There are very few experiences other than pregnancy and childbirth that take a woman’s body to the extreme. Very often, new moms learn a lot about the wonders of what their bodies are capable of during these intense physical experiences.
After giving birth, it can be really difficult to get back into exercising, even if you are mentally ready to get physical again. When you’re caring for a newborn, finding time for exercise can be challenging, and some days you just might feel too tired for a full workout.
You’re tired, so why bother?
If you find yourself doubting the reasons why exercise is good for you — especially as you struggle to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep or muster up the energy to leave the house — take note of these compelling reasons why exercise after Baby is good for you:
- Strengthens and tones abdominal muscles
- Boosts energy
- May prevent postpartum depression and anxiety
- Relieves stress
- Promotes better sleep
- Helps improve mood and emotional health
The basics of postpartum exercise
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it’s generally safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth or as soon as you feel ready.
The first thing to take into consideration when easing back into a fitness routine is to be realistic and patient and always take the time to listen to your body.
If you had a C-section, extensive vaginal repair or a complicated birth, the “return to exercise” date is not as clear, and you must first talk to your health care provider regarding your individual needs.
Regardless of your birth method, it’s important to start slowly with low-impact aerobic activity, such as walking. As you gain strength and endurance, you can increase the length of time you exercise or number of days, as well adding more strenuous activity.
It is generally recommended that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. And if that number seems daunting, just remember that when you divide it up into 30-minute workouts on 5 days of the week, or into smaller 10-minute sessions throughout each day, it becomes more manageable.
And once you feel comfortable with aerobic activity, try adding two workouts/week of muscle strength activities, such as weightlifting, body weight workouts, water aerobics and other moderate intensity boot camp-style classes.
If your pelvic floor is weak, putting intra-abdominal pressure (like crunches, Pilates or general ab work) can put too much pressure on the pelvic floor and inhibit healing. Two beneficial exercises for women to incorporate postpartum to help with strengthening the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are the pelvic tilt and Kegel exercises.
Many women report feeling unstable on their feet due to the hormone relaxin, which can stay in the body up to six months postpartum. This hormone is responsible for softening the ligaments and joints during pregnancy and childbirth and consequently can make women hesitant to try vigorous exercise. If you are still feeling the effects of relaxin postpartum, try to avoid exercises that tend to challenge your balance, such as running, jump roping, boot camp-style classes or any exercise that makes you feel wobbly.
If you had a C-section, keep in mind that in addition to recovering from the drastic bodily changes resulting from pregnancy, you are also recovering from a major abdominal surgery. A C-section incision takes several weeks to heal, and it may be some time after that before you feel like working out.
Although the doctor might clear you for post-C-section exercise as soon as six weeks after surgery, be aware that this means light, gentle exercise. Exercises beneficial at this time include walking, core and pelvic floor restoration and body weight exercises.
It’s wise to stay away from activities like running, jumping, heavy weight training, crunches, leg raises and other traditional ab exercises.
During pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen. This can cause the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen to separate — a condition called diastasis recti or diastasis recti abdominis.
This separation usually decreases within a few months of birth, but for some women, it can last much longer.
Diastasis recti can also weaken the abdominal muscles, causing lower back pain and making it difficult to lift objects or do other routine daily activities.
Avoiding exercise such as crunches, sit-ups, pushups and front planks, as well as swimming and some yoga poses (doing anything on your hands and knees) will help eliminate making this separation worse.
Physicians often refer women dealing with this condition to a physical therapist that specializes in postpartum exercise to come up with an individualized exercise plan.
Sometimes, even after you are medically cleared to exercise, you’ll feel discomfort while exercising. If this discomfort continues or gets worse, or if you feel any pain at the surgery site, it’s best to stop what you are doing and consult your physician.
Regardless of the mode of exercise you choose, it should make you feel safe, stable and energized during and after working out.