After giving birth, your life, emotions, and body are all out of whack. Maybe you're dreading exercising again (because who has the time for that) or itching to have some normalcy back in your life. Either way, it's all good.
No matter which camp you land in, adding fitness to your new mom routine has tons of benefits for your physical and mental health. To save you time and a headache, we interviewed some experts in postnatal care to give you everything you need to know.
Pregnancy puts a lot of strain on your body both physically and hormonally. Gradually becoming more active will help improve your health and quality of life.
"After 9 months of pregnancy, the core and pelvic floor specifically were under a lot of pressure and strain. Physical activity and fitness help increase the strength of these foundational muscles to help avoid things like urinary leakage, back pain, and hip pain," explains Dr. Kristina Kehoe, PT, DPT, a board-certified physical therapist specializing in women's health.
Physical activity releases endorphins which ease anxiety and potentially postpartum depression. Choose an exercises that promote emotions you want to feel. If you're looking to relax, try something soothing like yoga. Need an energy boost? Try something that gets your body moving or has you soaking up some sunshine.
Dr. Kehoe says, "Being physically active during the day can also help with mom’s sleep (not necessarily baby's). Lastly, physical activity can provide mom with some much-needed alone time and a respite from caring for everyone else."
There's no one size fits all answer for when you can start exercising after pregnancy. A lot depends on your health before, during, and after giving birth. You also need to consider if you gave birth vaginally or had a c-section.
"I usually recommend waiting to become more active until 4-6 weeks postpartum. This is due to tissue healing and bleeding that may be occurring. Even though your body is still healing at this point, this is typically the time when it is safe to be more active. With that being said, I don’t recommend jumping right back into high-impact activity. It’s important to limit activity that causes any pain, urinary leakage, heaviness, or pressure in the pelvic or vaginal area. This timeline may be a little later for those with a c-section," says Dr. Kehoe.
It's important to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise. They know all the details about your health and pregnancy. It's possible that you can start with very light exercise within days of going home from the hospital.
Warning signs your body isn't ready to start exercising again
Leigha Verbeem, pelvic health coach, stretch therapist, and personal trainer, cautioned new moms to take it slow. Leigha says, "your body just went through a MAJOR physically and mentally taxing event. We have to rehab it slowly and build your body back to its previous capabilities. Be kind to your body and reward it for all its hard work."
So it's crucial to watch for the warning signs below. If you experience any of them, stop any exercise, stick with gentle walking, and consult your health care provider.
Dr. Kehoe explains that, "light exercise even from the first week (i.e., walking, deep breathing, light stretching) is so important. Physically, getting back to activity in the early stages can help improve the healing process by promoting blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles. Additionally, light activity in the early weeks can help prevent childbirth complications like blood clots."
While 150 minutes is the gold standard amount of exercise according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), this might not be doable for you. Reaching that 150 minutes could take weeks or months to build up to dependong on your health and life.
Keep in mind you're probably getting in more movement than you think. All that time spent walking around the house while rocking your kiddo, cleaning, or the other million things on your to-do list counts towards being active!
Pelvic health coach Leigha recommended bite sizes workouts. Think 10-minute chunks of time. She suggested including your baby in exercises as a natural "weight" like holding your baby while walking or doing squats.
While breastfeeding, you need to consume an extra 500 calories per day. Opt for as many whole foods as possible to give your body the additional nutrients it needs. Also, keep in mind that rigorous exercise casues lactic acid build-up in your system, impacting breast milk.
Either breastfeed before working out, wait 90 minutes after working out, or hand express a small amount of milk before feeding your baby. Make sure to shower before breastfeeding to wash the salty sweat from your body which can bother some babies.
After giving birth, your pelvic floor is weak. Exercises that put a lot of strain on your abdominal area can slow down or prevent healing. If pushed too hard, it can lead to prolapse! Avoid any abdominal exercises like crunches or planks.
Diastasis recti, the separation of the abdominal muscles, is a typical result of the birthing process. This appears as a loose pouch of skin that can make you look pregnant. Over half of women develop this condition, it generally resolves in 4-6 months.
Talk with your healthcare provider during your postnatal exam and see if this is something you need to address. Often it means taking things slowly, but in some cases, you might need targeted exercises provided by a physical therapist.
As your body prepares for childbirth, it releases a variety of hormones. One of those, relaxin, does what it’s name sounds like. It relaxes and softens ligaments making it easier for the cervix to dilate. Unfortunately, this hormone can impact your joints up to six months postpartum. This is just another reason to avoid high-intensity and high-impact exercises.
"Have an app or program to help guide [you]. Often, many women want to be active postpartum but don’t know what they should and shouldn’t do. Or they don’t have the energy to think about it. As a physical therapist, that’s how I was. I knew what to do but didn’t want to plan it or think about it. Therefore, many clients have used postpartum fitness apps, and programs, or seen a pelvic floor therapist to help guide them," recommends Dr. Kehoe.
If having someone at your side every step of the way sounds wonderful, CoPilot has your back. Our certified personal trainers help women develop doable fitness plans to use during and after pregnancy. They'll create a routine made for real life (your life).
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Exercise after giving birth should be gentle. Avoid exercises that are high intensity, high impact, or result in straining. Indicators of straining include holding your breath and feeling like you're bearing down.
According to Dr. Mya Bellinger, an internal medicine doctor specializing in immunology and gynecology, specific exercises you should avoid include push-ups, sit-ups, upward dogs, and Russian twists.
As a new mom, your life is super chaotic, and setting aside time for yourself seems like a luxury. But, the benefits to you (and your baby) are pretty significant. Remember, getting started exercising after having a baby doesn't have to be overwhelming.
You can try various exercises, sneak movement into your day, and explore programs that can make things just a little smoother. If you need extra support or just one less thing to think about, get a fitness coach! You can do it. We promise.
Learn more about the article experts:
Dr. Mya Bellinger, an internal medicine doctor, specializing in immunology and gynecology, practices at http://unifiedpharma.com/