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Bump and beyond: A guide to exercising after pregnancy


Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for personalized medical advice. It's advised that you consult with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine or returning to exercise during the postpartum period.

The postpartum period can be an incredibly vulnerable phase of life for women – especially if you were active prior to and during pregnancy. When it comes to easing back into fitness after giving birth, the key here is to start slow, have patience, and give yourself grace. Remember, it’s all about the long-term game, and cutting corners could do more harm than good.

Plus, you just gave birth, so take a moment to recognize that major achievement and celebrate your strong, powerful body.

What are the benefits of postpartum exercise?

Once you’ve been cleared, postpartum exercise offers numerous benefits that can help you recover and feel your best as a new mom. As outlined by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), postpartum exercise provides the following benefits:

  • Boosts energy
  • Promotes better sleep
  • Relieves stress and may prevent postnatal depression
  • Can aid in weight loss
  • Strengthens stomach muscles1

But the benefits of postpartum exercise don’t stop there – getting active post-baby can positively impact your overall emotional well-being. It can encourage more social meetings and give you that extra nudge to get out of the house. Especially when you’re in the thick of the newborn phase, opting for a change of scenery can do wonders for your mental health.

When can I exercise after pregnancy?

Now that you know the benefits of postpartum exercise, you’re probably wondering when you can get started. Let's jump right in!

In the days, weeks, and months following birth, your body goes through significant changes all over again. As you navigate postpartum recovery and embrace the changes in yourself, you might be eager to resume your previous workout routine. But just as with exercise during pregnancy, there’s so much conflicting information out there that can make it difficult to know where to start.

Previous advice was to wait six weeks after giving birth before getting back into a normal exercise routine. And while it’s good to have a rule of thumb, this blanket statement completely ignores individual differences in pregnancies and birth. Today, the recommendation emphasizes a more nuanced approach that considers an individual’s experience and recovery process.

Of course, you should always consult with your physician about reintroducing physical activity during the postpartum period. But in general, if you’ve had a straightforward birth, you should be able to start with gentle exercise as soon as you feel ready.

In the days following birth, it’s safe to go for a walk, complete pelvic floor exercises, and do some gentle stretches. But always listen to your body first. If you’re not feeling up to it or you find anything uncomfortable or painful, stop immediately.

If you have the resources available, opt for consulting with a pelvic floor specialist. They can help you devise a safe plan for exercising your pelvic floor muscles based on your personal experiences, such as type of birth, pelvic floor health, and your overall recovery.

Postpartum exercise examples

Gentle exercises can help aid your recovery, but it’s a good idea to wait until your 6-week postnatal check (or longer!) before you start any high-intensity or impact exercises like aerobics or running. Please remember again that 6 weeks is a rule of thumb, and that your situation is incredibly individual. Even if you hit the 6-week mark, your body might need more recovery time – and that’s totally normal!

Once you begin exercising, it's crucial to recognize that your muscles may be weaker and more elastic, increasing the risk of injury if you overstretch or twist too much.

Here are some postpartum exercises you could start with:

  • Breathwork or mindfulness activities
  • Pelvic floor exercises
  • Postnatal exercise class
  • Build activities into your day, like walking to the shops rather than taking the car, taking the stairs rather than the lift (where possible), and so on
  • Brisk stroller walk (faster pace than usual)
  • Swimming (you’ll need to wait until 7 days after your postnatal bleeding has stopped)

Note: Postpartum c-section exercise is best avoided until your six-week check-up. Remember, c-section deliveries are a type of major surgery, and your body should be treated with care.

Don’t add too much pressure on yourself – you should only begin exercising when you feel you’re ready. Listen to your body and move to feel your best.

What postpartum exercise should you avoid?

While you certainly can (and should!) exercise once you’ve been given the green light, that doesn’t mean going full throttle back into your old fitness regime. There are certain exercises that should be avoided in the weeks and months after birth as they can put a strain on your core muscles. Avoid HIIT exercises, and strenuous ab workouts, and consider postponing exercises such as running until your body has properly recovered.

If you notice any pain, discomfort, incontinence, or an increase in postpartum bleeding, it’s likely a sign that you need to slow down and reassess your recovery.

Let’s recap

Your body has just aced a major milestone – pregnancy and childbirth are no joke, and returning to fitness during the postpartum period is a journey that takes time. But once you’ve been cleared and are feeling ready, there are tons of benefits to easing back into fitness post-baby.

From aiding in recovery, weight loss, stress management, and sleep to boosting mental health and simply motivating you to get out the door, the benefits are limitless. But remember to take it slow, heed your body's cues, and believe in the process - with consistency and determination, you'll come back stronger than ever!

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[1] Exercise after pregnancy. ACOG. (n.d.).