If you're a new mother, take a moment to recognize all of the incredible things your body has been doing over the past 9 months: creating and carrying a fetus, delivering a baby, and caring for a newborn. One way to honor your body is to carve out some time for a postpartum fitness routine—not because you need to lose weight or look different (you don't!) but to help renew your mind and body after the big changes you've experienced.
Postpartum exercise has plenty of mental and physical benefits. It gives you more energy, encourages better sleep, and lowers levels of stress.1 It can also help you strengthen your abdominal muscles, shed weight from pregnancy, and even prevent incontinence that can occur after having a baby.2
So when can you start working out after giving birth? If you had a vaginal birth without any complications, you can begin when your body has fully healed and you feel ready—which could be in as little as a few days after delivery, but often takes a few weeks.3 If you had a challenging delivery or a cesarean section, consult your doctor to get the all-clear before donning your sports bra and leggings.
While it may be tempting to push yourself to the limit, it's better to start with low-intensity exercises. "After obtaining your doctor's clearance for exercise postpartum, the most important thing is to take your time and gradually rebuild strength and function before you jump back into traditional exercise," says personal trainer and fitness instructor Amy Kiser Schemper, MS, CPT.
High-impact activities such as running and jumping may put strain on your healing pelvic floor, which may in turn cause urine leakage. Similarly, upper-body moves such as planks and sit-ups may be too intense for your core and may actually complicate postpartum issues such as diastasis recti (or separated abdominal muscles). And if you're breastfeeding, be sure to feed your baby or pump before working out—it'll be much more comfortable for you.
If you want to know how to get back into working out after having a baby, checkout these great postpartum workout plans and suggestions from a personal and busy mom of 2.
Core and pelvic floor postpartum exercises
"Working your core and pelvic floor are probably the most important exercise you can do postpartum," says Kiser Schemper. "Start with transverse abdominis breathing (often called diaphragmatic breathing) by inhaling to expand through your ribs and back, exhale to draw in with your deep core, while lifting gently with your pelvic floor." Do this 3-5 times a day for 10 reps and incorporate it into other exercises.
Aerobic postpartum exercises
Moderate aerobic exercise, aka cardio, gets your blood pumping and elevates your heart rate. Along with engaging in tried-and-true workouts such as swimming and cycling, lower-intensity activities such as brisk walking can help you feel good. With a jogging stroller, you can even bring baby along for the fun. Again, start slowly. "You can start walking as soon as you feel ready after birth," says Kiser Schemper, "but hold off on higher-impact cardio (running, jumping) early on, as it can put pressure down on your pelvic floor and out on your abdominal wall while still healing."
Strength training postpartum exercises
"Prioritize strengthening and stretching your upper and mid back, as everything involving a baby pulls you forward," Kiser Schemper says. Resistance band Even better, you don't need a gym or elaborate equipment to strengthen your muscles—just your baby! By positioning your little one near you, it's easy to do bodyweight exercises while engaging with them at the same time.
Newborn life is hectic. Mind-body exercises such as yoga and tai chi can bring you back to a slower, calmer place. Their gentle, fluid movements are physically restorative, and focusing on your breath can keep you in the moment—until the baby wakes up, that is. Plus, there's some evidence that yoga may reduce the severity of postpartum depression; in one study, 78% of depressed postpartum women experienced "clinically significant" improvement.
During and after pregnancy, many women experience urine leakage. To help your pelvic floor muscles recover—and therefore reduce those troublesome tinkles—try doing Kegel exercises. Contract the same muscles you use when you stop the flow of urination, then repeat. The best part? You can do this "workout" while streaming your favorite TV show.
The bottom line
Exercise can boost your mood, lift your energy levels, and help you to lose weight from pregnancy—as long as you don't go ham right away. "Your body went through a lot during both pregnancy and delivery so it’s still recovering. Be sure to start slow and listen to your body," says Kiser Schemper. With a slow-and-steady approach, you'll set up a sustainable (and enjoyable) postpartum fitness plan that you'll actually look forward to doing.
Feeling your best involves eating well, too. Don't miss these nutrition plans for new moms.