Best Postpartum Exercises to Ease Back Into Fitness

Postpartum exercises can feel intimidating, but they don't have to be. Here's how to start slow and steady.
postpartum exercises

Whether you’re an avid exerciser or a fitness newbie, exercising postpartum is a challenging and oftentimes anxiety-invoking experience. Not only have you been modifying—or pausing—your exercise endeavors during the 9 months of pregnancy and up until at least six weeks postpartum, but your body has been through a transformative experience physically, mentally and emotionally.

You’re also adjusting to new family dynamics, the responsibility of keeping a whole additional person alive, happy, and healthy, and you may even be dealing with physical restrictions due to your birthing experience. You may not be able to lift heavy objects or move around easily or without pain. Not only that, but you may not be getting much (if any) quality sleep, and you may not be eating well or hydrating enough. 

The American College of Gynecology (ACOG) states that it’s usually safe to start gentle movements (a.k.a. going for a walk) as soon as a few days (!) after giving birth if you feel ready, but your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you wait a minimum of 6 weeks and even longer if you delivered via C-section. 

If you’re looking to get back into exercise postpartum, it’s incredibly crucial that you do so the right way—slow and steady. Here is your ultimate guide to postpartum exercise to help ease you back into fitness in a realistic and tangible manner. 

We’ll answer these questions:

  • When can you start exercising after giving birth?
  • Why are postpartum exercises important?
  • Best postpartum exercises to get you started
  • Why is rest so important during the postpartum period?

When can you start exercising after giving birth?

While you may know that you shouldn’t return to your pre-birth fitness level right away if you experienced complications during childbirth or gave birth via C-section, if you had a straightforward vaginal birth, you might be wondering if you also need to wait before jumping back into postpartum exercises. 

Most healthcare providers, especially OB/GYNs, recommend that you avoid moderate-intensity physical activity until a minimum of six weeks postpartum.

Depending on the type of delivery you had, as well as any birthing complications, you may get the thumbs up on light activity like walking, however, it’s best that you postpone running, strength training and other high-intensity aerobic activities for the sixth-week mark and beyond.

There’s no need to push yourself to start working out after baby before you feel ready, however. You’ve gone through a lot both physically and mentally and it’s okay if you need to take some time to focus on rest (and your new little one, of course).

Why are postpartum exercises important?

It’s a good idea to try to move your body again once you feel ready to and have been cleared because there are so many benefits to regular exercise that can be even more important during the postpartum period. 

According to Mayo Clinic, postpartum exercises can help you manage stress and keep it in check, give you an increase in energy (sorely needed during this time), combat symptoms related to postpartum depression, encourage better sleep, strengthen your abdominal muscles, which took a bit of a beating during pregnancy and childbirth, and more.

“In pregnancy, the ribcage and pelvis flare up and forward to create space for the growing baby,” Hillary O’Connor, PT, DPT, PCES, explained. “The body creates new movement patterns, breathing patterns, and postural patterns. This new position lengthens the hamstrings and abdominals so they are at a disadvantage to work postpartum.”

If you aren’t able to get these muscles back into fighting shape postpartum, you won’t have the support that you need to take care of the new baby and do everyday activities, O’Connor explained.

“The ribs also tend to get stiff in the pregnancy posture so it is ideal to improve rib mobility through breathing activities to support head, neck, and shoulder movements and decrease mid-back stiffness felt by so many postpartum folks,” she added.

Rehabbing the muscles that bore the brunt of the effects of pregnancy and childbirth is super important (once you’re able to, of course) because ignoring those muscles, specifically your core and pelvic floor muscles, can have lasting negative impacts. 

While it is, of course, important not to rush back into anything, getting a slow start once you can is important for your overall well being.

Best postpartum exercises to get you started

Gentle Movement

Once you’re ready to go back to exercising—or have been cleared to do so by your doctor—you may find that it’s too much to jump right back into what you were doing before.

It’s okay if you’re not able to immediately go back to your old routine, especially if you had to take a break from some of those activities during your pregnancy. Starting slow is still starting.

“Gentle exercises like mobility and breathing activities can be incorporated as early as day 0 postpartum,” O’Connor said. “When it comes to exercising postpartum, the number one place I start with all my clients [is] in the breath. Retraining the body to use the diaphragm (primary breathing muscle) to pull air into our system will improve pressure management, rib mobility, pelvic floor function, shoulder health, proper spine alignment, and so much more. The ability to feel air expand into the back and sides of the ribcage is a great starting point with retraining the breath.”

Even simple and light movements of your ankles, knees and legs while you’re relaxing or lying in bed is better than nothing, according to Jessica Tranchina, DPT, a physical therapist and owner of Generator Athlete Lab (and also a mom herself), because it can help get your circulation going, helping to prevent the threat of thromboses and move fluid. Then, once you’re up to it, Tranchina recommends walking. 

Walking is a great way to move your body and move your lymph fluid and engage your calves because the calf acts as a pump to pump fluids through your body,” Tranchina explains.

Pelvic Floor Training

You also may notice that there’s a huge emphasis on pelvic floor health post-pregnancy. That’s because your pelvic floor is majorly impacted by both pregnancy, as your baby grows larger and larger, and childbirth, which requires the use of those muscles. Pelvic floor training might sound tricky, but it’s easier than you may think.

Tranchina says that one of the best and easiest pelvic floor exercises you can do during the postpartum period is to engage those muscles and hold that muscle contraction before releasing. 

You can think about holding in your urine or a toot or you’re holding in something that you don’t want to let out and then you can release it,” Tranchina said. “You can start as gentle as that, and it’s really just thinking about the deep, deep, deep muscles versus the superficial muscles like the abs.”

Your pelvic floor muscles help to support your bladder, uterus, rectum, and small intestine, so it’s important to work to tone those muscles during the postpartum period, according to Mayo Clinic. Doing Kegels or other pelvic floor training can help combat incontinence, which you may experience or have heard friends and family members talk about experiencing after giving birth.

Yoga and Pilates

Once you’re ready to move beyond the basics a bit, consider simple yoga and pilates moves or attending a low-impact group class. Yoga and pilates both allow you to control your exercises using your body weight, says Kiara Horwitz, certified yoga instructor (and new mom, herself).

Horwitz emphasizes that it’s critical to move slowly and listen to your body as you start working out after baby so that you don’t do too much too soon. You may find that you can do more if you were more active prior to and during your pregnancy, while you may need to give yourself more time to adjust if you took a longer break from fitness or weren’t very active beforehand.

No matter what kind of fitness regimen you’re hoping to eventually settle into, starting slowly and letting your body move as slowly as it needs to so you can work up to your goals is the best way to get there while protecting yourself at the same time. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself or make things worse.

Why is rest so important during the postpartum period?

Whether you’re ready to prioritize rest or you’re dreading needing to take it slower for a little while, rest is definitely needed when you’re recovering from giving birth.

“Having a baby is a trauma to the body,” Tranchina says. “… you really want to think of it in terms of an ultra race. You want to rest as many days after, because of not just the ligament [laxity], but you think your body may be able to do certain things and it may not be able to do those things because it has gone through that trauma.”

Take the time you need to rest, your body will appreciate it.

Author

  • Lauren Schumacker

    Lauren Schumaker fell in love with food at a young age. After attending culinary school in Chicago, she moved to Athens, GA to earn her master's in journalism at the University of Georgia. While in Athens, she took over the food-focused Locavore column in Flagpole magazine. She was also an editorial intern at Sauce Magazine in St. Louis, where she continued to freelance. Lauren worked as a lifestyle writer and editor for years, with bylines appearing in places like Romper, INSIDER, Tales of the Cocktail and The Everygirl. When she's not working, you can find her in the kitchen cooking, spending time with her dog, Brody, or working on her endless TBR list.

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