If you’ve recently had a baby, your body has gone through a lot over the last 10+ months. It stretched and grew to accommodate the growth and development of an entire human and then went through the process of giving birth. So if you’re not feeling quite like yourself yet—mentally, emotionally and, especially physically—you’re in good company. In fact, it can take months, if not years, to start feeling a semblance of your former self. Postpartum fitness is complicated, so just know that it is totally normal to not feel like yourself.
“After you have a child, your body naturally goes through so many changes—hormonal, physical, emotional and psychological,” says Brooke Taylor, personal trainer and creator of the Brooke Taylor Fit App. “While some experience ‘easier’ childbirths, others take longer to heal from episiotomies, C-sections and other complications.”
The healing process can vary for each mother, as well as the bodily recovery. This is due to the fact that so many different factors play a role in recovery in addition to birthing experience. Whether or not a mother chooses to breastfeed, their breast tissue needs extra support for at least 6 months postpartum, according to Jenny Archer, P.T., D.P.T., a pelvic floor therapist based in Nashville, Tennessee. “The abdominals too may need additional support if the birthing person finds that they have abdominal heaviness or pain or low to mid back pain while standing or exercising.”
Once you get the green light from your healthcare provider to start exercising, usually around 6 weeks postpartum for most vaginal and C-section deliveries, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re wearing and using the right gear to facilitate a healthy workout. When shopping for postpartum fitness clothes, it’s a good idea to avoid anything low-waisted, as these items will not provide enough abdominal support for weakened abdominal muscles and post-surgical incisions, notes Jennifer Sobel, NASM-certified personal trainer, professional dancer and creator of The Belly Dance Solution.
Hillary O’Connor, P.T., D.P.T., a pelvic floor therapist based in Alexandria, Minnesota, also recommends avoiding anything that’s too tight—whether it’s leggings, pants, tops or bras. “Workout clothes that are extremely tight can restrict the movement of your ribcage which can contribute to leaking or pressure down into the pelvis,” she warns. “Our ribcage needs to be able to expand with every inhale you take, so a tight sports bra, for example, will not allow this natural motion to occur.”
Here, postpartum fitness experts and pelvic floor therapists share the workout gear they recommend to their postpartum fitness clients.
lululemon Align™ Super-High-Rise Pant 28″ ($98-$118; lululemon.com)
“High-waisted leggings that end above the belly button ensure support that allows you to inhale and feel the expansion of your ribs and belly without being too tight around your abdominals,” says Dr. O’Connor. “This is important because it will take your abdominals some time to act as the supporting role they are meant to after pregnancy.” While the lululemon ones are super stretchy, it may be wise to size up for the immediacy of your postpartum period to ensure a comfortable fit.
Extra High-Waisted PowerChill Crossover 7/8-Length Leggings for Women ($16.97; oldnavy.gap.com)
Here’s another great pair of high waisted workout leggings that help support your lower abdominals without making them feel too compressed or creating any increased downward pressure, notes Dr. Archer. “They are comfortable enough to wear all day but offer enough support to feel good during a workout.”
Phenomena Bra B-DD ($36.99; athleta.gap.com)
Dr. O’Connor recommends opting for sports bras that have thicker straps, especially if they’re adjustable. “This will allow you to loosen the fit around the shoulders if you have a longer torso and need longer straps,” she says. “The thicker straps disperse the weight of the material which causes less tension on the tissues.”
First Place Mini Band ($2.50-$24.50; performbetter.com)
“A set of resistance bands from light to heavy is helpful to make body weight movements more strenuous,” says Dr. Archer. “They are easy to carry with you on stroller walks to combine walking with strength training and easy to store.”
Hyperice Vyper 3 Vibrating Roller ($199; bestbuy.com)
“Your body has been through so much and due to the shift in weight displacement muscle imbalances have formed, which is why it is so important to open up the fascia around the joints,” says Taylor. “This will enable you to break up the adhesions and work in a neutral state preventing injury.”
Fitody Stackable Resistance Exercise Bands Set ($37.99; fitody.com)
This set of resistance tubes with handles gives you the opportunity to have your own home gym. In fact, Dr. Archer used them personally during her postpartum periods with both her children. “It comes with a stopper that you can put in a door to work upper body, core and lower body with both handles and ankle straps and offers so much variety you almost don’t need anything else,” she says.
Sublime® Hands-Free Pumping & Nursing Sports Bra ($59.99; kindredbravely.com)
Nursing and pumping mamas will appreciate the versatility offered by this sports bra. “I loved that I could pump just before a workout and use the hands-free pumping feature of the bra and then go straight into working out after without having to change clothes,” says Dr. Archer. “It’s a pumping and breastfeeding bra but still offers enough support that you can perform high impact exercise with it on.”
GAIAM Total Stability Ball Kit ($19.98; gaiam.com)
While you’re first becoming readjusted to your workouts, Taylor recommends using a stability ball. “A stability ball forces you to work all of the intrinsic muscles around your core, pelvis and spine to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic region as you rebuild strength, stability and endurance,” she says. “Challenging your body on an unstable surface will recruit a myriad of different muscles opposed to sitting at a machine and isolating one muscle group.”
Whenever you decide to start your postpartum fitness regimen, it’s important to remember to ease into everything slowly and to listen to your body. “Avoid trying to go too far or too heavy before they feel ready and avoid straining during exercise,” Says Dr. Archer, who also recommends seeking out assistance from a trained professional who can help guide your journey.