How to Find the Best Exercises After Pregnancy
You’ve done the hard part– you brought your baby into the world and now you’re wondering, “how can I get my body back after giving birth?”.
Working out after pregnancy is very different from pre-pregnancy, but with the right exercises early on in your postpartum journey, the quicker it is to get back to your old workouts.
As a mom of 2 and pre/postnatal personal trainer, I’m sharing the best ways to exercise postpartum to help you heal your core, get stronger, and get you on track to losing the baby weight.
Top Reasons to Exercise After Birth
Most women are ready to jump right into exercise after having a baby so they can lose weight and feel better. But there are plenty of other reasons to have a fitness routine that you may not have thought of.
One of the main benefits of postpartum exercise is that it helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles which were weakened during pregnancy. This will help to improve posture, reduce back pain and increase overall fitness levels. It may also aid in correcting any diastasis recti which commonly occurs during pregnancy.
Another benefit is that exercising can aid in weight loss. Most women want to lose the baby weight and feel more like themselves after pregnancy. Exercise after giving birth increases metabolism, which, combined with a healthy nutrition plan, can lead to more effective fat-burning results than simply decreasing calorie intake. A healthy lifestyle following childbirth should focus on combining an appropriate postpartum exercise routine with sensible dietary strategies whilst ensuring adequate rest time between sessions.
Exercising post-birth has also been linked to improving mood and helping fight depression – especially given the high risk of new mothers developing postnatal depression or ‘baby blues’ due to hormonal changes. Depending on your needs, regular workouts have been found to ease stress, reduce fatigue, and generally contribute towards improved well-being of new mothers overcoming these mental health challenges.
Physical activity releases endorphins and other hormones known for their feel-good effects. This can help promote bonding between mother and baby during quieter activities such as yoga or walking together outdoors in nature.
Finally, regular exercise following childbirth can boost energy levels so that moms can better manage everyday tasks from cooking, cleaning, playing etc., making them not just fitter but healthier all around too!
When Is It Safe To Exercise Postpartum?
Exercising after having a baby is an essential part of your postpartum recovery and it can be beneficial for your overall health, but it’s important to wait until your body feels ready to work out again.
If you have appropriately healed and experienced no complications during delivery, most new moms can begin gentle exercise around six weeks postpartum. However, women who have had a cesarean delivery should wait at least 8-12 weeks to start any physical activity.
Before beginning any form of postpartum workouts, moms should get cleared by their healthcare provider based on labor and delivery experience, the mode in which she delivered (vaginal or c-section), and any postpartum complications.
Any form of exercise during the first few months following childbirth must focus on restoring core strength and easing into activity. Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, or yoga are encouraged over higher-intensity activities such as running or HIIT.
It is also vital for you to pay attention to how your body is feeling throughout each session. If fatigue or pain arises, take rests between exercises and communicate these feelings with your doctor at the next checkup if they persist.
Before even thinking about exercising, remember that rest and recovery should still be the top priorities right after birth. Eating nutritious meals and taking naps when possible during the first few weeks are equally as important (if not more!) than aiming for a certain number of workouts a week.
Best Postnatal Exercises For New Moms
Once you feel ready to begin exercising after baby, your workouts will look slightly different than pre-pregnancy. Choosing slower, more intentional movements that help rehab your core and pelvic floor will lend to a quicker recovery and get you back into your favorite workouts sooner.
These types of exercise should be your top priority as a new mother getting back into fitness after giving birth. Once you feel comfortable doing these exercises, you’ll know it’s time to graduate to other workout using major muscle groups like strength training, HIIT, running, etc.
It’s best to work on all of these types of exercise but if that feels overwhelming, start with one or two of these. Once you feel more comfortable, feel free to add more types of movement.
Walking is a great exercise to do postpartum because it is low-impact but still offers many benefits. It helps increase strength, endurance, and coordination gradually. Postpartum women usually experience exhaustion, and walking can help improve their energy levels by increasing oxygen flow to the muscles.
By walking consistently, you can reduce tension in the neck, shoulders, and back typically caused by carrying around your baby all day long or trying various breastfeeding positions.
It’s also an easy way to incorporate baby into your exercise. Throw them in the stroller or babywear while your little one naps for a simple way to get moving while being with your newborn.
Walking also helps balance hormones, burn calories, and increase stamina to prepare your body for more intense exercise like running, strength training, etc.
Pick an amount of walking that is attainable for you but for a general guideline, try three 10-minute walks per week. If that feels too easy, increase the time to 30 minutes.
Diaphragmatic breathing postpartum is especially important for helping new moms feel stronger and calmer. This type of breathing can help improve core strength, improve pelvic floor strength, foster relaxation and reduce stress, help achieve good alignment, and increase overall energy levels.
Diaphragmatic breathing is excellent for helping support postural muscles that may have weakened during pregnancy by allowing for a better connection with the deep core muscles. Practicing this breathing along with pelvic floor exercises will help you improve proper body mechanics, build strength in your pelvic floor, and can be used when feeling overwhelmed to help you feel more grounded.
If you want to get back to your pre-pregnancy workouts fast, mastering diaphragmatic breathing should be your main focus.
How To Perform Diaphragmatic Breathing:
- Begin by sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90-degree angle and maintaining an upright posture.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach so you can feel your breath moving through your body.
- Inhale through your nose, allowing your stomach and chest to expand while relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.
- Exhale through your mouth, contracting your stomach towards your spine and lifting your pelvic floor up and in. As you exhale, make a shh or hiss sound to help expel all the air and engage your pelvic floor.
- To check if your pelvic floor muscles are activating, place your index and middle fingers just inside your hip bones and feel for a gentle contraction.
There are a few breathing exercise positions you can try and find which work best for you. Practice these 10 times per day (or more) whenever possible.
After having a baby, you may spend a lot of time in a seated position, holding your baby, or trying new breastfeeding positions that are uncomfortable. All of these new patterns can leave your body feeling tense and in pain. Frequently stretching your muscles, particularly your upper back and hip flexors, will relieve these aches and pains while avoiding common postural issues like hunch back and anterior pelvic tilt.
Adding in 5-10 minutes of stretching a day will make a huge difference in staying flexible and minimizing pain.
Check out this article for the best stretches postpartum and instructions on performing them correctly.
Core Strengthening Workouts
Healing your core after giving birth is crucial to avoid lower back pain, pelvic organ prolapse, poor posture, and leaking when you laugh, jump or sneeze. If you have diastasis recti or abdominal separation, exercising your core will bring the muscles back together and heal them.
If you are unsure if you have diastasis recti, you can perform a simple self-test to determine your level of abdominal separation.
Strengthening your abdominals will combat that feeling of weakness in your back that prevents you from getting typical housework done. If you notice your back start hurting after doing dishes, bending over to change your baby’s diaper, babywearing, or getting them out of the car, that’s a significant sign that your abdominals need to be strengthened.
Since almost everything you do involves your core, this will be extremely beneficial in your workouts as well. Rebuilding your core strength after having a baby will help you have a healthy, pain-free life postpartum.
I offer a fast and free postnatal exercise program that focuses on rebuilding core strength so you can get back to workouts before baby without sacrificing hours of your day.
Yoga is a great way to heal physically and mentally after birth. Physically, returning to a mindful practice of yoga can help recover strength, flexibility, and balance while increasing awareness of the body’s changing needs.
Yoga also helps assist with postpartum recovery by activating deep core muscles as well as restoring posture following pregnancy-related changes such as carrying a baby or bending down to change them, or straining muscles during childbirth.
Yoga is also beneficial in helping manage emotions, cope with insomnia and reduce stress levels.
The mindful aspect of yoga encourages you to become more aware of your body and tap into your intuition. Following a yoga practice can bring moments of peace during the hard times of frequent wake-ups, long crying sessions, and mourning your previous life.
Additionally, breathing exercises foster mindfulness and relaxation, which research continues to demonstrate mental health benefits for new moms dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety.
Implementing yoga 1-2 times per week will give you the physical benefits and keep you grounded during this new phase as a mother.
Postpartum Exercise Tips For Success
Now that you know what exercises you should focus on, here are some tips for exercising without complications or injury postpartum. Working out after delivery may be very different from the previous exercise you’re used to, and knowing how to adapt to these changes can be very helpful.
I don’t like to refer to pregnancy and childbirth as an injury however, your body underwent massive changes to grow a baby and bring them earthside.
Childbirth can come with complications, and being aware that it takes time to heal from this event is essential. Begin to incorporate exercise slowly to see how your body reacts and if you’re feeling good, slowly begin to increase the intensity.
Give Yourself Grace
After birth, our bodies have completely transformed and sometimes, that’s hard to accept. It took months for your body to become what it is now. Please allow months for it to re-adjust.
Your body needs to heal from the large wound the placenta left, remove the excess blood volume accumulated, recalibrate your hormones, bring back a regular menstrual cycle, and produce breastmilk (if breastfeeding). These are the top priority after birth, not losing fat. Acknowledging that those processes are more important and take time will help you feel less anxiety about why the weight isn’t falling off immediately.
Giving yourself grace during this transformation will allow you to stay motivated and make healthier choices like eating well and exercising long-term. This is your chance to create lifelong habits and honor your body during all stages of motherhood. Enjoy the journey no matter how long it may take.
Listen To Your Body
If your body is showing signs that the exercise is too strenuous, it’s best to lower the intensity and give your body more time to heal. Pushing your body when it’s not ready can lead to injuries and complications that will take you much longer to recover from than if you slowly ease into exercise initially. If you experience bleeding, exhaustion, dizziness, or fainting, stop exercising and rest.
Consistency Is Key
Prioritizing your health and physical fitness can be challenging during certain times of motherhood. The 4-month sleep regression hits, baby starts teething, and developmental leaps happen, which cause our babies to lean on us and need more attention.
You may not feel like you have the time or energy to commit to your health and fitness goals but staying consistent will lead to the best results.
It’s understandable to choose lower intensity, shorter exercise during these times, but make sure you don’t quit altogether. You might need to only focus on a walk and stretching for 10 minutes instead of a 20-minute core workout. And that’s okay, as long as you prioritize some kind of movement.
You don’t need to give 100% all the time to see results. Minor improvements daily will compound into more considerable long-term results.
New Mom Exercises For A Healthy Postpartum
Easing back into exercising takes a little time but with the right exercises, your body will become stronger each day and get you closer to your old workouts. Prioritizing walks, stretching, and core strengthening exercises will make you ready to move into strength training, boot camps, and running in no time.
Don’t rush your postpartum exercise journey or have unrealistic expectations of the timeline that it takes. Stay consistent, give your body grace, and trust the process for a successful and healthy transition into postpartum life.