So, you have done it. You have successfully had a healthy pregnancy, delivered a beautiful little baby that sleeps peacefully in your perfect little nursery (if still pregnant and seeking exercise guidelines see my previous post here). You are consistently juggling diaper changes with feedings while incorporating tummy time; basically you are rocking motherhood. Then it dawns on you. I am doing such a great job keeping this tiny human alive… However, when do I start working on me? How do I go about beginning a postpartum exercise program that will allow me to improve my overall health, help me lose the baby weight and meet my fitness goals without straining my body that was just taken over by another human for 9 months? Read on to answer your questions regarding what is safe in the postpartum period and how to progress your general exercise program.
General Postpartum Exercise Guidelines
This post is in reference to postpartum women who have been cleared by their physician to participate in an exercise program. If you have any questions or concerns about your general health or past pregnancy please speak with your physician prior to initiating an exercising program. Again, this post is in reference to postpartum women in the absence of any medical or obstetric complications who have been cleared by their physician to participate in exercise. Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links to all products that I love and use daily.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides general guidelines for returning to exercise in the postpartum period. These guidelines simply state “exercise routines may be resumed only gradually after pregnancy and should be individualized”1. Like I said…these are VERY general guidelines. After my pregnancy, I followed a few rules that I set in place for myself to prevent myself from over doing it. This allowed me to assess how I felt after each workout and determine if I felt challenged or if I needed to challenge myself a little more next time around.
Postpartum Exercise Rule 1: Start Small and Build
My take on the above guidelines from a professional standpoint is that a mother should start out slow and listen to her body. Start small and gradually increase the amount of time you are exercising by 5 – 10 minutes or add one set of exercises to your routine at a time until you reach a challenging amount of work yet not painful (ie. Muscle burning is acceptable, sharp pain is not). I find my TomTom Spark watch extremely helpful for tracking heart rate, time and distance of my workouts. This allows me to know if I am challenging myself enough and to avoid overdoing it as well. In regards to strength training, I also keep track of how many sets, repetitions and weight used each workout. By keeping track I know how to modify my workout the next time around.
Postpartum Exercise Rule 2: Train every other day for the first few weeks of your exercise routine.
This does not mean I was sedentary on my “off” days. This means, if I did light strength training on Monday, I might go for a walk on Tuesday. If I felt extremely fatigued the day after completing a workout, I might simply stretch at home. Training every other day is beneficial in a few ways: 1) prevents injury by preventing over training 2) gives your body time to respond and a moment for you to determine the amount of muscle soreness or discomfort you might be feeling. By giving yourself this day to assess how you feel you can then adjust your workouts accordingly (ie. If you are extremely sore you might want to back down on the intensity. If you feel zero soreness then you know it is safe to push your workout a little further next time).
Postpartum Exercise Rule 3: Give your body time to respond
Be realistic with your weight loss goals and with strength training goals. In general, it is acceptable to lose approximately 1 kg (2.2 lbs) per week without interfering with lactation if you are breastfeeding4. In regards to strength, it is known that it takes approximately 6 – 8 weeks to hypertrophy a muscle (also known as growing or increasing muscle mass). In those 6 weeks of strength training, you will begin to feel stronger because your body will more efficiently recruit the muscle it already has. However, it takes 6 – 8 weeks to make a muscle bigger. Basically, do not get frustrated with your strength training efforts. With time and consistency you will see the results you are aiming for.
What type of exercise is acceptable?
Immediately after pregnancy, your physician must clear you before starting any exercise program. That being said, once you are cleared, the choice of exercise is really up to you. Basically, the guidelines are that “women exercise aerobically for 3 – 6 days a week for 25 – 60 minutes3. I know it can seem overwhelming when you have lived 9 months with restrictions and all of a sudden you are set free. With this freedom, I encourage you to make good choices. In my opinion, the best form of exercise is the form of exercise that someone enjoys. If you find it to be a chore, then the likely hood of this becoming a lifestyle is slim.
So, pick something you enjoy while at the same time considering the fact that you did just deliver a baby. Remember, your hormones are still playing a role on the flexibility of your ligaments and your abdominals have not been challenged in a very long time. With this increased flexibility and decreased strength, selecting low impact exercises is most likely a safe first choice. Progressing from low impact to moderate and then to intense as tolerated by the individual will assist with avoiding injury while building your exercise tolerance. For the first six months postpartum, I did wear a corset to provide support to my abdominals during my workouts. I chose the Belly Bandit bundle (Link found here: Three Steps to a Fab Post-Pregnancy at BellyBandit.com. ) and I could not have been happier. I successfully healed my diastasis recti (yes, I am one of those statistics that experienced this postpartum) while feeling supported through my workouts. If you feel this is a good choice for you I highly suggested taking a look at the Belly Bandit website. Regardless of how you do it, return to your exercise routine and remember to be kind to your body.
A recent study conducted by Davenport et al., determined that “women receiving postpartum intervention regardless of exercise intensity improved chronic disease risk factors”2. What exactly does this mean? It means that any workout is a good workout! To reap the benefits of exercise you do not need to be running marathons or back squatting 200 lbs. If that’s your cup of tea then keep it up. But, if you enjoy long walks and 15 – 20 minute quick workouts while your baby naps you too can benefit from exercise. Basically, this study determined as long as you are doing some form of exercise in the postpartum period you will receive benefits of reducing your BMI and decreasing your risk for chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
To sum it all up, you have nothing to lose (besides the baby weight). As long as you start slow, listen to your body, give yourself time to see changes and pick a form of exercise you enjoy you will be successful. So, get out there, exercise, feel good about yourself, set an example for your children and improve your overall well-being!!
Join our email list, follow on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with our most recent posts. If you would like more information or would like to see a post regarding a particular topic feel free to message me on any of our social media sites or leave a comment below. Thanks for reading and hope to see you next time!!
XOXO – Sara & Baby W
- Artal R & O’Toole M. (2003) Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Br J Sports Med; 37: 6 – 12
- Davenport, M. H., I Giroux, M. M. Sopper, M. F. Mottola. (2011) Postpartum Exercise Regardless of Intensity Improves Chronic Disease Risk Factors. Med Sci Sports Exerc., Vol. 43 No. 6, pp. 951 – 958,
- Larson-Meyer, Dawnine Ennette. (2002) Effect of Postpartum Exercise on Mothers and their Offspring: A Review of the Literature. Obesity Research; Vol 10 No. 8 pg 841- 853.
- Mottola M. (2002) Exercise in the Postpartum Period: Practical Applications. Current Sports Medicine Reports I: 362 – 368