First, congratulations on your new addition! You’ve made it through 10 months — because it is that long, regardless of what popular culture would have you believe — of pregnancy and the wonder and marvel that is childbirth, you’ve got a challenge ahead of you. Now, it’s time to start working on getting back to some semblance of normalcy. Here are some post pregnancy exercises to help you love your mom bod.
Start With Pelvic Floor Exercises and Abdominal Bracing
Most doctors will want you to wait 12 weeks after you give birth before you start doing any intense exercises, but that doesn’t mean you need to lie in bed for 12 weeks. You can still do some basic post-pregnancy exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles — the two areas of your body that take the brunt of the damage as you’re giving birth.
Abdominal bracing is simple. While you’re sitting, standing, lying down or kneeling, tense your abdominal muscles by pulling them inward toward your spine. Hold this tension for five to 10 seconds, then release. This movement helps start the process of restoring your abdominal muscles, which may have separated during pregnancy. If you’ve had a C-section, make sure you talk to your doctor before you attempt this exercise.
Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, help restore strength to the vaginal muscles that took a beating during childbirth. Contract the muscles in your pelvic floor — it’s the same motion you would make if you were trying to hold in a full bladder — and hold it for as long as you can. Release, and repeat as often as you like.
Low Impact for 12 Weeks
Don’t jump right back into running, weightlifting or other high-impact sports right after you have a baby. While giving birth is a beautiful experience, physically it is also a traumatic one, and your body needs time to heal. If you can’t stand the thought of being sedentary for 12 weeks, stick to low-impact exercises.
- Walking: Put the baby in a stroller and head out for a walk! This activity can be a great way to bond with your little one while working on restoring your stamina.
- Yoga: Yoga is a low-impact exercise that can also help you restore your strength and flexibility.
- Swimming: This exercise will have to wait until your postpartum bleeding has stopped, but once it has, swimming can be an excellent low-impact exercise to keep you active while you’re recovering.
These are just a few examples. Stick to low-impact exercises until you feel healthy and strong enough to get back into your normal routine.
Skip the Crunches
It’s tempting to start doing as many crunches as possible to restore your belly to its pre-baby strength. Don’t waste your time.
Almost all women experience a condition known as diastasis recti — or the separation of the abdominal muscles — to some degree during pregnancy. In 39 percent of women, there is still significant separation six months after giving birth.
Crunches and sit-ups don’t do anything to bring those separated muscles back together. Instead, these exercises strengthen them individually, doing nothing to reduce the seemingly permanent postpartum pooch you’re experiencing.
Don’t get discouraged. Just shift your focus. Instead of trying to tone that six-pack — known in scientific communities as the rectus abdominis — you need exercises that will help strengthen your transverse abdominis. This muscle group acts as a natural corset, drawing the rest of your abdominal muscles back in where they need to be.
Those abdominal bracing exercises we mentioned earlier are the first step. Practice drawing your abdominal muscles inward, like you’re trying to suck in your stomach to fit into your favorite pre-baby jeans. Wall sits, side planks, leg lifts and other exercises can all focus on the transverse abdominis. Just make sure you’re always engaging those core muscles.
Weight training is a great way to improve your postpartum stamina and strength. Start lighter than you would generally lift until you can safely judge where your new limits are. Jumping right back in at your previous weight settings could lead to injuries.
One technique is to raise and lower a bar without weights in a controlled manner. For a bicep exercise, for example, you could take five seconds to lower the bar from shoulder height to hip height, and five seconds to slowly raise it again. These low-weight, high-rep exercises are an effective, low-impact way to get your body ready to resume your pre-pregnancy workout routine.
Cardio activities help you burn calories and stay active both before and after you have the baby. Is there any better way to keep busy than to dance? At home, put on some upbeat music and start dancing — carefully — with your baby. If you need to get out of the house, sign up for Zumba or another dance class to get you moving.
Keep in mind you likely won’t have the stamina you did before you had your baby, so you will probably need frequent breaks. Don’t feel bad about taking a moment. Just step out of the class for a few minutes and catch your breath. Recognizing your limits doesn’t make you weak — it means you know how far you can go without hurting yourself.
Note: Don’t Get Discouraged
We’re not celebrities with personal trainers on retainer and plastic surgeons on speed dial. It will likely take you a while to get back to a place you’re happy with when it comes to your fitness. Love that mom-bod. It’s incredible, because it spent the last 10 months building an entirely new human being. Be proud of those stretch marks and that belly pooch, because you’ve damn well earned it.
It also might take some time before you realize how much pregnancy has changed your body. Even if you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, you may never fit into your pre-baby clothes because your hips and bustline are larger than they used to be. That isn’t a bad thing. Use it as an excuse to dump your wardrobe and treat yourself to a shopping spree.
Make sure you take your time when you get back to post-pregnancy exercises. It will take an adjustment period for you to get back to normal — if “normal” is being sleep-deprived and continuously covered in spit-up or baby poop. We wouldn’t have it any other way, though.