Every woman is different. "Some women take a month to walk normally, while others are back on the hiking trail with their baby within 2 weeks," says Robert O. Atlas, MD, of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
The type of delivery you've had matters. "A cesarean delivery requires more time to recover than a vaginal delivery," Atlas says.
When ab muscles are cut during C-sections, they remain very tender after birth. If you exercise too hard and affect this area, it could lead to a hernia, Atlas says. "If you're doing abdominal exercises and this area feels tender, wait another few days or a week and try again."
"It also depends on the type of exercise," Atlas says. For example, it's easier to go back to something like yoga or Pilates, which is gentler on your body, than returning to high-impact routines such as running.
If you were on bed rest for a long time before having your baby, or had twins or other multiples, check with your doctor first. If you had preeclampsia during your pregnancy, your doctor may also recommend delaying exercise for a while.
Once your doctor gives you the OK to exercise, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says to start with easy exercises and slowly build up to more challenging moves.
Focus on core strength and balance training. But be careful, since pregnancy hormones make joints looser, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
For instance, if your knees feel unstable when exercising, do something less challenging until your joints become stronger.
Making a plan that you’re able to keep up is more important than starting right away after delivery, says Sara Morelli, MD, of University Reproductive Associates in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. "Walking is a great way to start getting back in shape and prepare for more vigorous exercise later on," she says.
Try a class or a group for new moms. "They get you out of the house for adult interaction and allow you to spend time with other women in your same situation," Atlas says.
If You’re Breastfeeding
You can exercise if you're breastfeeding. If your workouts are intense, the lactic acid your body makes may change how your breast milk tastes to your baby.
"If baby doesn't feed as well right after exercising, consider feeding the baby right before exercising," Morelli says. "This also will likely make the breasts more comfortable during exercise."