Exercising After Pregnancy

What to Know About Exercising After Pregnancy

Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve mood. Even if you’re tired and not feeling motivated, there’s plenty you can do to get your body moving. But no two pregnancies are the same.

Whether this is your first, second, or fourth trip around the postpartum block, there’s a good chance your post-baby body feels a lot different than your pre-pregnancy self (you did just birth a human, after all!).

But if you’re eager to get moving, you might be wondering when it’s safe to return to exercise and what types of workouts are best in the first few weeks and months after childbirth.

While your pregnancy, type of birth, and any complications you experienced during delivery will dictate specific exercise guidelines, the most important factor to consider is how you feel.

Benefits of Postpartum Exercise

Although conventional wisdom might suggest that exercise will accentuate fatigue, the opposite is generally true. Prolonged rest/physical inactivity actually contributes to fatigue, promotes increased body weight and decreased vigor and mental acuity, and increases the risk of developing future chronic health conditions. An emerging body of evidence indicates that exercise in the postpartum period:

  • Promotes return to prepregnancy weight
  • Improves fitness
  • Reduces fatigue and increases vigor
  • Improves mood states and mental acuity
  • Provides important mom time and social interactions
  • Decreases the risk for developing future chronic health conditions

Why post-pregnancy exercise is good for you

Exercise, at any point in your life, is one of the best ways to improve your mood, strengthen and tone muscles, and increase overall health. But during the postpartum period specifically, fitness has the potential to:

  • relieve stress
  • help you lose any extra weight you gained
  • strengthen and tone abdominal muscles that were stretched during pregnancy
  • boost your energy
  • promote better sleep

Postpartum exercises

Swiss ball glute bridge

Reilly says the Swiss ball glute bridge exercise is great for pelvic floor and core stabilization. It works the abdominal muscles, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. You will need a stability or exercise ball to perform this move.

  1. Start with your back flat on the ground, knees bent, and stability ball by your feet.
  2. Place your feet flat on the ball, press through the heels, and raise your hips into the air. Use your glute and hamstring muscles to assist. Your shoulders and upper back will remain in contact with the floor, and your body should be in a straight line.
  3. Hold at the top for a few seconds and return to the starting position while keeping the ball still.
  4. Perform 3 to 4 sets, 10 to 20 repetitions each set.

Swiss ball bird dog holds

This exercise helps with stability, posture, and reduces low back pain, which is pretty darn common after giving birth. You’ll need a stability or exercise ball (shop online for one here) to perform this move.

  1. Lay down on top of the ball, so that your torso covers the ball. Your body will be in a straight line, with your palms flat on the floor and toes touching the ground.
  2. Looking down at the floor, lift and reach your left foot and right arm at the same time. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
  3. Return to the starting position and change sides.
  4. Alternate sides for 20 total repetitions.

Cat-Cow in tabletop

The Cat-Cow stretch is a beginner yoga move that helps to support back muscles, strengthens the core, and promotes mobility in the spine. Including this move in your postpartum workouts can help reduce back pain, promote relaxation, and improve circulation.

  1. Get on the floor on all fours. Keep your back flat, spine neutral, and gaze looking down at the floor. Your wrists will be directly under your shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Inhale and take a deep breath. On the exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling. Your head and tailbone will move closer to each other.
  3. Hold in the cat position for 1 to 2 seconds. Then, inhale, arch your back, and lift your tailbone and head toward the sky as you relax your belly to the floor to move to the cow position.
  4. Do this continuously for about 60 seconds.

Walking

The first few months after delivery is an excellent time to test-drive that new jogging stroller your BFF handed down to you. Walking, while pushing a newborn, will give your body an amazing workout, especially if you can find a route with some hills (hello, glute muscles!).

As you get stronger, consider stopping every 10 to 15 minutes and performing a few bodyweight squats. If the weather is nice, take your baby out of the stroller and hold them in front of you while squatting. The extra resistance will really give your backside a boost, and your little one will love the face-to-face time.

Pelvic floor exercises

If you followed your doctor’s instructions during pregnancy, there’s a good chance your body already knows how to do a Kegel. Continuing these exercises during the postpartum period can help you strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

  1. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles (the ones used to stop the flow of urination).
  2. Hold for 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat throughout the day.

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Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing is an exercise you can begin within the first few days of giving birth. Taking a few minutes each day to focus on your breath can help you relax and reduce stress. It can also improve core stability and slow your rate of breathing. You can perform this breathing exercise seated or lying down.

  1. Lie flat on the floor on a yoga mat.
  2. Relax your body, focusing on releasing the tension from your toes to the top of your head.
  3. Put a hand on your chest and another on your stomach.
  4. Take a deep breath in through the nose. This will expand your stomach, but your chest should remain relatively still. Breathe in for 2 to 3 seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly while keeping one and on the chest and one on the stomach.
  6. Repeat several times for 2 to 3 minutes.

Postpartum planks

The standard plank is an excellent total body exercise that retrains the core, strengthens the muscles in your upper body, and gives your glutes a nice lift. You can perform a standard plank within the first few weeks of giving birth, as long as you had a vaginal delivery without complications.

If you need to modify this move, Reilly says to start on your knees before doing a full standard plank.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor and elbows beneath shoulders. Your feet will be flexed with toes on the floor.
  2. Engage your glutes and core and rise up on your toes so that only your forearms and toes touch the floor. Your body should be a few inches off the floor in a straight line.
  3. Contracting your deep abdominal muscles, bring your belly button to spine, and tighten your buttocks and upper body. Breathe normally and hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 1 to 2 times. As you get stronger, increase the hold time.

Side plank leg lifts

The side plank leg lift is a variation of the standard plank. It’s more advanced, so you may want to save this move for 6 to 8 weeks postpartum. This exercise will work your glutes, obliques, and to a lesser degree, the shoulder muscles.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor and elbows beneath shoulders. Your feet will be flexed with toes on the floor.
  2. Go on one forearm and turn sideways.
  3. Raise your body off the floor to get into a side plank position.
  4. Raise your top leg and hold it in the air for 20 to 30 seconds or repeatedly perform leg raises until the time is up.
  5. Perform 1 to 2 sets on each side.

Tips for exercising after having a baby

Physical activity after delivering a baby can take many forms. New mothers can always begin with gentle movements in the first few days after giving birth.

It is important to keep things light and easy as your body will still be adjusting back to its pre-pregnant state, with several hormonal changes occurring simultaneously. Also, the exhaustion from the birthing process may make your body more susceptible to injury during this time.

Simple, easy movements can be good for blood circulation and help in healing, but be careful not to overdo it. Listen to your body’s cues to know when to scale activity levels up or down. Do take note of any severe pain and stop the aggravating activity immediately if it is experienced.

Typically, within 6 – 8 weeks of starting the exercises, a new mother should be able to get back to pre-pregnancy levels of activity. This varies according to your pre-pregnancy fitness level as well as the exercise regime during pregnancy.

Bottom Line

Including exercise in the postpartum period can help strengthen your core muscles, boost your mood, reduce stress, and prevent low-back injuries. It also gives you time to focus on you, which is a rarity during motherhood.

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