Postpartum exercise can be tricky. Your body is recovering, your hormones are going through a thing, and (lest we forget) you have your very own newborn.
While it can be difficult to get going, postpartum exercise can be incredibly beneficial.
It’s a wonderful way to offer yourself some much-needed self-care, get reacquainted with your body, relieve stress, and get your strength and fitness up.
Whether you were a fitness freak before your pregnancy or the very thought of upping your heart rate just upped your heart rate, there are ways to begin a postpartum exercise routine that feel both gentle and satisfying.
In this article: 📝
- Why is postpartum exercise important?
- How soon after giving birth can you exercise?
- Can I exercise 2 weeks postpartum if I’ve had a cesarean?
- What is the best exercise after pregnancy?
Why is postpartum exercise important?
The benefits of postpartum exercise are many:
- Improves strength and fitness
- Reduces fatigue and boosts energy
- Promotes better sleep
- Decreases the risk of developing chronic health conditions down the line
- May provide some much-needed social time with friends
It might even increase the number of beneficial compounds in breastmilk.
Which could go a long way towards helping lower your baby’s lifelong risk of heart disease and diabetes.
And while the physical perks speak for themselves, your mental health also gets a look in.
Postpartum exercise has been shown to help with the symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression.
Recent studies tells us that physical activity appears to have a significant impact on reducing the symptoms of postpartum depression.
The bottom line is to start slow, listen to your body, and do only what you can, when you can.
How soon after giving birth can you exercise?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you had a vaginal delivery and are generally healthy, you should be able to start with some gentle exercise a few days after giving birth.
But definitely take it easy at first – “gentle” exercise means something like a short stroll, not running or weightlifting.
You can usually start on more serious exercise six-eight weeks after delivery.
That being said, everybody and every delivery is different, so again, always listen to your body, and if you are worried about something, it’s never a bad idea to check in with your doctor or to get a check-up by a pelvic health physical therapist.
The CDC recommends that, both during and after your pregnancy, you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. It’s best to spread those minutes throughout the week.
So that may look like a daily 25-minute brisk walk.
Or three 50 minute postnatal yoga sessions a week.
Or a combination of all your favorites.
Some common postpartum issues like diastasis recti (that’s the separation of the abdominals that can happen after child birth), or pelvic heaviness may mean that you will have to adjust your exercise plans to cater to your specific symptoms.
Your doctor or a pelvic floor physical therapist can help you navigate any issues you might be having with your core or pelvic floor.
Finally, if you’re breastfeeding, you might be more comfortable if you nurse your baby or pump before you exercise.
Can I exercise 2 weeks postpartum if I’ve had a cesarean?
If you had a C-section or other pregnancy or delivery complications, wait for the all-clear from your doctor before you get back into a high-impact exercise routine.
This may take 12 weeks or more.
In the meantime, you can start with some very gentle activity.
These may include pelvic floor exercises, gentle strength and breathing exercises, and light walking.
A good rule?
Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby for the first eight weeks.
Even doing little things around your house such as walking up or down the stairs, getting on and off the couch, and standing in the kitchen all contribute to the healing process of the core muscles.
A cesarean is major surgery, and your body needs more time to recover.
Don’t worry, you’ll get there!
What is the best exercise after pregnancy?
There’s no one way to do a postnatal workout.
Different bodies, different birth experiences, different preferences.
Having said that, there are some guidelines to follow to ensure that you stay safe during this time while getting the most out of your postpartum exercises.
So here’s our (very malleable) postpartum exercise plan.
You can do all of this, or mix and match however you like:
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises 😮💨
Breathing exercises can help lay the foundation for your postpartum exercise routine.
Diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to reduce stress and improve cognitive function.
After giving birth, simple breathing exercises can help you reacquaint yourself with your core.
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
- Try to relax your body.
- With one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach, breathe in slowly through your nose with the aim of getting the air deep into your lungs. Your stomach and ribs should move outwards while your shoulders remain relaxed.
- Hold for two seconds.
- Slowly release the air through rounded lips, exhaling as you feel your stomach and ribs return to its original position.
- Do this a few times a day—pretty much whenever you can fit it in.
Pelvic floor muscles exercises 🍑
Start with these simple exercises as soon as you feel ready.
They help strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina, and anus, and can seriously help with incontinence.
Here’s how you do them:
- Squeeze your anus like you’re (yes, we’re going to say it) holding in a fart. Then fully relax those muscles.
- Then squeeze in the area around your vagina and your lower abdomen. Imagine like you are trying to draw liquid up through a straw - you should feel a drawing up of those muscles up toward your head. You should not feel any pressure pushing downwards.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds (or as close to this as you can get) and release.
- Then do some short squeezes remembering to relax between each contraction.
- Repeat about ten times a day, approximately three days a week.
The best part? You can do them anytime, anywhere.
It’s important to focus on both the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles and the relaxation of those same muscles.
If you’ve had a C-section, your pelvic floor muscles have still been impacted by pregnancy.
You may find that you are already holding a lot of tension in the pelvic floor muscles and it is hard for you to allow them to relax.
If this is the case, spend time actively relaxing the pelvic floor with your breathing exercises before working on the squeezes.
A pelvic floor physical therapist can help you determine if your pelvic floor muscles are tight and need relaxation techniques, or if Kegels and strengthening exercises are what you need.
Postpartum yoga 🧘🏽
Yoga is a great way to get your body and mind to work together to promote overall wellbeing.
Postpartum yoga is specifically designed to focus on your needs after you’ve had a baby.
Water does wonders, offering a low-impact exercise option for new mamas that can have a positive impact on your mental health.
How soon you can get into the water generally depends on what kind of delivery you had and whether or not you have any complications.
If you had a vaginal delivery without complications, you should be able to get in the pool as soon as bleeding and discharge has stopped.
(The wait is to decrease the risk of infection.)
If you had a C-section, a tear to your perineal area, or an episiotomy, wait until you’re healed.
The general idea is about eight to twelve weeks after you give birth, but everybody is different. You do you.
A stroller walk in a beautiful place can be a great way to get out of the house.
Add a friend or family member to the mix and it can be pure magic.
(If you’re struggling to meet new moms in your area, Peanut can help)
Then, here’s what you can look forward to as the first three months with your baby comes to an end:
Weight training 🏋🏽♀️
The recommendation to start weight training is generally six to eight weeks after you give birth, but you may need longer than that.
Your body is going to need some time to get its strength back and you may need to regress the amount of weight or reps compared to what you used to do.
Before you start running, you can start prepping your body by walking, doing pelvic floor exercises, and slowly increasing your strength through lower impact activities.
It’s a good idea to gauge your strength and fitness levels before you tackle a big run.
If you feel comfortable with a 30-minute brisk walk, you may be ready to pick up the pace again.
When you are ready to lace up the runners, starting with a 1-minute run, a 1-minute walk can be a really great way to stay connected to your body when you return to run and will allow you to stop if you start to feel any of the following:
- Pelvic heaviness
- Leaking or incontinence
- Pelvic pain or discomfort
These symptoms are signs that your pelvic floor may not be ready to handle the load running is putting on it just yet.
The most important thing is to be gentle with yourself through this postpartum recovery period.
Your body has been through a lot, and your life has changed in a huge way.
Postpartum exercise should be a way to reduce stress—not add more of it.
Look after yourself, mama.
There is always more support should you need or want it.
You don’t have to do all of this alone.
We’re rooting for you.