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No matter how your pregnancy and birth unfolded, one thing’s for certain: your postpartum body will feel different! Some women are hit with a tough recovery, while others land more gently into new motherhood. No one adjusts to life with a new baby on the same timeline. Mentally, emotionally, and physically adjusting to postpartum life is a journey, not a destination. When asking “when can I return to exercise after birth?”, it’s best to keep that attitude in mind. In this post, we’ll share the why’s, when’s and how’s of postpartum exercise.
The Why’s of Postpartum Exercise
Exercising your postpartum body can have several benefits:
- Increase energy
- Improve sleep
- More effectively manage stress
- Rebuild abdominal muscles
- Decrease risk of postpartum mood disorders
- Lose weight gained during pregnancy
However, it’s important to note that exercising too soon, or too intensely, can have serious negative health impacts. Pushing yourself too hard and too soon can increase postpartum bleeding and lead to injuries.
The When’s of Postpartum Exercise
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to when to begin exercising after childbirth. Some women are ready for gentle exercise like walking a few days after birth, while others need to wait several weeks to ease back into an exercise routine.
If you had an uncomplicated pregnancy and vaginal delivery, you’ll probably feel ready to exercise sooner than if you had a complex pregnancy and delivery. The physiological changes that occur during pregnancy and birth can take a huge toll on the body, regardless of how everything went on paper. The key to postpartum exercise is to start gently.
Your care provider can help you decide when feels right to ease back into an exercise routine. Some providers recommend waiting until your postpartum bleeding has stopped or significantly slowed, while others might recommend very light exercises before that milestone. It’s also important to factor in any complications you’re dealing with, like stitches or tailbone injuries. Discuss your feelings and fitness goals with your doctor or midwife during your postpartum check-ups to make a plan.
The How’s of Postpartum Exercise
Once you’ve gotten the green light to begin exercising postpartum, where do you begin?
We can’t stress enough how important it is to go slowly with a postpartum exercise routine. Jumping back into exercise too soon or too intensely can lead to increased bleeding, incontinence, pelvic or abdominal stress, or joint injuries. Crunches, running, and leg lifts can come later. In the early postpartum weeks, be extra gentle with yourself!
Some ideas for first postpartum exercises:
- Slow, short walks
- Belly breathing
- Pelvic tilts
- Gentle yoga poses
The idea is to slowly begin to get to know your new postpartum body, circulate blood and oxygen, and gently stretch those hardworking muscles. While re-building muscle and losing some baby weight may come as well, those are goals for further down the road. And before you begin any abdominal exercises, be sure to check for diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles that commonly occurs during pregnancy. With diastasis recti, it’s important to work with a professional who can help you bring those muscles back together, because traditional ab workouts can make the problem much worse.
The Bottom Line
Exercising after birth can be a wonderful way to improve physical and mental health. Depending on how your pregnancy and delivery went, and how life with your newborn is going, you may feel ready for gentle exercise anywhere from a few days to 6+ weeks after birth. Talk with your care provider before beginning a new exercise routine. The most important takeaway is to start gently – walking, gentle yoga, Kegels, etc. are the first “baby steps” of postpartum exercise. Pushing yourself too hard and too soon can lead to serious health problems and injuries. When easing back into an exercise routine, pay close attention to your body. Did your bleeding increase? You probably overdid it. Do you feel more energized, or worn out? Aim for a feel-good feeling, not “no pain, no gain.” Those hard, sweaty workouts of your pre-pregnancy days will come in time. And you’ll get there by taking it nice and slow, treating your postpartum body with love and kindness.