Postpartum exercise: how & when to get started

Published: Monday, June 24, 2024
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Kayla Emmett
Physical Therapist
Amanda Holland
Physical Therapist

If you recently brought home a new baby, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. But for women who love working out, starting to exercise after giving birth marks a return to something they truly enjoy. Whichever category you’re in, you can benefit from postpartum exercise.

Being physically active after giving birth can help your health and wellness in many ways. It’s important, though, to do it safely. Keep reading to learn more about postpartum exercise.

What are the benefits of postpartum exercise?

Exercise does the body good. That means your body, too—new mama! While your attention is naturally focused on your baby, you also need to devote some time to yourself. Physical activity can help you do that.

Postpartum exercise can help you lose any extra weight you gained during pregnancy, but there are many other health benefits that are even more important. Physical activity can:

  • Give you a (much-needed) energy boost
  • Help you sleep better
  • Relieve stress and anxiety
  • Strengthen abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor

There’s also some evidence that shows that postpartum exercise can help prevent or treat postpartum depression. One research study found that three to four moderate exercise sessions a week of 35 to 45 minutes offers optimal benefits for mental health.

When is it safe to start exercising after giving birth?

Every woman is different, so ask your provider this question if you haven’t already talked about it. Your OB/GYN or another women’s health provider can provide you with a personalized answer to the question based on your pregnancy and delivery.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) offers some basic guidance: Women who “had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery should be able to start exercising again soon after the baby is born.” They go on to say that you can begin exercising in that scenario within a few days after giving birth or when you feel ready.

The second part of that is perhaps most important. You can begin exercising when you feel ready. Don’t push yourself if you’re in pain or otherwise not prepared to resume physical activity. 

Women who have a cesarean birth or experience complications should get the greenlight from their provider before exercising.

What types of postpartum exercise are OK for me?

Even if you had a complication-free pregnancy and delivery, give yourself grace! Your body has changed since before you were pregnant, so it’s important to start slow and rebuild your strength over time. 

The ACOG recommends beginning your postpartum exercise routine with simple, basic movements. This can include stretches and exercises—without weights or resistance—designed to rebuild and strengthen your core. Perform these exercises at a low intensity, slowly and with intention.

You can also begin taking slow walks around the block or at a local park. Pop your baby into a stroller, if needed, and head out for a stroll. Just keep it slow at first.

Any mom who had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, or just starting to exercise, is to start with low impact initially (walking, squats, lunges) and slowly get back to high impact (jumping and running), always assessing how she feels during and after exercise. A good measure of intensity is that you can still maintain a conversation during exercise when starting back. You can alwaysexercise with your baby, such as holding the baby and doing some mini squats or mini lunges.

Gradually, as your body feels ready, you can add in moderate-intensity activities. That can mean speeding up your walk to a brisk pace or doing other types of physical activity such as swimming or yoga. Start with 20 or 30 minutes at most, working up to longer workouts to get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

Wait a little while before you resume vigorous activities like running or tennis, even if you did them regularly before pregnancy. Talk with your provider about when you can resume those activities, along with strength training using weights or resistance.

No matter what type of activity you’re doing, if you experience pain, stop! Listen to your body and follow its lead when it comes to physical activity. 

What else should I consider about exercising after giving birth?

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to give yourself grace! Be kind to yourself and your body as you get back to physical activity. Your body housed, fed and nourished a baby for the better part of a year—it will need time to recover.

As you start to exercise again, you may find that you’re slower or less steady than you were before pregnancy. That’s entirely normal. You will gradually find your groove back, and in the meantime, simply keep moving.

Before you begin exercising, consider whether you’re experiencing any common postpartum health issues, such as pelvic floor dysfunction or diastasis recti. If you have pelvic floor dysfunction, your provider may recommend pelvic floor therapy. Are you suffering from one of the following conditions?

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Coccyx/Tailbone pain
  • Hip pain
  • Pelvic pain (superficial/deep)Scar adhesions/hypersensitivity
  • Disorders of the bowel
  • Disorders of the bladder
  • Sexual dysfunction/pelvic pain
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Pregnancy or postpartum related pelvic pain

If so, pelvic floor physical therapy may be for you.

A physical therapist or specific exercises may be recommended if you have diastasis recti, which is a separation of the ab muscles that affects many pregnant women.

You’ll also want to think about some logistical aspects of postpartum exercise. If you’re breastfeeding, give your breasts a little extra care. Feed your little one or pump prior to exercising to avoid discomfort or engorged breasts. You’ll also want to try out a few options to find a well-fitting sports bra that provides support and cushioning.

One other factor to consider? It can be easier to become dehydrated when you’re breastfeeding. Sip on water before, during, and after your workouts to make sure you’re getting plenty of fluids. 

Learn more

Our Women & Children’s Services team gets to witness life’s most sacred moments every day. Preparing for a delivery? Call 770-525-6572, or click here for more information.

NGHS has an experienced team of medical professionals who work together to maximize the quality of maternal care and improve postpartum recovery. Our health system is dedicated to supporting the reduction of physical and psychological stressors on new moms, and for all women. For information about early postpartum rehabilitation at NGMC, click here