But you can gain control over your body (and its changes) through exercise. Your body just went through a very intense experience. When you're ready-and after your doctor gives you clearance-resuming or starting an exercise program will help your body heal, become stronger, and get fitter than ever.
The advantages of exercise go way beyond simply firming up or losing pregnancy weight. Fitness can also:
- Prevent "Baby Blues." Research shows that light activity can help ward off the common feelings of sadness, disappointment, and depression that can occur after delivery.
- Promote Healing. Getting in shape helps your body recover, just as it would from a normal injury. Strong muscles and bones tend to bounce back faster.
- Increase Energy. You may never have needed energy like you will over the next several months. Fitness can help balance out sleep deprivation and the stress of motherhood, giving you the energy you need to nurture, and play with your little one.
You will need a period of time off to allow your body to rest and heal after giving birth. Don't start your exercise program before your doctor gives you the OK. The most important things you can do during the first weeks postpartum are: care for your baby, rest when possible, and eat a healthy diet. Time for exercise will come soon enough.
Listen to your body and start slowly. You shouldn't jump back into the same intensity and duration of exercise you were doing before your baby was born. Find an activity (like walking or postpartum yoga) that feels good and includes your baby.
Most women can follow this schedule for reintroducing exercise, but always talk to your health care provider first:
Normal Vaginal Births
Day After Delivery: Exercise while lying in bed. Try Kegels, pelvic tilts, and neck & shoulder stretches.
When You Feel Able: Try light walking and strengthening moves for your abs, lower back, and pelvic muscles.
First Postpartum Wellness Checkup (6-8 weeks): Resume light to moderate exercise with your doctor's permission.
Build up to full training program slowly and with your doctor's clearance.
*If you are experiencing any pain or discomfort, you are doing too much.
Day After Delivery: Exercise while lying in bed. Try Kegels, deep breathing, pulling stomach muscles inward, and neck & shoulder stretches.
When You Feel Able: Try light walking and strengthening moves for your lower back and pelvic muscles.
Wait 8-10 weeks and get a physician's OK to begin any further activity.
Here are a few tips for determining when your body is ready to start exercising after a Caesarean delivery:
Other Fitness Considerations
Exercise while breastfeeding is OK. There has been much debate about this subject due to possible lactic acid build-up in breastmilk, but regular, moderate exercise will not cause lactic acid to build up in your system. Anaerobic exercise, however, which occurs at a very high intensity, does produce lactic acid. Either way, lactic acid isn't harmful to your baby-she may just not like how it temporarily changes the taste of your breastmilk. Healthy, breastfeeding women may continue to exercise if they wish and it will not interfere with either the quantity or quality of breastmilk.
Watch for bleeding while exercising, no matter what type of birth you experienced. If bleeding starts or increases, stop immediately and call your health care provider.
Exercise should not hurt. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something's wrong. If you feel pain, stop the exercising.
Rest is an important-but often overlooked-component of a sound fitness program. Especially after delivery, your body requires time to return to your pre-pregnancy shape and fitness level. Between exercise sessions, allow your body to recuperate and rebuild by getting plenty of rest. Listen to your body and take it easy.
Losing the Pooch
A common concern among new mothers is how to get rid of their jelly bellies and regain flatter, more toned stomachs. With proper exercise and diet, the process is not as hard as you might think.
Many women want to resume intense exercise as soon as possible after delivery-before their abdominal muscles or pelvic floors are ready. This may lead to incontinence problems and prolonged back pain, sometimes due to diastisis recti (a stretching of the midline of the abdominal muscles) that was not corrected. With proper training, beginning as early as 24-48 hours after birth, you can avoid many problems and work toward rebuilding and toning your body the right way. If you consistently did abdominal strengthening exercises and worked out throughout your pregnancy, this process will be easier. But even if you were sedentary, you can still achieve good results.
There are some specific exercises you can do to bring the abdominal muscles back together and rebuild your core in general, helping you regain that flat tummy:
After Vaginal Delivery
Start with these options once all incisions or tears have healed:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Pelvic Tilt
- Light Stretching
- Active Posture Check
After Caesarean Delivery
Start with these options after the incision has healed (stitches are dissolved or taken out) and you no longer feel pain when contracting your tummy:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Ankle/Foot Movements
- Pelvic Tilt
- Bridges with a Twist
- Active Posture Check
Your Baby as Fitness Buddy
Spending time with your baby through exercising can also increase your bonding. You can safely perform many exercises and bring your baby along for fun. Stretches, lunges, overhead extensions, neck relaxers, and rows are just a few exercises that you can perform, using your baby (instead of dumbbells) as resistance. Support your baby well and take it slow. Be sure that the exercises you choose do not involve unsteady footing or risks that could potentially injure your baby.
Once baby is about 12 weeks old, you can also think about taking your baby with you in a jogging stroller.
Naptime for baby can also be exercise time for you. While he sleeps, you can remain nearby while doing an at-home workout, such as exercising along with a video or using small pieces of home fitness equipment.
This article has been reviewed by Jen Mueller, a certified prenatal and postpartum fitness specialist.