Exercise After Baby: Safe Postpartum Workouts to Reclaim Your Strength

Bringing a new life into the world is a transformative experience that profoundly affects a woman's body. As you embrace the joys and challenges of motherhood, it's essential to prioritize your health and recovery. Safe postpartum exercise is a crucial component of regaining strength, boosting mood, and maintaining overall health. Engaging in postpartum exercise supports lifelong healthy habits. This guide will explore gentle exercises suited for various stages of postpartum recovery and provide expert advice on how to approach fitness safely and effectively.

Understanding Postpartum Recovery

Postpartum recovery is a unique journey for each mother, influenced by factors such as the type of delivery (vaginal or cesarean), pre-pregnancy fitness levels, and individual health conditions. Regular exercise for lactating women is shown to improve cardiovascular fitness without affecting milk production. To reduce discomfort during a workout, try to feed or express milk prior to exercise and be sure to stay hydrated.

It's important to consult your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program, particularly if you experienced complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Generally, healthcare providers recommend waiting until after the 6-week postpartum check-up before engaging in structured exercise, although gentle movements can often begin sooner.

The Benefits of Postpartum Exercise

  1. Physical Recovery: Exercise helps strengthen and tone muscles, improve cardiovascular fitness, and promote weight loss.
  2. Mental Health: Physical activity can reduce symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety, improving overall mood.
  3. Increased Energy: Regular exercise can combat fatigue, a common issue for new mothers.
  4. Body Positivity: Engaging in physical activity fosters a sense of accomplishment and promotes a positive body image.

Postpartum Exercise Guidelines

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that in the absence of medical/obstetrical complications postpartum women gradually resume physical activities for a recommended amount of 20-30 minutes a day working up to ≥150 min/week. Even 10 minutes is beneficial to your body. Here’s a breakdown of exercises generally suitable for different stages of recovery:

1. Early Postpartum Period (0-6/8 Weeks)

    During the initial weeks after delivery, the focus should be on gentle, restorative movements. Your body needs time to heal, and strenuous activities are generally discouraged.

    6 Gentle Exercises:

    • Kegel Exercises: Strengthening the pelvic floor is crucial after childbirth. To perform Kegels, contract the muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine (but do not perform Kegels while actually urinating), lift these muscles upward and inward, hold for 3-5 seconds, then fully release. Need extra tips? Check out our Kegel how-to guide

       

      • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath in, expanding your belly in all directions. As you exhale, let your belly slowly fall. This exercise helps with muscle coordination and pelvic floor movement.

         

        • Core Activation: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently rock your pelvis upward, flattening your lower back against the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then release. This movement aids in relieving lower back pain and gently strengthens the abdominal muscles.

           

          • Open Books: Lie on your side with your arms extended in front of you and your knees stacked. Take your top arm and raise it to the ceiling and over your body. Allow your spine and chest to rotate with the movement. Return arms together.

             

            • Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale at rest. Exhale and lift your hips towards the ceiling while squeezing your glutes and engaging your pelvic floor. Inhale to lower your hips.

               

              • Sidelying Hip Abduction: Lie on your side with hips stacked, bottom leg bent or straight for your comfort. Lift your top leg toward the ceiling, focusing the lift through your heel.

                  2. Mid-Postpartum (6/8 Weeks-6 Months)

                  As you approach the six-week mark and receive clearance from your healthcare provider, you can begin to incorporate more structured, low-impact exercises into your routine. This stage focuses on rebuilding core strength and improving flexibility.

                  Gentle Exercises 6 Weeks-3 Months:

                  • Walking: Walking is an excellent way to reintroduce cardiovascular activity. Start with short, manageable walks, and gradually increase the duration and pace as your stamina improves.
                    • Tip: While pushing your stroller, keep your elbows by your side and your wrists in neutral to allow you to focus pushing the stroller with your legs versus your arms. This technique helps to reduce back pain, neck pain, wrist, and thumb pain.
                  • Postpartum Yoga: Yoga helps improve flexibility, strength, and mental well-being. Focus on gentle poses such as Child's Pose and Cat-Cow, which stretch and strengthen without stressing the body.
                  • Modified Planks: Get into a standard push up position, but on your knees, not your feet. You can perform with your feet in the air or resting on the ground.  This exercise helps rebuild core and upper body strength. Begin with 30 seconds. Progressions can include longer holds, arm movements, leg movements, and progressing with legs extended or arms straight.
                  • Flyte at-home pelvic floor strengthening: Flyte is an innovative pelvic floor device designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles efficiently and effectively, treating bladder leaks.
                    • Flyte uses mechanotherapy to promote a healing response in the pelvic floor muscles, restoring strength and bladder control in only 5 minutes a day for six weeks, making it a valuable tool for those experiencing urinary incontinence and/or weak pelvic floor muscles.
                      • Flyte’s proprietary technology helps engage the pelvic floor muscles more effectively than traditional exercises alone.
                      • Flyte is easy to use and since it only requires 5 min/day can be easily incorporated into your daily routine without disrupting your schedule.
                    • Flyte has been demonstrated in two published clinical studies to deliver outcomes very similar to surgery without the risk and downtime associated with surgery.

                  Gentle Exercises 3-6 Months:

                  By this stage, many women begin to feel more comfortable engaging in moderate-intensity exercises. It’s essential to continue focusing on core strength and overall stability.

                  • Bodyweight Exercises: Incorporate exercises such as squats, lunges, and modified push-ups. These movements strengthen major muscle groups and enhance functional strength. You can add your baby for some quality time and increased challenge to your exercise. Consider your pre-pregnancy fitness level and you may be able to reintroduce more intense exercise more quickly.
                  • Join Group Fitness Classes: Being part of a group setting can improve motivation, add variety to your exercise routine, and add a social outing to your day to further boost mental health. Find classes that interest you and have modifications for different fitness levels and don’t hesitate to let your instructor know you are just getting back to exercise postpartum.
                    • Postpartum Pilates: Pilates exercises focus on core stability and alignment. Try movements like bird dog, where you are on your hands and knees and extend opposite arm/leg while maintaining a neutral spine. This movement engages the core, back, and hip muscles to rebuild stability.

                    3. Late Postpartum (6-12 Months and Beyond)

                      As you continue to recover and regain strength, you can start to integrate more dynamic and higher-intensity exercises into your routine. The key is to maintain a balance and avoid pushing your body too hard.

                      Gentle Exercises:

                      • Light Weightlifting: Incorporate light dumbbells into your routine for exercises like bicep curls, shoulder presses, and deadlifts. These exercises build muscle strength and endurance.
                      • Low-Impact Cardio: Activities like swimming or cycling provide cardiovascular benefits without excessive impact on the joints.
                        • Stationary Cycling: A stationary bike is a great option to build cardiovascular endurance while maintaining control of the intensity level of the exercise. You can adjust the resistance of the bike and add challenges in and out of the saddle with arm movements and/or speed changes.
                        • Swimming: Water activities can be enjoyable for new mothers because the buoyancy of the water minimizes the impact on your joints, making you feel lighter while enjoying the benefits of water exercise.
                      • Return to Running: It is recommended to wait at least 3 months to return to running but some women may take up to 4-6 months to allow tissue healing to take place and reduce risk of injury. High impact exercise was found to have a 4.59 increased risk for pelvic floor symptoms and urinary incontinence compared to low impact exercise.
                        • You are not yet ready to return to running if you experience any leakage, pain, or symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse.
                        • Be sure you are symptom-free with basic strength exercises (planks, bridges and single leg bridges, wall sit), balance testing (single leg balance, step down/single leg squat, single leg heel raise), and can absorb impact (hopping in place, single leg hop, forward bounding, and running in place) before you begin running again.
                          • Unsure what do to? Find a pelvic floor physical therapist near you.
                        • Check out our blog How to stop leaking urine when running
                      • Functional Training: Engage in movements that mimic daily activities, such as carrying a baby or lifting groceries. These exercises enhance overall strength and support everyday tasks.

                      Key Considerations for Postpartum Exercise

                      1. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or pain. If you experience significant pain, bleeding, or other concerning symptoms, stop exercising and consult your healthcare provider.
                      2. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Ensure you're consuming enough water and nutrients to support your body, especially if you're breastfeeding. Remember that you burn an extra 450-500 calories per day from breastfeeding.
                      3. Prioritize Sleep: While exercise is important, rest and recovery are equally crucial. Make sure you're getting adequate sleep and not overexerting yourself.
                      4. Set Realistic Goals: Focus on gradual progress rather than immediate results. Every postpartum journey is unique, and it's important to celebrate each small achievement.

                      How Flyte Can Help You Recover Faster

                      Flyte is dedicated to supporting new mothers through their postpartum journey with products and services designed to enhance recovery. Here's how our offerings can assist you:

                      • Pelvic Floor Treatment Device: Flyte is designed to help strengthen, tone, and rehabilitate the pelvic floor faster and more effectively than Kegels alone, which is crucial for regaining core stability and preventing and treating issues like incontinence. Flyte has surgical level results without the risks and recovery required from surgery, all from the comfort of home in only 5 min/day.
                      • Expert Guidance: We offer complimentary access to on-staff Doctors of Physical Therapy that specialize in pelvic health and postpartum care. You can chat with us here. Our Flyte users additionally gain access to a private Facebook group to talk with other Flyte users and explore additional pelvic health tips and tricks.

                      Conclusion

                      Reclaiming your strength through safe postpartum exercise is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and perseverance. By focusing on gentle, progressive movements and listening to your body, you can enhance your physical recovery, mood, and overall health. Remember, the goal is to feel strong, energized, and capable of enjoying this precious time with your new baby. If questions arise, consult with your healthcare provider to ensure a safe and effective approach to postpartum fitness.

                       

                       

                      References

                      Evenson KR, Brown WJ, Brinson AK, Budzynski-Seymour E, Hayman M. A review of public health guidelines for postpartum physical activity and sedentary behavior from around the world. J Sport Health Sci. 2024 Jul;13(4):472-483. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2023.12.004. Epub 2023 Dec 28. PMID: 38158180; PMCID: PMC11184298.

                      Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: ACOG Committee Opinion, Number 804. Obstetrics & Gynecology 135(4):p e178-e188, April 2020. | DOI: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003772

                      American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (7th ed). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006. pp. 230-232.

                      Exercise After Pregnancy | ACOG

                      Breastfeeding Your Baby | ACOG

                      Returning to running postnatal – guidelines for medical, health and fitness professionals managing this population


                      Flyte pelvic floor device in woman's hand image
                      Flyte® - the easy, effective, and proven at-home treatment for bladder leaks
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                      Flyte® - the easy, effective, and proven at-home treatment for bladder leaks
                      Flyte® - the easy, effective, and proven at-home treatment for bladder leaks
                      Flyte® - the easy, effective, and proven at-home treatment for bladder leaks

                      Flyte® - the easy, effective, and proven at-home treatment for bladder leaks

                      Flyte® - the easy, effective, and proven at-home treatment for bladder leaks

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