How to Ease Into a Postpartum Exercise Routine After Birth

No matter your fitness level before childbirth, your postpartum workout plan requires special consideration. Follow these tips to safely return to your pre-baby exercise habits.

woman having a walking exercise on a running track pushing her newborn baby in the stroller
Photo: Getty Images

After childbirth, some parents itch to get back into a regular exercise routine. But it's not as easy as hopping on the treadmill or rejoining your pre-baby pilates classes. New parents should be realistic and patient when it comes to postpartum workout plans—after all, it took around 40 weeks to grow your pregnant body, and it can take nearly as long to feel like you're somewhere closer to your pre-pregnancy self.

No matter whether your labor was quick, long, or surgical, the body undergoes a huge transformation to grow and birth a baby, and you must honor that with everything you do, including exercise.

How to Start a Postpartum Workout

You'll need to wait until your doctor gives you the OK to start postpartum exercise after birth, which might take several weeks (or longer if you had a C-section or labor complications). In the meantime, you can brainstorm a post-pregnancy workout plan by following these nine important steps:

  1. Start slowly
  2. Wait for vaginal bleeding to stop
  3. If breastfeeding, wait for an established milk supply
  4. Prioritize your pelvic floor
  5. Be gentle with your abdomen
  6. Watch out for wobbly joints
  7. Try a variety of exercises
  8. Hydrate
  9. Get enough rest

1. Start Postpartum Workouts Slowly

Jumping back into your workout regimen right after birth is not a great idea, even for ultra-fit people. "I would recommend that new moms not try to exert themselves before two weeks," says OB-GYN Kameelah Phillips, M.D.. "If you are recovering from a C-section, I would defer a routine until after your first post-operative check. Confirm with your doctor that the skin is properly closed, and that you are cleared for a walking routine. I usually recommend you take an ibuprofen prior to any return to activity because the uterus is still healing and can cause discomfort. Give your body a little time to heal and enjoy a leisurely walk."

If you push yourself too hard in the beginning, you can actually be setting yourself back from real recovery. That, of course, does not mean you need to be held hostage in your house for six weeks. A walk can be considered a good start to your road back. Take a five-minute walk and then come home and see how you feel. If nothing bleeds, pulls, or aches, take a six-minute walk tomorrow and a seven-minute walk the next day. During these first few forays out into the world, don't carry your baby in a front-facing carrier or push them in a stroller because the strain may be too much. After you've walked comfortably and safely for a week or two, build up from there, adding some gentle upper-body stretching or a postpartum exercise class.

2. Wait for the Bleeding to Stop

Once you embark on some heavier activities, pay attention to signs from your body. Some people find that bleeding that had tapered down starts to get heavier again, which is a sign that the body needs more time to heal before a post-pregnancy workout plan.

3. Take It Easy If Breastfeeding

Weight loss should be the last thing on your mind after childbirth—and that's especially true if you're breastfeeding. Most experts recommend not starting an exercise routine until a couple of weeks postpartum when your milk supply is firmly established. Some weight will come off automatically during the first few days as your body relinquishes the stored fluids it needed during pregnancy. The rest will come off gradually as you become more active. If you're nursing, your body needs 500 calories a day more than it needed before you conceived, so eat enough and eat healthfully.

4. Evaluate Your Pelvic Floor

If the pelvic floor is weak, intra-abdominal pressure (from exercises like crunches, pilates, or general ab work) can put too much strain on the pelvic floor and inhibit healing. It can even lead to a chance of organ prolapse. One of the first forms of postpartum exercise you can start to incorporate daily can be a kegel routine, restrengthening or even re-familiarizing yourself with your pelvic floor muscles.

5. Be Mindful of Diastasis Recti

It's very common that people experience a separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominals (aka the six-pack muscles), known as diastasis recti. Your health care provider can check this during your postpartum exam. If it's severe enough, you may need to work with a physical therapist to help draw the muscles back together. So, when easing back to an abdominal postpartum workout, be mindful not to overdo it.

6. Watch Your Wobbly Joints

Relaxin, the hormone responsible for softening the ligaments and joints during pregnancy and childbirth, can stay in the body for up to six months postpartum. This can lead to wobbly, unstable joints and a loose pelvis. Again, just be mindful that the postpartum workout you choose is not too jerky in movement.

7. Try Different Types of Postpartum Exercise

You don't need to attend a scheduled class to return to a general fitness routine. Don't discount walking as a gentle cardiovascular exercise! Swimming is another option that's gentle on the joints and pelvic floor, and it's great for strengthening the core and back muscles.

8. Stay Hydrated

Once you ease into postpartum exercise, remember to hydrate well, especially if you're breastfeeding. If you're out for a stroll with your baby, put your water bottle in the cup holder as a reminder to drink often.

9. Rest Up

Even though many new parents hear the old saying "sleep when your baby sleeps," not everyone adheres to these wise words. Including a few moments to simply relax post-workout can really help replenish you. If you're feeling rested and restored, you'll have so much more to offer those that need you.

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