Losing the weight you gained during pregnancy is just one of the reasons to start exercising after you give birth. Post-pregnancy exercise also tones and strengthens your muscles, boosts your energy level and builds your cardiovascular fitness. Just as important, exercise can help relieve stress and improve your mood, even preventing and alleviating symptoms of postpartum depression. But before you jump back in, you need to determine when it’s safe for you and to start with routines that are appropriate for your condition. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Post-pregnancy exercise tones your muscles and boosts your energy level, and it can even prevent symptoms of postpartum depression.
Is Your Body Ready?
If you exercised throughout your pregnancy and had a normal vaginal delivery, you can usually start exercising as soon as you feel up to it. Stick to slow, short walks until you get the go-ahead to train harder from your doctor or midwife. Most women get the all-clear at their six-week appointment.
If you had a Caesarean-section, you need to wait for your incision to heal, which can take several weeks or more. Your doctor may recommend walking as soon as possible, as it reduces the risk of clots and other complications.
Thanks to the unique hormones your body produced during pregnancy, your joints and ligaments are extra loose for a few more months. Be aware, however, that the hormones that loosen the connective tissues in your body so it can expand to accommodate a growing baby may make you more susceptible to injuries.
Some pregnant women also develop a gap between their abdominal muscles, a condition known as diastasis recti. Doing sit-ups or crunches while you have diastasis recti can lead to serious injury. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor before you resume abdominal exercises.
While your doctor’s opinion is very important, above all else, trust your gut. “My midwife gave me the all-clear, but I could tell my body wasn’t totally ready yet,” says Gina Harney, a personal trainer, blogger at Fitnessista.com and mother of one. “I took it easy with walks until I felt strong enough to lift weights and attempt some jogging or interval training.”
After my son was born, I was excited to resume normal exercise, but I knew I needed to start slowly. I began by taking long walks, swimming, and cycling. These low-impact activities felt good on my still-sore joints.
“Yoga is a great starting point for resuming exercise after you give birth,” Harney says. “Yoga is a low impact workout that enables you to focus, breathe, and start to rebuild your core strength.”
Zumba classes are another low-impact option. When you’re ready to focus on rebuilding muscle tone lost during pregnancy, consider joining a class like BodyPump or do body-weight workouts like push-ups and squats.
Many gyms offer childcare; the minimum age is typically six to eight weeks. My son has been a regular at the gym since he was three months old. When his head control improved, I began to take him in a jogging stroller while I ran.
“We tried gym care, but my daughter wasn’t happy there,” Harney says. “For me, the easiest time to work out was during her naps or when my husband came home from work.” Workout DVDs made it convenient to exercise at home at whatever time suits your schedule.
Now that Harney’s daughter is older, she exercises with her mom. “We take walks together, have dance parties, and she loves to do Zumba DVDs with me,” says Harney, who adds that the most important thing a new mom can do is show her children that exercise is fun.
How did you begin to exercise after pregnancy? Share your experiences in Comments so we can all learn from each other.