OK from your healthcare provider, you can start to design your postpartum workout plan. You will find a few useful tips below that can help you.
Start your postpartum exercise slowly
Even if you were extremely active during your pregnancy or prior to that, you should not jump back right into your usual exercise routine. If you exert yourself in the beginning, chances are that you will impede your recovery. Give your body time to heal and get back into the workout slowly.
Maybe, start with a short walk! If nothing hurts or bleeds afterward, you can increase the length of your walks a little day by day. Later on, if everything goes well, you can add other gentle exercises such as upper-body stretching or postpartum planks.
Know that too much too soon can have big consequences on your healing tissues, particularly in your perineal area. Your pelvic floor needs to heal, your uterus needs to shrink, and all those squished organs are finding their way back to where they belong- let them do their thing!
Wait until the bleeding stops or get lighter
Regardless of which kind of exercise you start with, you need to observe the signs your body gives. For example, if your bleeding gets heavier after a workout, it’s a clear sign that your body still needs time to heal. Wait for your bleeding to stop or get lighter. (Note: some bleeding is typically okay as long as it doesn’t get worse- talk to your OB if you’re concerned).
Be careful if your pelvic floor is weak
It may be also important to assess your pelvic floor before you begin to exercise. If your pelvic floor is considered weak (this is pretty much everyone after birth- particularly vaginal births), it’s better to avoid exercises that can put extra pressure in that area of your body, such as ab workout and Pilates. However, it may be a good idea to do Kegels that can help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
After your body recovers from the initial shock of labor (within a few days), if you notice urine leakage or feel a bulging sensation in your perineum, I highly recommend finding a physical therapist that specialized in the pelvic floor. Actually, any prenatal or postnatal mom can majorly benefit from seeing a PT specialist. It’s a great way to maximize your pelvic floor and core health following pregnancy and childbirth.
If you experienced diastasis recti, get back to workout slowly
After birth, it’s an extremely common issue amongst women to experience diastasis recti to some degree. If you are not familiar with this term, it means the separation of the abdominal muscles. Chances are you will experience some form of separation, so make sure to consult your doctor before you start any kind of workout. Ultimately, when you are allowed to do abdominal postnatal workouts to heal diastasis recti, be extra careful and don’t overdo the exercise.
The biggest sign of overdoing an exercise with diastasis recti is to see visual “doming” or “coning” of your abdominals when you attempt to do an exercise. You should focus on lower ab exercises when getting started, consider wearing a belly brace, and avoid high pressure exercises like sit ups and crunches.
Be patient if you are breastfeeding
Be aware that you must be more patient regarding weight loss if you are breastfeeding. This is because your body needs more calories because of breastfeeding. Make sure to have a healthy, balanced diet and eat enough. Thus, your milk supply will be sufficient for your baby. It definitely takes a fine balance!
Drink enough water
It’s important to stay well hydrated. So pay attention to your daily water intake and drink enough water when exercising, especially if you are breastfeeding.
Related read: The Complete Postpartum Recovery Plan
Best Postpartum Exercises to Try
Now that you have a better understanding of when and how you can get started with a postpartum workout, you might be wondering which postpartum exercises are best to try while keeping in mind the guidance from your care provider. Here is a list of basic postpartum exercises that can help strengthen your major muscle groups:
- Upper body exercises: Doing upper body exercises – while standing or sitting – can help you get stronger and also gently work your core muscles (I thought it was amazing how much I could feel my abs with arms exercises postnatally!). You can try doing shoulder presses, bicep curls, lateral raises, bent-over dumbbell rows, and overhead tricep extensions- to name a few.
- Neck stretches: If you are breastfeeding, doing some neck stretches during the day can be extremely beneficial for your stiff neck. One of the simplest ways is to bring one ear toward the same shoulder and hold.
- Lower body exercises: To strengthen your legs and lower body consider doing some squats, forward lunges, reverse lunges, glute bridges, and Romanian deadlifts.
- Core exercises: When it comes to postpartum core exercises, there are a wide variety of exercises to try. For example, you can do abdominal bracing, kneeling pelvic tilts, Kegels, or practice deep belly breathing. (Stay tuned for an article exclusively about this topic soon!)
- Walking: Take your newborn baby for a walk with the stroller and enjoy the fresh air outside. This is truly one of the best forms of exercises for a new mama.
Take it easy
It’s not uncommon for new moms to feel anxious about getting back into shape after they have had a baby. The good news is that a postpartum workout doesn’t have to be hard or take much time – only a few minutes of exercise each day can make you feel better and more energized.
I remember starting with a goal of getting through 2 Zumba songs (a favorite workout mode for me at the time of my daughter’s birth). From there, it took probably 6 months to get back to a full 30-60 minute Zumba workout because of my own endurance and the limited time I had with a newborn. From there, I discovered the beauty of HIIT workouts that allowed me to get in an awesome workout in less than 30 minutes a day.
Most importantly, take it easy and design your postpartum workout plan according to your needs and desires! There are tons of great resources out there- blogs, YouTube channels, etc.- that can help guide you in postnatal workouts too. Find what works best for you and go with it mama!