Yes, you can get your body back after having a baby, but you need to learn the proper way to exercise after pregnancy. Our experts claim that giving birth is like running a very hilly marathon. They’re both grueling endurance events with a sweet prize at the finish line—whether that’s a gold medal, a personal best, or even better, a brand-new baby.
Another factor these physical activities have in common: your body will be exhausted and worn out afterward, and you may need to take it slowly until you receive the all clear from your health care practitioner.
After any intense endurance race, your muscles, hips, and internal organs will need some time to recover. That said, it’s not long before many new moms start wondering when and how they can return to exercise after pregnancy.
According to Nicole Dorsey, M.S., a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist who specializes in pregnancy and exercise, picking up your pre-baby activity level slowly (but soon) is a must, as long as your health practitioner gives the OK. Not only will your heroic return to exercise after pregnancy aid in shedding the baby weight, but consistent exercise has a ton of other health benefits for new moms.
“Being active again can boost your energy, restore muscle tone, condition the abdominal muscles, prevent lower back pain, and help stave off postpartum depression,” says Dorsey, who teaches postnatal fitness classes.
How Soon Can You Exercise After Giving Birth?
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), exactly when you can return to exercise after pregnancy depends on the type of childbirth you had. In the past, the rule of thumb was to wait six weeks before you started a fitness routine. However, the ACOG now says that if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it’s normally fine to start gently exercising a few days after your baby is born, or whenever you feel ready.
If you delivered by cesarean section, ask your doctor when it’s safe for you to exercise after pregnancy. A C-section makes things tougher but not impossible, says Dorsey.
Returning to fitness after having a baby can be nerve-racking. There’s nothing to feel bad about if you take it slow and tune into your body—you know your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else, including your gyno, insists Dorsey.
“Your return to exercise is normally easier if you were moderately fit and strong during your pregnancy, if you had a natural delivery, and if you maintained a moderate exercise program throughout,” says Dorsey.
6 Tips for Exercising After Pregnancy
1. Ease into it
Return to exercise slowly. Try 10 minutes at a time, then 15, 20, etc. Gradually increase the intensity and length of your sweat sessions, slowly add resistance to a bike, or incrementally increase the incline if you’re working out on the treadmill.
But be reasonable.
“Don’t initiate a new sport or return to barrel racing or bungee jumping within the first few weeks after having a baby!” says Dorsey. “Be good to yourself and use common sense.”
2. Vary your routine
Switching up your exercise after pregnancy can help you stick with the program. Dorsey suggests starting with long walks and postnatal pilates classes, Beachbody On Demand, or DVDs. When you’re ready, PiYo can help you re-define yourself without any weights or jumps.
“You’ll be constantly holding, nursing, and carrying your baby for the next few months,” she says. “Most new mothers suffer from stiff necks, weak arms, and very poor posture. But regular strength training and other resistance exercises can counter these effects.”
3. Include your baby
Don’t wait until you have childcare to exercise. Rather, pick a workout your baby can be part of. Include your baby by pushing your little one in a stroller, or putting her next to you while you stretch or perform core work.
4. Grab a postnatal partner
Workout buddies are key for accountability. Knowing you have someone counting on you will make you less likely to skip your fitness session. Also, be sure to warm up thoroughly and cool down after every workout.
5. Drink up
6. Be prepared if you’re breastfeeding
According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have indicated that intense exercise (marathoners were tested) can cause lactic acid to build up in breastmilk. This won’t harm your baby, but it may make the taste of your breastmilk unpleasant. However, many breastfeeding moms run triathlons and marathons without having their milk refused by their babies.
What to Wear When You Exercise After Pregnancy
Nursing moms should wear supportive bras, and time their feedings with workout sessions. The Mayo Clinic suggests trying to feed your baby or use a breast pump right before exercising so your body is more comfortable (your breasts will not be so likely to leak) and your mind is more at ease.
Most importantly, be comfortable in the right clothes, have patience, and be lenient with yourself. You just ran the most grueling marathon of your life! Not only are you recovering from childbirth, but you’re also dealing with sleep deprivation, changing hormones, and the demands of caring for a newborn.
It’s OK if you need to take an extra rest day or cut a workout short. Remember that some exercise is always better than none, and even 10 minutes of exercising that beautiful new body almost instantly improves the moods of mothers everywhere.