Fit After Baby: What You Need To Know About Postnatal Exercise

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The first months of motherhood are a blur—between sleep deprivation, feedings, diaper changes and the never-ending piles of laundry, learning the ropes of your new life can be overwhelming to say the least. But even with all of the new responsibilities, many moms are eager to get active in order to regain their strength and fit into their pre-baby jeans. And those aren’t the only benefits: Regular exercise after giving birth can help moms feel more energized and less stressed, allowing them to better manage the demands of a newborn. But to ensure a safe and effective fitness journey, postpartum women need to take some special precautions. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Take it slow.

One of the first things active women want to know after they’ve given birth is when they can start working out again. A common guideline is to wait six weeks if you had a vaginal delivery and eight weeks if you had a C-section, but according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery and were active throughout your pregnancy, you may be able to begin light exercise within a few days of giving birth—as long as you’re not in any pain. If you did have a C-section or a more complicated birth or recovery, talk to your healthcare provider about when you can safely start a fitness program.

Focus on low impact exercise. 

Even if you feel ready to exercise a few days or weeks after giving birth, that doesn’t mean you should head back to CrossFit or sign up for six weeks of HIIT. Doing high intensity workouts before your body is ready can be more harmful than helpful when you’re newly postpartum. Instead, focus on low impact options like walking, stretching, and strength training with resistance bands or light weights.

Strengthen your core and floor. 

Pregnancy and birth weakens the pelvic floor and core, and women can experience a range of issues associated with these muscles, such as incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse. Diastasis recti—the separation of the abdominal muscles—is also extremely common post-pregnancy, and while in most women it heals on its own, in severe cases, you may need physical therapy to help decrease the gap between muscles. Here’s how to check for Diastasis recti. These factors make strengthening your pelvic floor and core muscles a top priority, but don’t aim to do a record number of crunches each day. In fact, you should avoid core exercises like crunches, sit-ups, push-ups and planks. Try these five exercises instead. To strengthen your pelvic floor, focus on proper posture and alignment, Kegels, and other pelvic floor exercises.

Pay attention to your body. 

No matter how simple or complicated your birth experience was, being postpartum means that you need time to recover from an intense and challenging physical, mental and emotional event. You might have been at a high impact cardio class five days a week before baby, but that may not make sense right now. Pay attention to your body as you try new exercises. Are you uncomfortable? Is recovery difficult? If so, back off on the intensity level, and take another few weeks to recover from childbirth before you ramp up again. If you continue to feel uncomfortable, contact your doctor and consider working with a physical therapist.

Try these mom-approved fitness options.

You’ve been given the all clear from your healthcare provider; you’ve spent time strengthening your core and floor; and you’re ready to take your workout to the next level. Here are a few mom-approved fitness choices:

  1. Barre classes: Fitness franchises like Pure Barre and the Daily Method combine Pilates, ballet, and yoga-inspired moves and provide a low-impact, toning workout that can be modified for new moms.
  2. Stroller fitness: Want to get fit and make friends? Fit4Mom Stroller Strides classes let you bring your baby and provide a social setting where you can get to know other moms. The class includes cardio and strength training, with intensity-level options appropriate for those who are returning to fitness or looking for a challenge.
  3. Gentle yoga: Not all yoga is postnatal appropriate, but typically gentle varieties, such as yin yoga and restorative yoga are good new mom options.
  4. Water aerobics: Water aerobics and aqua walking are low-impact fitness options that can help you build cardiovascular endurance and strength without putting unnecessary stress on your joints—perfect for postnatal exercise.

Whatever type of activity you decide to do, look for instructors who are certified, knowledgeable and experienced. Speak to the instructor before class and ask for adjustments to the workout based on your postpartum needs. Most importantly, listen to your body—allow yourself to slow down, opt for modifications as needed and take extra time to recover.