I often get questions about how to jump back into physical activity after having a baby. Postpartum women want to know: where do I start?
Today, I lay out when to start, what to avoid, and what postpartum milestones matter.
Read below or watch the video!
First 6-8 Weeks Postpartum
First thing first: you just had a baby. In the first six weeks after giving birth, rest should be your #1 priority.
Beyond resting, my recommendations for this period are simple. Focus on:
1. Deep breathing to get your breath system working again.
2. Connecting to your deep core muscles, particularly your transverse abdominals.
From a seated position (or while nursing), first take a breath in and let the belly relax. Imagine a corset around your midsection. As you exhale, feel the corset draw in gently. This should create a feeling of length in the torso. This action helps bring your core muscles back on-line. For more postpartum ab exercises, head here.
3. If you are desperate for some movement, walk!
Walking is low impact and increases circulation (which aids healing). In a perfect world, this walking would happen without holding or wearing your baby. For some of us (like me!) that isn’t possible with a newborn, and that’s ok! But, if you can manage it, walking freely helps bring your body back into proper alignment after pregnancy. For some tips on walking technique, head to this post.
To recap: as you begin to heal in those first six weeks focus on: REST, breathing, core engagement, and walking (if you feel up for it!).
6-Weeks to 4-Months Postpartum
At this point, you’ve had six weeks to heal (and possibly a few weeks longer in the case of a C-section), and your care provider has cleared you for activity. We now enter the six-week to four-month period of recovery.
This period is critical to your post-baby core health. I encourage my students to approach this stage with care and caution.
Elevated hormone levels and muscular imbalances from pregnancy leave your body, particularly your core, in a compromised state. And doing too much too soon can lead to postpartum issues like diastasis, prolapse, and hernias.
This is especially true for a woman who was active during her pregnancy. Her arms and legs are strong. She feels like she can do everything. But her core is weak and cannot support that effort.
My recommendations for this period include:
Continue working on the basics.
Engage your deep core muscles regularly and get the breath down. Pregnancy alters the core muscles and breathing system and it takes time to get them working well again!
Add in activities that rebalance your post-baby musculature.
Rebuild mobility in the mid-back. When your back and chest are tight, simple activities, like reaching or lifting, strain an already weak core.
Balance the muscles of the hips. By rebalancing the muscles of the hips, you create a healthier pelvic floor.
Keep activities low impact.
Walk, lift gentle weights, gentle yoga (but know not all poses are good for a post-baby body!).
- High-intensity impact activities. No running, burpees, HIIT, Crossfit. These activities put excessive demand and load on your core and it’s not ready for that yet!
- Front-loading ab activities. Planks, crunches and all the ‘typical’ ab exercises will do more harm than good.
- Excessive back bending postures and deep twist positions like you find in many yoga classes.
Remember, this is a critical period for your body and recovery. You have the chance to create a solid foundation that will allow you to begin incorporating more intense activities in the near future. If you overexert yourself during this period you could end up weaker at six-months postpartum than you were at six-weeks.
4-Months Postpartum and Beyond
Recommendations become less cut and dry after 4 months.
Some who’ve spent the first 4 months building the foundation can safely introduce high-intensity activity at this point.
Others would benefit from continuing with lower-intensity activities for longer. This would include anyone who falls into the following categories:
Breastfeeding extends the critical period for your body. The hormones associated with breastfeeding create laxity in your ligaments. In other words, they make you loosey-goosey and create instability in your body. If you are an extended breastfeeder (like I was!) you should approach high-intensity activities with caution until you finish nursing or are down to 2 or 3 feedings a day. After that, the hormones shift and allow more stability in your ligaments.
If you tend to be a very flexible person, you are likely genetically predisposed to instability. You’re super flexible because your joints are looser. If this is the case for you, you also want to be more conservative in your post-baby movement. You would benefit from giving your body more time to rebuild core stability.
Family History of Postpartum Issues:
If you have a family history of things like hernias or prolapses it likely means you are genetically predisposed to these issues. Again, this is an indication that you may want to give your body more time to build a foundation of stability and strength before jumping into high-intensity activities.
How to Begin Increasing Intensity of Your Exercise
You’re done nursing (or are down to 1-2 times a day), you’ve mastered deep breathing, and have a solid connection to your deep core muscles.
Awesome! Let’s increase that intensity!
Here’s how to do it in a mindful, core-safe way.
Start With Lower Intensity.
Your body has gone through a huge transition and you should not jump into any activity at your pre-pregnancy intensity. Start at 50% of your “usual” and see how it feels. If you feel back pain, hip pain, if you leak, or feel like your core isn’t supporting you, those are all signs that you are working beyond your ability.
Short Intervals Are Best.
If you’re getting back to running, don’t start by heading out and knocking out two miles. Instead, try five minutes and then check in. If you’re doing a yoga class, take a break every 5-10 minutes and see how everything is feeling.
Again….Does your back hurt? Do your hips hurt? Did you leak any urine? Do you feel unsupported in your core?
If you answer yes to any of those questions, your body hit its limit. You’ll want to move to even shorter intervals and spend more time building that foundation.
If, after five minutes, you are feeling good and aren’t having any of those symptoms. Awesome! Next time, try 7 minutes and see how that goes. You want to build your intervals slowly.
Check In Frequently!
It’s likely there will be a point at which you will reach the limit of what your body can do in a strong, safe way. And once you hit that limit, stop! That’s your limit, but just for now. You build from there.
Remember: Start back to your activity of choice with less intensity, shorter durations, and continual check-ins with yourself. The moment you see any signs of dysfunction, back off or stop. From there, we continue to build! By respecting your body’s limits rather than pushing through them, you give your core the chance to rebuild it’s pre-baby strength.