Now that you’re no longer exercising for two, you’re probably psyched to get back into your old routine. You should be able to start postpartum exercise around six weeks after delivery, depending on your doc’s green light. However, it’s important to temper your expectations, at least in the beginning. It can be tough to carve out time for postpartum exercise in your busy and demanding schedule as a new mom. Moreover, it can also take time for your body to get back into the swing of things.
“Sometimes, things feel weird, different, and out of place,” explains Karen Maxwell, an ISSA-certified sports science nutritionist, former D1 athlete, and a top master instructor for CycleBar. “Not only are our bodies out of whack, but mentally we feel guilty about leaving the baby and doing something ‘selfish.’” To help you bounce back in the healthiest and safest way possible, we asked experts to share the things that all new moms should know about postpartum exercise.
You won’t immediately be as strong as you once were.
While your initial goal might be to bounce back as fast as possible, be patient with your post-baby body. “Understand that your body just went through an endurance event and that your muscles, hips, and internal organs are all working their way back to the pre-baby stage. They need proper time to recover fully,” says Andrea Rogers, mom of two and founder of Xtend Barre. She recommends taking things slowly when returning to, or picking up, a fitness routine after giving birth—and preparing yourself for a more challenging experience.
Your ab muscles may not work the way that they used to.
“During pregnancy, the uterus expands and intra-abdominal pressure rises, pushing outwards on the rectus abdominis. This is the abdominal muscle made up of two bands that meet in the middle and form a theoretical ‘six-pack,’” explains Nate Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OB-GYN at NYU School of Medicine. “This pressure separates the two bands of muscle, leaving a space between them called diastasis recti. This separation is what is responsible for the abdominal ‘pooch’ that never seems to go away with standard crunches or exercises.” According to Dr. Brauer, this problem affects more than 50 percent of women after delivery.
Take your doc’s approval seriously.
Your doctor might recommend that you stray from postpartum exercise longer than the average six weeks after birth. “How soon to resume your exercise regimen will vary according to your physical and mental condition, your regimen prior to and during your pregnancy, and, of course, your delivery experience,” says Sherry Ross, M.D., OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “If you had a traumatic delivery and/or an episiotomy, you may not be able to resume even the easiest exercises until three to four weeks postpartum, since it takes this long for the sutures to dissolve.” In general, she warns that beginning a strenuous workout sooner than your body is able to handle one can set back your postpartum recovery big time.
Walks and strolls with the baby count as exercise.
Even if your doctor doesn’t give you the green light for moderate or intense exercise, Dr. Ross says walking and strolling with your newborn 20 to 30 minutes a day is a perfect way to begin, once your healthcare provider gives you the go-ahead. Additionally, she recommends starting Kegel exercises (the tightening of your vaginal walls) as soon as possible post-delivery. “Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken your pelvic floor muscles, resulting in uncomfortable pelvic pressure and unwanted leakage of urine (try sneezing without those muscles),” she explains. “Kegel exercises are a simple and effective way to strengthen those pelvic floor muscles. Those support the uterus, bladder, and bowel.”
You may be more tired than ever before.
“Hormonal changes can make you emotional and exhausted at times. Understand that some days you may wake up feeling ready to conquer your fitness routine. And other days you may find it difficult to get out of bed, and that’s okay,” says Rogers. She recommends listening to your body and responding to your needs. “Take things day by day. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits, but also don’t give up. Progress is progress no matter how small.”
You’ll need to drink a ton more H2O.
Water is essential for postpartum recovery, especially if you are a breastfeeding mama! “Your body will need the extra hydration when resuming activity,” says Rogers. “Drinking water will also help you to regulate your body temperature and lubricate those joints [that] need extra TLC after giving birth.” Be sure to fit in at least 8 ounces, eight times per day. Ideally, your water intake should be spaced out throughout the day.
The hardest part is getting started.
Once your doctor gives you the go-ahead to resume postpartum exercise, know that it won’t be easy. However, simply getting started is a giant step. “It may be hard to imagine when you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted with a new baby, but exercise is going to make you feel great,” says Doris Glenn Richards, mom of three and a retired, former world-class athlete. “When first getting back to your workouts, start small and work your way up a bit each day. Eventually, you’ll be feeling good and actually looking forward to your workout.”
You’ll need a schedule.
Moms are busy! If you don’t schedule and commit to workout time, Richards says that mom duties are probably going to take over. “As a mom of three, I’m much busier now than I was when I was a young athlete,” she adds. “The hour I devote to exercise is truly a highlight of my day.” She recommends prioritizing yourself by setting a time and arranging for the support you need, whether it’s a sitter, assistance from friends or family, and/or a fitness studio that offers childcare.
“The most important thing to remember is that it will all get better,” adds Dr. Brauer. She recommends starting off with small exercises performed at home while your baby is near you in a play yard or baby seat. “There are so many excellent exercise programs out there via internet or TV/DVD,” she adds. “Just be patient with yourself—you will get there.”