After giving birth, you’re likely experiencing all sorts of emotions — and you’re probably feeling pretty exhausted, too. The last thing you want to do is exercise, but that may also be one of the best things you can do. Moving your body after childbirth can have a number of positive effects on both your physical and emotional health.
Making a postpartum workout plan — and sticking to it — can help boost your energy, improve your sleep, and potentially prevent postpartum depression. Failing to exercise during and after pregnancy can increase your risk for heart conditions including damaged vessels and blood clots.
Benefits of Making a Postpartum Workout Plan
Exercise has been shown to offer the following benefits for postpartum women:
- Strengthens and tones abdominal muscles
- Boosts energy
- May help prevent postpartum depression
- Promotes better sleep
- Relieves stress
- Supports weight loss
How To Make a Postpartum Workout Plan
To get started, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. This can include riding your bike, walking fast, or doing any activity that causes you to sweat. If you can, add some strength training at least two days a week via yoga or moderate-intensity weight lifting. Start off with light weights or your own body weight (exercises like push-ups).
That said, it’s important to consult with your doctor before you start a postpartum workout plan. Your doctor can help you determine when your body is ready for more intense cardio and strengthening workouts.
Best Exercises for Postpartum Women
Warm up with a 10-minute walk, then move into basic abdominal or pelvic floor moves, as well as these exercises below:
Kegels. Women can do Kegel exercises within the first 24 hours of giving birth. Kegel exercises involve tightening your pelvic floor muscles. Aim for 30 minutes daily, even if you had a C-section or complicated vaginal birth. If you’re not able to go for 30 minutes straight, try a number of short sessions spread out throughout the day.
Kegel and pelvic floor exercises during the postpartum period can reduce future urinary incontinence, or lack of bladder control.
Toe pointing. Many women experience foot pain during pregnancy and after. Simple toe pointing can help relieve some of that pain. While sitting or lying down, pull your toes toward you as far as you can, then point your food downward. Repeat this motion for a few minutes:
Foot and ankle circles. Along with toe pointing, adding in foot and ankle circles while sitting or lying down can improve blood circulation in your legs. Make large, slow circles with each foot, first to the right, then to the left.
Pelvic tilting. This exercise is most effective when you’re lying flat on your back with your knees bent and your fleet flat on the bed or floor. Tilt your pelvis back by flattening your lower back against the bed or floor. Then tighten your abdominal muscles and your bottom. This exercise strengthens your abdominal muscles and helps relieve backache.
Exercises for reducing abdominal muscle separation. Do this exercise while lying on your back with knees bent and 12 to 16 inches apart:
- Cross your hands over your abdomen to support your abdominal muscles.
- Breathe in deeply. As you exhale, bring your head toward your chest and gently pull your abdominal muscles toward each other.
- After exhaling, lie back and relax.
- Start with two repetitions and add one repetition per day.
When To Stop Exercising
Stop exercising if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Other fluid leakage (i.e. urine or feces)
- Heaviness in your pelvic region or organs coming out of your vagina (which could be a sign of pelvic organ prolapse)
If you notice you’re holding your breath or bearing down, it could mean you’re straining, which is not good for your pelvic floor or abs. To correct this, exercise with a lighter load or save the exercise for another time when you have gained more strength.
In almost all instances, pain during physical exercise is not a good sign. If it’s already been six weeks after you delivered but you feel pain while doing some form of exercise, stop immediately and talk to your doctor.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s best to do so before you work out. Vigorous exercise can temporarily change the levels of lactic acid in your milk. Some women notice that their babies have a reaction to their milk right after they finish exercising.
Overall, aim to stay active for 20–30 minutes a day. When you first start working out after childbirth, try simple postpartum exercises that help strengthen major muscle groups, including your abdominal and back muscles. Gradually add in moderate-intensity exercise. Remember, even 10 minutes of exercise a day can be beneficial.