Just like so many things when becoming a mum, what we imagine postpartum exercise will look like before we became pregnant and the reality after we’re there is often very different. If you thought, “Of course I will be back to running 5ks two weeks after having my baby,” you might need to adjust your expectations. Whether you were an avid exerciser before and throughout pregnancy, just interested in shaping up or even haven’t given postpartum exercise a single thought, there are things you need to know about exercising safely and effectively after having a baby.
Things to Know Before You Begin a Postpartum Exercise Routine
If you’re feeling antsy to get back to fitness after having your baby, there are a few things to keep in mind before you jump back in.
- Your body is still recovering
Labor and delivery take a toll on your body no matter how active you were up to giving birth. Even those who exercised vigorously will need to let their body recover from the trauma of labor and delivery. You might experience several issues from pelvic floor weakness to atrophied muscles. Exercise is good for your postpartum body, because it can help with a speedier recovery, gives you better posture, helps enhance your mood and can get you back to your pre-baby energy levels more quickly.
- Listen to your body
Remember to listen to YOUR body. Rather than conform to anyone else’s postpartum exercise routine, you should plan and modify yours as necessary based on the signals your body gives you. If you start bleeding or experience pain, that’s your body telling you to take it slower.
- Ease into it and be patient
This is easier said than done but have patience with your body as it works through postpartum life. Even if your friend was able to get back to yoga classes in six weeks, but you feel like you can barely walk around the block at that point, it’s OK. No two pregnancies are alike, so no two recoveries are alike. Start off slow and as you are able, add more to your workouts. If you push too hard, too fast, you risk injuring yourself.
- Be mindful of wobbly joints
Relaxin, the hormone that was responsible for loosening your joints to prepare for childbirth, can stay in your body up to 12 months after delivery. This can make all your joints loose and wobbly making you more prone to injury.
- Check with your doctor first
It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor to be sure you’re cleared for the type of exercise you wish to do. If you begin bleeding or your bleeding becomes heavier, it’s a signal that you need to take it more slowly.
Set the Foundation for Proper Exercise
Staying hydrated, adequate sleep and proper nutrition are important for anyone who exercises, but it can’t be taken for granted by new mums because they are already operating at a deficit. If you’re breastfeeding, your body is already working hard to produce milk and using an additional 300 to 500 calories to do so. Yes, you might not be seeing that calorie burn on your core or booty, but your body is working very hard. In order to keep your milk supply up, you need to keep your hydration levels up too. So, when you add exercise to the mix, water intake is extremely crucial for your overall well-being.
I know what you’re thinking—I’m crazy for mentioning adequate sleep! What new mum gets adequate sleep, right? If you are feeling particularly drained from your baby having a rough night, it’s probably not the day to challenge yourself physically to take on more in your exercise routine. When you have a day where you feel more rested than usual, that might be a day to amp it up. Again, listen to your body and pay attention to the cues it’s telling you for what’s possible on any given day. The first few months postpartum is the not the time to take on exercise that exhausts you. Your focus should be more on gentle stretches and movement that will help energize you and that will give you an attitude boost.
The healthier food you consume, the better your body can heal and be prepared for a workout especially if you’re breastfeeding. This is not the time for you to worry about cutting calories to encourage weight loss. Be sure your diet is filled with lots of anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, yoghurt and iron-rich proteins, fruits and veggies.
If this is your first child, one of the changes to your routine will be that you don’t have quite as much freedom to run out to the gym to get your workout in as you did when it was just you—someone needs to watch the baby. Many mums find it easier to exercise from the comfort of their home or to take walks with the baby in the stroller. There are many postpartum workouts on YouTube that can help you keep moving at home. And getting support from your partner or other trusted caregiver for the baby is essential to allow you sufficient time to give your mind and body a chance to get renewed with a little break from the baby.
Even though every mum’s journey is unique, most of us will experience some of the same responses to childbirth and will need to help our bodies recover from similar concerns including pelvic floor weakness to diastasis recti. Here are some ideas for postpartum exercises that work for most women.
Birth to 6 weeks postpartum
During this time, your world is so topsy-turvy that most mums struggle to believe they will ever get back to their pre-baby exercise routine. You’re also stressing your body in new ways from holding awkward positions to encourage baby to latch properly to holding your bladder so that you won’t disturb a sleeping babe by getting up to relieve yourself. Muscle cramps, body aches and more might be your constant companion.
At this point, gentle movement and stretching, pelvic tilts, casual walks (start with 10 minutes in duration and no race-walking competitions), Kegel exercises to build up your pelvic floor muscles (relax and tighten the muscles as if you were stopping urine flow) and other low-impact exercises are good. Do not do traditional crunches or sit-ups because if you have any separation of the ab muscles known as diastasis recti, that needs to heal first before you stress them with traditional ab exercises. If you experience any pain, you’re doing too much too soon.
6 weeks postpartum
At six weeks postpartum, most mums will get cleared by their doctors to exercise. Remember, it took 40 weeks for your body to transition through pregnancy, so expect it will take time to integrate exercise back into your new world and your body to respond to exercises. Keep in mind, it might never return to its pre-baby measurements.
During this time period, you’re still easing back into exercise so walking is still an ideal option. Other exercises to consider include:
- Pelvic floor exercises: You can do these exercises anytime. Try to complete five, five-second holds three times a day.
- Squats: These are easy to incorporate into your day and can be done when you’re brushing your teeth or when you’re holding your baby.
- Wall or bench push-ups: Try to do 15 right before you jump into the shower.
8 weeks postpartum
If your body is feeling good, you can start to increase the length of your walks and intensity of exercise even including some weight training.
- Walking: Now you can start to increase the intensity of your walks by going faster, farther or up hills or stairs.
- Superman: This is a great core exercise where you lie on your stomach and extend your arms and legs out as if you’re flying. Raise up and then release.
- Lunges: Give your legs a workout by doing lunges.
- Add some weight training: Use arm weights to do curls, rows and flies.
- Yoga: There are also several yoga exercises that are beneficial such as cat/cow, downward dog and forearm plank.
12 weeks postpartum
At 12 weeks, you’ll likely feel more like yourself and have settled into a routine with the baby which allows your schedule to be a bit more predictable. Here are some exercises to consider:
- Jogging: Start off by adding some short bursts of jogging to your walk.
- Modified plank: Planks are a fantastic core strengthener. Start off slow and try to hold the plank position for five seconds at a time increasing the duration as your body is able.
- Postpartum abdominal reconditioning: You can start working your deep ab muscles earlier if your body is healed, but focused attention at this time can result in significant improvements.