Having a baby is hard. From pregnancy to delivery to post-pregnancy, the process of having a child changes you inside…and out. It’s no secret that the capabilities of the human body are nothing short of amazing; and you, no doubt, feel incredibly powerful after carrying and birthing another human being.
With that being said, it’s okay to also want to reinstate the level of fitness that you may have lost during pregnancy. It does not mean that you are a bad mother or that you are more concerned with vanity than with your child — you simply want to feel and look your best; something that will benefit your family. After all, when mom is happy, baby is happy.
Of course, getting fit after having a baby is difficult. Not only do you have to accept that you are not as physically fit as you were prior to pregnancy, but you have to grapple with the guilt that most new mothers often feel when they try to prioritize their needs. Here are a few tips on how to approach physical fitness following having a baby.
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Post-Pregnancy: The First Workout
First, it’s important that you don’t rush into exercise after giving birth. While giving birth is a blessing, that does not negate the trauma that the body experiences during the process. The first few days following the birth of your child should be spent resting and allowing your body to heal following a rather traumatic physical event.
Next, keep in mind that the first two months following childbirth are filled with ups, downs, and physical and mental changes. Do not start any workout plan during this time without talking with your doctor. Take a moment during the early baby visits to ask them if the pregnancy workout plan you are considering is safe for you.
Safe Exercises After Vaginal Birth
There are exercises that you can start doing as soon as you get home. They aren’t strenuous or difficult. But they will help you recover from delivery, start losing some of the weight you gained, and start gaining some of the strength you lost during pregnancy. The good news about these is that they are incredibly gentle and many can even be done lying down. Start with just 2 or 3 repetitions of each and increase the repetitions gradually, only doing what you are comfortable with.
Start by doing diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Lying on your back, inhale and feel your abdomen fill with air and rise. As you exhale, tighten the abs and pull them in towards your spine.
Another great exercise is the Kegel exercise. Kegels are important to help tighten the pelvic floor and prevent problems with urine leaks down the road. To do them, imagine you are stopping a flow of urine midstream. Hold for a few seconds and repeat. The best thing about Kegel exercises is that you can do them anywhere!
Finally, the pelvic tilt is a safe exercise that can be done following birth. The pelvic tilt can help you start strengthening your stomach muscles. Start by lying down on your back. Your knees should be bent at a comfortable angle. Pull your belly button towards your backbone while moving your lower back outwards. Exhale as you tighten your abdominal muscles and pull them in, inhale as you relax and allow your belly button to come forward.
If you have been diagnosed with diastasis recti, do not perform abdominal exercises like the pelvic tilt until you have spoken to and have been cleared by your doctor.
Safe Exercises After Cesarean
In addition to the exercises above, there are others that are recommended after having a cesarean delivery. Twisting bridges, for example, can be used to alleviate gas pain after having surgery. While your hips are elevated for bridges, gently drop one side then the other towards the mat. It’s also important to regularly move the ankles and feet to help prevent blood clots.
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Post-Pregnancy: Getting Back Into a Routine
The exercises listed above are safe to perform in the first weeks following childbirth. They will help you to lose some baby weight, but they aren’t physically-demanding enough to support cardiovascular, muscle, bone, and joint health.
Before moving into more strenuous activities, be sure to get a clean bill of health from your doctor.
The ideal exercises for regaining your desired level of physical fitness after having a baby will depend on a few factors:
- Is your body fully healed following childbirth?
- Has your doctor only cleared certain movements and/or activities?
- What are your personal health and fitness goals?
Getting to the gym with a newborn in tow is, frankly, next to impossible — especially when you’re sleep-deprived. Fortunately, most post-pregnancy-friendly exercises can be done at home with no or limited equipment. There are many bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, burpees, high-knees, leg lifts, triceps dips, planks, etc., that can help you reach your goals from the comfort of your own home.
If you want to add some tools to your repertoire, a Swiss ball is handy for several exercises. The Swiss ball ab rollout works the entire abdomen; for an even added challenge, give stir-the-pots a go. The Swiss ball leg lift and Swiss ball reverse crunch require rolling the ball under your back or grasping it between your legs, and they will both help you strengthen your core.
The Bottom Line
Your life will never be the same after having a baby. Your priorities shift. Your responsibilities and obligations change. As such, your fitness routine might change as well — and that’s okay! What matters most is how you feel.
Most women experience a drop in self-confidence following childbirth and they, understandably, want to feel good in their own skin again. As is the case with any fitness journey, progress takes time. Don’t be so hard on yourself; you just created a life! You’ll reach your health and fitness goals in time.
Remember: not all types of physical activity are suitable for everyone. Make sure you talk to your doctor before attempting any post-pregnancy workouts.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How long after pregnancy until you can exercise again?
The common rule is to wait six weeks after a vaginal delivery and eight weeks after a C-section. However, this is simply a common rule and you should always follow your doctor’s instructions.
Does breastfeeding burn calories?
Breastfeeding burns, on average, an additional 500 calories a day.
Can I exercise if I have diastasis recti?
Yes. However, you should avoid exercises that can separate the abdominals even more like crunches, planks, twisting motions, heavy lifting, and any sudden movements.
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