Your body just pushed out a baby, so there’s no question that it’s strong, capable, and incredible. The only question is: What will it do next? After giving birth, your body will need a little TLC, and postpartum exercise should be an essential part of your self-care plan. (Hey, babies aren’t the only ones who need extra care after delivery!)
Exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, abdominal muscles, and back muscles can help repair the areas that did a lot of difficult work during delivery. And incorporating cardio in your postpartum workout plan can help promote better sleep (something every new mom needs!), decrease stress, increase your energy levels, and help prevent postpartum depression.
Take your first steps (pun intended!) toward these after-baby benefits by incorporating postpartum exercise into your daily routine. Learn what you need to know to start exercising after your delivery, and discover the best exercises to speed your recovery.
Tips for Postpartum Exercise
During your first few days and weeks post-pregnancy, your body will be in recovery. So, be kind to yourself. While postpartum exercises can be beneficial starting as soon as a few days after your delivery, you should listen to your body and your doctor’s advice. Follow these tips to get the most out of your postpartum workout routine:
Talk to Your Doctor
Before restarting your exercise routine, ask when you’ll be ready to work out, whether there are exercises you should avoid, and for how long you’ll need to avoid them. If you received stitches during your delivery, your ob/gyn may also have tips to protect your stitches during workouts.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), some women who had a vaginal birth can exercise as soon as a few days after delivery. For others, it will be a few weeks. Women who’ve had a cesarean section or a complication should get the green light from their health care provider before starting their postpartum fitness routine.
Do What You Can
The ACOG recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, or about 30 minutes of cardio five days a week, with strength training on at least two of those days. But life as a new mom can be hectic. Even 10 minutes a day has benefits, and if you had a difficult pregnancy and delivery, start working out again slowly so your body has time to adjust.
Resume Your Pregnancy Workouts
If you exercised throughout your pregnancy, then you can pick up where you left off by doing the same duration and intensity of exercise you did before and during pregnancy. You can even do high-intensity exercise if that’s what you’re used to and it feels comfortable.
Aim for Moderate Intensity
If you haven’t worked out in a while or don’t have a history of high-intensity physical activity, you should aim for moderate-intensity cardio. During your workouts, you’ll want to get your heart rate up to a level where you can still talk, but not sing.
Don’t Worry About Weight Loss
A lot of new moms feel pressure to instantly lose the baby weight, but your postpartum body is beautiful and strong — and it’s still doing a lot. If you’re breastfeeding, you’re burning a lot of extra calories, so now is not the time to deprive yourself. Instead of focusing on weight loss, focus on eating a healthy diet and exercising. Consult an online nutrition coach if you need help.
Be Gentle With Your Breasts
Breastfeeding right before you start your postpartum exercises can take some of the pressure out of your breasts and make you more comfortable.
Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, your chest will likely be tender for a few weeks following your delivery. Breast milk can also add extra weight and sensitivity to your breasts, so use a comfortable, supportive bra when you workout.
11 Postpartum Exercises for a Speedy Recovery
A good postnatal exercise routine should include a combination of cardio and strength training. We’ll offer our favorite options for at-home cardio, along with low-impact strength-training exercises that target your pelvic floor and core — the muscle groups in need of the most extra care in those initial weeks postpartum.
3 Cardio Workouts
These three classic cardio workouts are accessible and easy to do at your own pace.
Walk: We love walking because it’s accessible at nearly any fitness level. Plus, you can bring baby along in their stroller. If you ran before and during pregnancy, then running is likely an option for you. But, if you haven’t run before, stick with walking or speed walking until you're about six months postpartum.
Swim: If you have access to a pool, swimming laps or attending a water aerobics exercise class can give you the cardio you need. This option is especially good for any woman looking for low-impact exercise.
Ride a bike: Riding a stationary bike is a popular cardio workout for pregnant women. If you did this during your pregnancy, keep the momentum going by continuing your rides on a stationary bike or road bike.
5 Pelvic Floor Exercises
For each of these exercises, aim to do three sets with 10-15 repetitions. And don’t feel like you need to do these exercises all in one one. You can squeeze in a set whenever you have the time.
Kegels: Kegel exercises are easy to do anywhere without anyone knowing. Simply squeeze your pelvic floor muscles in and up like you’re trying to hold in urine. Hold for three seconds, and release.
Squats: To get your form right, start with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider, toes pointed forward. Squeeze your abs in to keep your back straight. (Don’t arch your lower back.) Then, bend at the knees and use your legs to lower yourself down until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Return to a standing position.
Lunges: Stand with your feet together, hips pointing forward. Take a big step forward, then bend your knees while keeping your core tight and your back straight. Keep bending until your back knee is only a few inches from the floor. Rise back up and return to your starting position.
Glute bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Squeeze your glutes and lower abs in, and raise your butt off the ground while keeping your head and shoulders flat on the floor. Lower back down to return to your starting position.
Pelvic tilt: In the same starting position you used for your glute bridges, tilt your hips up, tucking in your lower abdomen while keeping your back flat on the floor. Tilt your hips back down to return to your starting position.
3 Abdominal Exercises
The right core exercises can help you recover from diastasis recti, or a split abdominal wall, but the wrong ones can make it worse. Avoid planks, crunches, backbends, and heavy lifting until you’re fully recovered.
Even if you don’t have diastasis recti, a stronger core will help you lift your little one more comfortably and avoid the repetitive use injuries that often plague new parents. Again, aim for three sets of 10-15 reps for each postpartum exercise.
Toe taps: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet planted, like you did for the glute bridge and pelvic tilt in the previous section. Tighten your ab muscles toward your spine. Raise both knees so that your shins are parallel to the floor. Point your toes and alternate tapping one toe on the ground and then the other.
Heel slides: Again, use the same starting position that you did with the glute bridge — back flat on the floor, knees bent, and feet planted. Slide one heel out until your leg is straight. Slide it back in to return to your starting position, and then repeat with the other leg.
Bird dog: This time, you’ll start on all fours in a tabletop position. Your hands should be planted on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be planted hip-width apart. Squeeze your core muscles in, and keep your neck in line with your spine. Lift your left arm in front of you and straighten it while lifting the right leg and straightening it behind you. Return to your starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
The glute bridges and pelvic tilts described above do double-duty and help to rebuild both your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. Just be sure to always keep your stomach muscles pulled in toward the spine. Don’t do exercises that push these muscles out, as that could make diastasis recti worse.
TLC for Mom
A good postpartum workout plan should focus on recovery first. This isn’t about getting your pre-pregnancy body back — this is about being the strongest, healthiest mom you can be. So, start by giving your body time to recover. Some women can exercise just a few days after a vaginal delivery, but if you feel like your body needs more time, listen. And if you gave birth via C-section, wait until you have your doctor’s permission to start exercising again.
Once you’re ready to hit the ground running (or walking!), aim for 150 minutes of cardio each week, or about 30 minutes five days per week. On at least two of the days, incorporate 10-15 minutes of strength-training exercises to your routine. Focus extra attention on strengthening your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to speed your postpartum recovery.
If five days of postpartum exercise sounds like a lot, start smaller. Even a little bit of exercise can have big benefits. Try fitting in just 5-10 minutes of the exercises we list above, and glow from there! And if you’re struggling with your fitness motivation, enlist the help of a personal trainer.
An online personal trainer will help you stay accountable to yourself even when all your attention is going to your little one. They’ll keep you motivated with regular check-ins and give you a personalized postpartum exercise program based on your needs, interests, and schedule. Get the help you need to take care of yourself during the postpartum period and beyond!