Your baby has arrived and you are now adjusting to life with an infant. This is an exciting and sometimes stressful time full of many changes to your lifestyle and your body.
Many new mothers are eager to start working out after giving birth, but it’s important to wait for the okay from your ObGyn before starting up any exercise regimen. It’s also important to be patient, start out slowly, and set reasonable expectations. While many women want to get back to their “pre-pregnancy” body, giving birth is physically arduous and it takes time for your body to recover.
Factors that impact postpartum workouts include breastfeeding, vaginal vs. cesarean section birth, hormones, and your fitness/health level before getting pregnant and during your pregnancy.
Developing a Postpartum Workout Plan
You can start talking to your ObGyn about a reasonable workout plan even before you give birth. This is often especially important to women who were physically active before pregnancy. If you did not exercise regularly before pregnancy, take that into consideration and develop a workout plan that suits your level of fitness.
If you were working out regularly during your pregnancy, continuing these exercises can be a good place to start. You can begin to build up the duration and intensity of your workouts as your body heals.
Patience is key when getting back into shape after giving birth. Sleep deprivation, hormone changes, breastfeeding schedules, and finding time to exercise while caring for your infant are all factors to consider.
Postpartum Workout Benefits
There are several benefits to easing yourself into an exercise regimen after you give birth. Regular exercise not only helps your body recover but also has mental health benefits. Studies have shown that even 10-15 minutes of daily exercise can reduce (or eliminate) the risk of postpartum depression.
Caring for a newborn takes a lot of time and energy, but by scheduling time just for you to care for your body and mind, you give yourself a much-needed break.
Other health benefits of postpartum exercise include:
- Stress relief
- Increased energy
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved blood circulation
- Reduced anxiety
Postpartum Ab Workouts
While it may be tempting to start hitting those crunches and sit-ups right away, it’s better to ease into abdominal exercises slowly to avoid injury or complications. The tissue between abdominal muscles can thin and separate during pregnancy to make room for the growing baby, so it’s best to take it easier at first.
Pelvic floor therapy is another great option to help regain your abdominal strength and pelvic floor muscles.
Below are some abdominal exercise recommendations you can consider to get started, after consulting with your physician:
Belly breathing: after giving birth, your breathing may feel different for a few days while your organs and muscles grow accustomed to the absence of the baby. To help with this adjustment, practice deep belly breathing several times a day (this is good for your emotional health as well). Lie on the floor and place your hands over your belly. Inhale while stretching your belly out (so your hands rise up). Exhale slowly and repeat this several times.
Bracing your abdomen: to rebuild those abdominal muscles, start with a simple exercise called “abdominal bracing”. Lie on your back and focus on planting your entire spine against the floor. Hold this position while breathing normally for several seconds, and then relax. Repeat this exercise several times.
Contracting abdominal muscles: this exercise is just what it sounds like: lie in a normal position on the floor, then contract your abdominal muscles, hold for several seconds, then release. Repeat this but stop immediately if it becomes painful or uncomfortable.
Practicing yoga: this is a great and relaxing way to combine belly breathing, bracing your abdomen and contracting abdominal muscles into one workout. Yoga is the perfect low impact, high-benefit form of self care and exercise to start with after giving birth.
Wellness Habits that Support Postpartum Fitness
Start with Low Impact Exercises
Some exercises are healthier than others in the days and weeks following birth. Avoid jarring exercises like running, jumping, or hopping that put stress on your joints. Exercises like swimming and light yoga are examples of workouts that build strength without taxing your body.
It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when breastfeeding. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Carrying a water bottle around with you can help ensure you are drinking enough.
Allow Yourself to Relax & Nap (whenever possible!)
Sleep can be challenging with a newborn, but it’s important to get as much sleep as you can. The first few weeks following birth are not a time to worry excessively about laundry or clean dishes; it’s more important for you to grab rest when your baby is sleeping.