Many new moms want to kick-start their exercise program after the baby comes. How soon you begin will depend on the amount of time needed to heal, and that varies with each woman, no matter whether your baby is delivered vaginally or by C-section. There are good reasons to exercise postpartum. Exercise can help strengthen abdominal muscles weakened by pregnancy and birth, elevate energy levels and help ward off postpartum depression. But there are also good reasons— high blood pressure, a heart or kidney condition, abdominal separation, severe anemia or diabetes—that signal you may need to delay starting an exercise routine.
The degree of trauma you experience giving birth will also determine the kind of postpartum exercise you do. Listen to your body and always check with your doctor before you begin exercising. If your vaginal delivery was uncomplicated, your health care provider may agree that you can start gentle exercise the day after giving birth.
Many women who’ve had C-sections are encouraged to start walking as soon as they can after giving birth, although doctors advise against lifting anything heavier than their babies. (Tip: Protect your weakened core muscles by holding your baby close to your body and not off to the side.) Existing guidelines recommend that women who have had major abdominal surgery delay trying vigorous exercise for eight to 10 weeks.
Start with 30-minute walks.
With your doctor’s approval, begin exercising by walking 30 minutes a day. Break that 30 minutes into six sets of 5-minute walks if you can’t manage 30 minutes straight. Or try three sets of 10-minute walks. Help increase abdominal strength by learning earn how to exhale while exerting yourself. Holding your breath upon exertion can weaken your abdominal and core muscles.
As soon as you feel able, try strengthening your core by doing basic abdominal exercises. These could be breath work, heel slides, leg extensions and toe taps. Start with one to five repetitions, and then try to build up to 10 to 20 repetitions.
Cut back if you feel pain.
Experiencing pain may indicate you need to ease up on the exercise that is causing pain. If you’ve been running, try walking again; and spend more time recovering. But if the pain is extreme, contact a doctor or physical therapist. You may want to call your doctor if gentle activity produces leaking urine or feces, pain in the joints of your pelvis, a feeling of heaviness in your pelvis or the sensation of something dropping into your vagina.
Busy new mothers sometimes overlook the exercise they get taking care of their newborns. Picking up the baby and feeding the baby qualify as small workouts. Take advantage of their tummy time and do some yoga next to them, but always keep an eye. Running after older sisters and brothers also counts as exercise. If you’re feeling back to normal, yet still don’t have time for the gym, you can turn your life into a training program with extra little exercises. Try squatting three times instead of one when you must get down and retrieve something off the floor. Park the car a little further away in the parking lot when you are running errands. Above all, taking the appropriate time and listening to your body every step of the way is the way to get back in the exercise game.