Check out free tips on exercise, nutrition and lifestyle to help you start getting back on the fitness track!
Many women who use exercise to manage stress, alleviate anxiety, or feel good - are eager to get back to exercise after giving birth. It's standard procedure to have a postnatal check around 6-8 weeks after delivery.
If you've had a straightforward pregnancy and have had no complications when your baby was born, you'd likely feel ready for some light movement, like going for short walks, within a few days.
If you've had a C-section or a more complicated pregnancy, following your doctor's guidance on when to return to physical activity and which postnatal exercises are right for you is paramount.
Let's take a look at 5 of the essential aspects of postnatal exercise you need to consider in helping your body recover.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Learning the proper way to breathe will be necessary for better recovery and exercise performance. Still, it will become crucial for new moms who experience diastasis recti. Taking a few moments each day for deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help promote feelings of relaxation and activate your core muscles. The latter will be crucial when you start working out again.
The benefits of Kegel exercises where you contract your pelvis muscles as though you were trying to stop urine mid-flow for holds of 10 seconds several times a day are linked to preventing incontinence.
Kegels is the typical recommendation for moms after giving birth by practitioners before they recommend returning to exercise gradually. Think of how you'd feel even years or decades after your child was born if you had to be careful with activities to ensure your bladder doesn't give in. Do you love the jump rope? Don't skip your Kegels.
3. Aerobic and Cardio
Postnatal cardio for moms should avoid any high impact exercise such as jumping for at least some time. You may find yourself paying more attention than usual to the seat on that spin bike and decide you feel more comfortable with a nice flat rowing machine seat. But there's a lot to be said for simply walking. You can even include your baby in the stroller!
But there are some things to look out for, postpartum. Pay attention to any vaginal bleeding, any pains in your stomach or abdomen, or sudden discomfort which feels different in your pelvic region. The most important thing with all postnatal exercise for new moms is listening to your body and paying attention. Even if you were highly active before pregnancy, don't feel guilty for taking some time to rest and recover now or building your stamina back up is taking longer than you expected.
If you're eager to get back to group fitness classes - remember to make your instructor aware that you've recently given birth. Ideally, you'll work closely with a pre and postnatal specialist during this time so they can alter exercises that are too high impact for you at this stage.
4. Core Work
Arguably the most critical postnatal exercises for new moms are the movements that develop core strength. After 9 months of pregnancy and then giving birth, the muscles in your core have gone through a lot, and it will need gentle and progressive work to get back the strength you once might have had. The tree core movements outlined here focus on stability in the midline, and you may find them far less interesting than the ones you've been doing before you got pregnant. Nonetheless, starting with these will be crucial.h
A beginner yoga move that promotes mobility in the spine and supports the back and core muscles. Start by getting down on your hands and knees. With a flat back, look down at the floor, with your wrists under your shoulders and knees in alignment with your hips. Inhale deeply, and as you exhale round your spine towards the ceiling to get into the cat position for a 1-2 second hold. Inhale, arching your back, letting your belly relax towards the floor to get into cow position for a 1-2 second hold. The transition between these positions steadily for around 60 seconds.
Lie with your back flat and knees bent. Push through your heels and raise your hips into the air. Your shoulders and back will stay on the floor, with your butt off the floor. Ensure that your pelvis is tilted, so your spine isn't arching at the lower back. Hold and squeeze your glutes at the top of this movement and do 15-20 reps at a time.
Generally done on your elbows, a standard plank is a challenging position for many women - even those who haven't just given birth. It may be using one knee to support yourself may be necessary initially.
You can also perform side planks, which starts in a regular plank position, but you turn sideways onto one forearm. Raise your hips off the floor and hold this position. If you want to go even further, lift your top leg repeatedly for 20 seconds or so, and repeat on both sides.
5. Strength Work
Postnatal exercise for new moms that are looking to get stronger could initially focus on bodyweight movements only. This doesn't need any special equipment, is likely to mimic the sort of functional movements that life demands of you, and can be a great workout to fit in around your little one. Focusing your strength work around the foundational movement patterns is a great place to start.
Bodyweight squats may be preferable to loaded squats for a few weeks, and if you're experiencing any urinary leakage, know this is perfectly normal while your pelvic floor is strengthened.
Taking a big step forward, keeping your hips square and not twisting your body, and dropping your back knee down towards the ground is a functional movement not just for strength but also for balance. Just like when you were pregnant, your center of gravity changed. Now that you've given birth, your it has changed again.
Typically, this would be a deadlift, but an unweighted Good Morning has got many the same benefits. It provides a great stretch to the hamstrings and requires a tight core and back to maintain good form.
While your core recovers, consider substituting your push-ups for a wall or a standing push up with elevated hands. First, try against the wall. When it starts to become comfortable, try the kitchen counter until you can begin to progressively lower.
Pulling movements are tough without equipment, but we've found standing on a bath towel and pulling it into your chest can be an excellent alternative to a barbell row. If you don't want to risk a towel, you can get great resistance bands.
After giving birth, your body has changed. Everyone recovers differently. All the guidance provided here should be considered in the context of conversations with your team of medical professionals and the intuition you have around your own body. You're finding what works for you now.
Whether it's because you're sleep-deprived, or your hormones are different, or you simply are going through an adjustment to your new identity as "mom", there's nothing to say you need to get back to a rigorous exercise routine as soon as you bring your baby home. There's no need to make this time about setting new records. Your body has gone through a considerable change, and now you can take your time adjusting and strengthening your muscles for the demands of motherhood.
If you need to skip a workout to hang out and catch up on sleep while your baby takes a nap, that's acceptable. Rest and recovery should not be underestimated. Your body is likely to need at least 6 weeks to recover from giving birth - and that's assuming that everything went perfectly smoothly. Don't try to rush back into your routine, especially the training you were doing before getting pregnant initially. You'll get there, but it will take patience.
Remember to use the medical team around you. The postnatal checkups can be used as a barometer of how ready you are to get back into exercise. The professionals taking care of you will be able to give you personal advice about what workouts they'd recommend. You can also talk to them about the changes to your body, such as diastasis recti, making the muscles longer and weaker.
Postnatal exercise for moms is a beautiful thing. It can ground you to your sense of self, without being "mom" for a little while during your day. It can give you an outlet for your emotions, which may feel unpredictable at the moment as your hormones are surging. It can be a little bit of self-care during your day, and taking it at a pace that feels right for you is right and proper. Provided you're not pushing yourself too hard; postnatal exercise can be great for your physical and mental wellbeing.