No matter what type of pregnancy and labor you experienced, most doctors advise waiting until you’ve had your six-week postpartum check-up before diving back into exercise. At this appointment, you’ll likely get the all-clear from your physician, which means, physically, you can get back to it. But, there are some things to consider before getting back to your pre-pregnancy fitness routine, including how to ease into it, what exercises are beneficial and what new things you need to consider now that your body has gone through pregnancy and childbirth.
In the 15 years that I’ve been teaching pilates, yoga and fitness, I’ve worked with thousands of women on their journeys through pregnancy and the postpartum period. I’ve spent hundreds of hours studying and learning from some of the most informed practitioners and researchers around the world. I would love to share with you how I coach my clients throughout their postpartum recoveries.
When can I start exercising again postpartum?
The biggest mistake I see people making is jumping back into their pre-pregnancy exercise routine as soon as they get that all-clear from their doctor (which typically happens around six weeks postpartum).
Unfortunately, doctors don’t tend to go into a lot of detail around exactly how you should ease back into exercise after you’ve had your baby. Women are often told they can return to the exercise they were doing prior to pregnancy. If you were someone that walked daily and went swimming on the weekend, then this would be fine. But if you were someone who enjoyed regular gym workouts, pilates, yoga, HIIT training, running or crossfit, there are a few things to keep in mind—which means, when you can start exercising again (in a way that feels similar to your pre-pregnancy workouts), varies from person to person. My advice? Start slow, which will allow you to figure out what your body needs in the postpartum period.
What exercises should you focus on after you’ve had a baby?
While doctors will recommend avoiding all exercise in the first six weeks postpartum (to err on the side of caution), there is actually so much you can do during this time to help reconnect your core muscles, promote healing and aid your recovery.
Whether you’ve had a vaginal or c-section delivery, the first thing you want to focus on is deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Spending a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply is the best way to begin your recovery. Your diaphragm is actually one of your core muscles, and after birth, we tend to breathe quite shallowly and rapidly. Allowing this muscle to contract and relax completely allows the lower core and pelvic floor muscles to release tension, too.
In this first six weeks postpartum, you can also start working on:
- Gentle spinal mobility exercises (cat-cow, spinal rotations, side bends)
- Chest opener stretches (place a forearm on the wall at shoulder height and lean forward)
- Gentle hip mobility stretches (standing quad/thigh stretches, seated figure-four stretches)
- Practicing engaging your core and pelvic floor muscles along with your deep breathing
- Short walks (preferably outdoors)
Once you’re ready to engage in something a little more energetic, such as a gym workout or a pilates or yoga class, focus on:
- Gentle core and pelvic floor exercises, (all-fours kneeling arm and leg reaches—make sure you always perform these keeping your spine in neutral)
- Upper body strength (in particular, upper back and shoulders)
- Lots of gluteal exercises (using your own bodyweight in lieu of heavier weights, try squats or side-lying clams and leg lifts)
- Gentle bike riding
A check-in with a women’s health physiotherapist, once you’re six weeks postpartum, can be incredibly helpful for your recovery. They can assess whether you have diastasis recti (abdominal separation) or any pelvic floor issues and provide exercises to help you focus on the specific recovery you may need.
Are there exercises to avoid?
There are certain exercises best avoided in your fitness routine postpartum, especially if you’re experiencing pelvic floor issues (such as pelvic pain, lower back pain and incontinence) or diastasis recti.
When your core is in a weakened state, avoid:
- Full planks
- Side planks
- Abdominal twists
- Heavy weights
Be wary of any exercises that put downward pressure on your pelvic floor (causing the muscles to push down, rather than lift and engage) or anything high-impact (causing repetitive downward pressure):
- Mountain biking
- HIIT workouts
As you feel your body gaining strength, you can start to increase the intensity, weight loads and challenge of your exercises. But at any point you notice pelvic pain or any leaking of urine when sneezing, coughing or jumping, that is a clear sign to ease off and return to something gentler.