Pregnancy and birth bring about a lot of changes to your body. Whether it’s loose skin, stretch marks, or extra weight, chances are you’re eager to get back to your pre-baby body. Postpartum exercise can help, but you should take it slow. For example, you shouldn’t try running a 10k the week after giving birth. That’s a recipe for unnecessary injury. If you’re wondering how long you should wait after giving birth to exercise and what exercises to choose, don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ve put together a list of nine tips to help you ease back into exercising, avoid injury, and shed that loose skin and extra weight permanently.
1. Talk To Your Doctor First
Talking to your doctor is a key first step towards achieving your postpartum exercise goals. They may give you the go-ahead right away, or suggest that you wait a few weeks before you resume exercise. Some may even recommend waiting until after your six-week checkup. Sure you may feel ready to go, but listen to your doctor’s advice. We suggest you talk to your doctor before leaving the hospital after giving birth. Just ask them what kind of physical activity they recommend. If you have something specific in mind, like rowing, running, or yoga, bring it up and see what they say. That way, you’ll know exactly what you can and cannot do when you get home.
2. Let Your Body Recover From Giving Birth
Your body has just been through a lot. The muscles in your hips, thighs, and belly have been put to the test. Your breasts are bigger and put more stress on your back and you’re probably carrying more weight than you were before you got pregnant. Oh, and let’s not forget that you just brought a new life into the world! Give your body time to recover before starting any exercise program to avoid the risk of unnecessary injury. Waiting at least a week or two allows your body to heal and your hormones to stabilize.
3. Take It Slow
When your doctor gives you permission to start exercising—whether it’s right away, or after your six-week checkup—start out small and slow. Sure you may have been doing CrossFit workouts with no problem before you got pregnant, but a lot has changed in the past nine months. Jumping back in where you left off and expecting to do your old workouts right away can be dangerous. We recommend starting with activities like walking, light calisthenics, and stretching. They may not seem like much right now, but consider them as testing the water. You need to see what you can and can’t do with your new body. Try a fifteen-minute walk with your baby, perform some body-weight squats (sitting down and standing up from a chair repeatedly works well to start), or put together a light yoga routine. When you know you can do short, light activity comfortably and without pain, gradually build in duration and intensity. Just remember, starting out small and slow and building from there is much better than pushing too hard, injuring yourself, and having to wait an additional six months to a year.
4. Choose The Right Postpartum Exercise
Exercises like walking, swimming, water aerobics, and yoga are good options for postpartum exercise. For those just starting out, low-impact aerobic activities and stretching are often best. Other recommended low-impact choices include the stationary bike, elliptical machine, and stair-climber machine at the gym. Be sure to take it slow at first and build your duration and intensity. Another fun postpartum exercise option is a class for new moms. Check for a Strollercize or a Baby Boot Camp program at your local gym. These classes are a great way to get out of the house, get some exercise, and socialize with other new moms.
5. If You Take A Class, Let Your Instructor Know You Recently Gave Birth
Exercise classes for new moms are specifically tailored to avoid movements that could cause injury during the weeks and months after giving birth. Other classes, though, like spin and yoga, may include movements that are too intense for your postpartum body. But don’t let that deter you from participating. They’re still great options. Just be sure, to let your instructor know you recently gave birth. She can then alter the workout slightly to accommodate your fitness level. At the very least, she will know what’s going on if you decide to slow down, rest, or skip a particularly difficult pose.
6. Take It Easy On Your Abs
Your abdominal muscles have gone through a lot since you first got pregnant. As your baby grew in your womb, your abdominal muscles loosened and stretched to accommodate your baby. As a result, your abs are considerably weaker than they were when you first got pregnant. Some women even develop diastasis recti—a gap between their abdominal muscles that may not fully close after delivery. This gap isn’t anything to be worried about. It just means that you need to be gentle on your abdominals muscles for the first several months after delivery.
We recommend skipping traditional sit-ups and crunches and instead trying planks. Planks are great for toning, tightening, and muscular endurance because they require you to use your core, hip, and glute muscles for extended periods of time. Be sure to ask your doctor about what you should and shouldn’t do to strengthen your abs.
7. Wear The Right Bra
Whatever exercise you choose, be sure to wear the right bra. The bra you wear can be the difference between an enjoyable exercise experience and a painful one. We recommend a supportive sports bra whether you’re walking, stretching, or even swimming. If your breasts still feel sore, try wearing two sports bras for extra support. If possible, try exercising after you’ve nursed your baby so your breasts won’t feel overly full. If skin irritation and soreness develop, try applying a healing product like Mustela’s Soothing Moisturizing Balm or Bust Firming Serum.
8. Work Up To Weighted Exercises
While restarting your exercise routine with low-impact aerobics and stretching may not be what you were used to before becoming pregnant, it’s the smart and safe thing to do. Eventually, though, you need to add some strength movements to your routine. The hormones released during pregnancy have made your muscles looser and thus, weaker. Weighted exercises will strengthen your muscles, tone your body, and help relieve and prevent back and joint problems.
Weighted exercises include everything from calisthenics like pushups and body-weight squats, to dumbbell and barbell exercises like deadlifts and shoulder presses. We suggest starting with body-weight exercises to gradually build your strength. A simple routine like three sets of five pushups, five pull-ups, and five squats can work all the major muscle groups in your body. Can’t do a full pushup or pull-up? Don’t worry. You can modify the exercises to match your abilities and work up to the full movement over time. Talk to your doctor or a fitness trainer to see how you can modify bodyweight movements for your fitness level.
9. Listen To Your Body
We know you’re mentally ready to get back into an exercise routine so you can get your pre-baby body back, and that’s great. But it’s more important to listen to your body than to take on too much, too soon. If you do, your body will let you know and it likely won’t feel good.
Signs that you’re doing too much include:
- Feeling exhausted instead of energized after a workout.
- Prolonged soreness in your muscles that affects your body’s ability to properly support itself.
- Shaky muscles.
- A morning resting heart rate that is ten beats per minute higher than your regular heart rate.
If you experience any of these symptoms, take a break from exercising, rest, and talk to your doctor about altering your workout routine.