For many mothers, getting back into fitness after giving birth can be a huge challenge. Your body is completely different from its pre-baby (or even pregnant!) self. You’re exhausted from lack of sleep. You’re anxious to feel somehow “normal” again on all levels. Working out post pregnancy can seem downright impossible.
But, you don’t have to give up exercise as a new mama—you just need to keep a few things in mind. Here are six quick tips from Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden for postpartum mothers who want to start working out post pregnancy.
Typically, doctors recommend waiting 6-8 weeks after birth before beginning any type of exercise, but it often varies. “I recommend women get clearance from their OBGYN before starting any post pregnancy workout routine,” says McFaden. “I was on bed rest before my daughter came, so I had to wait to exercise and slowly build back my fitness. But each woman is slightly different. Some can start working out sooner than the 6-8 weeks, and others should wait longer.”
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to sit inside your house and do absolutely nothing for a couple months after birth. “Once your doctor clears you for exercise after birth, start slow with walking, Kegel exercises, and then incorporate strength training with body weight before adding additional resistance,” shares McFaden. Remember, it took your body more than nine months to change in order to deliver your baby, so it’s likely it’ll take several months to recuperate as well. Embrace this transitional time, and trust you’ll get back to hardcore workouts eventually.
Listen to your body.
McFaden says just as during pregnancy you’d listen to your body carefully, you’ll want to do the same after birth, too. She suggests taking it slow in order to build up endurance and strength, even if you’re dying to get in shape or lose the baby weight.
“There are risks associated with going too hard too quick, like splitting the abdominal wall (known as diastasis recti) or pelvic floor prolapse. I suggest all clients start with some walking and deep core pelvic floor strengthening first.”
Prioritize hydration and nutrition.
Eating well-balanced meals and drinking plenty of water are absolute must-haves for new mothers easing back into any form of exercise. McFaden says you have to take care of yourself, particularly to help cope with the body’s haywire postpartum hormones and the fact that you’re probably fairly depleted after birth.
“As a new mom, I can’t even believe how sleep deprived and hungry I was the first 8 weeks,” she says. “I would eat anything, was constantly thirsty, and felt like a walking zombie. All of that can make you feel strange. Women can benefit from healthy foods, rest, hydration, and movement postpartum.”
If you’re nursing, it is crucial to stay hydrated for breast milk. “Your body is working so hard to heal itself and produce nutrients for your baby. Just because you gave birth doesn’t mean the marathon is over—in fact, it is just beginning. In this time right after birth, it’s so important to take care of yourself. Eat enough protein, carbs and fats, as well as drink more water than normal and rest often.”
Move in new ways.
Just like during pregnancy, it’s not optimal to start a brand new fitness routine right after giving birth, McFaden says.
“The hormone called relaxin loosens ligaments and joints for childbirth. After delivery, it is still in your body for a few months,” she notes. “That’s why it is best to practice caution with any high-intensity exercise or deep stretching routines. Number one rule? Listen to your body and ease into workouts.”
McFaden cautions pushing yourself too hard in the beginning, as you can easily set yourself back. She suggests waiting for any postpartum bleeding to stop before incorporating other exercises. She also recommends a postnatal yoga routine in the meantime as “great exercise” where you’ll be able to “stretch and breathe, which will feel incredible!”
Don’t obsess over the scale.
And even though your mind might be dwelling on those extra pounds from pregnancy, McFaden says to give yourself some grace.
“To women who want to ‘snap back’ or drop the weight rapidly, I advise them to be kind to themselves. You just created a human for goodness sakes!” she exclaims. “Stop stepping on the scale. The weight will come off if you eat well and exercise, so try not to obsess over it. If you’re breastfeeding, enjoy the extra calories but use them wisely through healthy snacks.”
If you’ve had a baby, then you know how many times people tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” during those early months after delivery. Which is usually the last thing you want to do. However, McFaden views this as a wonderful tip.
“It can be tough to rest when you feel like there are so many things to be done post pregnancy. But I tell all new moms to learn to accept help (and food!) when people offer. Take at least ten deep breaths every day, and embrace being a mom. And most of all, find support—postpartum depression is real. It is really important to be there for other moms. We’re all in this together.”