Tips for Postpartum Exercise

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 5 minutes

What to know about exercising after you give birth

  • Why postpartum exercise is important

  • When you may be able to start exercising after delivery

  • How to get started with exercise when you’re ready

Benefits of postpartum exercise

Postpartum exercise offers several benefits.

Exercise may help increase your muscular and cardiovascular strength and stamina, relieve stress, and helps improve your energy level.1,9 Exercise postpartum has also been linked with a lower risk of developing postpartum depression and anxiety, as well as playing a role in returning to your pre-pregnancy body.9,11

Postpartum exercise is also a great opportunity for bonding – either in groups of other new moms to help combat feelings of isolation, or with your baby to maintain your fitness level without being separated from your little one.

Learn about:

Could this be Postpartum Depression?

How can I Cope with Fatigue during Pregnancy and Postpartum?

When to start exercising after delivery

Planning your postpartum exercise routine will depend on your delivery experience.1

Many women with a normal, uncomplicated vaginal birth are ready to go for short, easy walks within a few days.1,2 In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends gradually resuming exercise routines as soon as medically safe.10

If your bleeding increases after activity then the duration or intensity of your activity may be too much.8 If you had a cesarean section or a complicated delivery (such as heavy bleeding) then you will likely need to wait longer before exercising.8

Chat with your healthcare provider before starting to exercise to make sure your body is ready.

How to start exercising after delivery

Once you have your healthcare provider’s OK, it’s important to build up postpartum exercises slowly over time to give your musculoskeletal system time to recover from pregnancy and labor.1,8

Take your time and increase in intensity and duration slowly, listening to your body and backing off when your body is not feeling right.9

Start with low impact physical activity that puts very little pressure on the pelvic floor, such as walking, bike riding, swimming, light weights, and gentle core exercises. While you are recovering from delivery, be sure to strengthen your pelvic floor with Kegel exercises.12

As your body starts to feel better and your endurance is beginning to build up, slowly increase the intensity of your activity.

This may mean starting to use some light weights (you can even use household items to add extra weight, such as books, backpacks, or jugs of water) or speeding up your walking or beginning to add in some light jogging.

Be sure to stop or reduce intensity if you feel any pain.

Pain to watch out for

The lower spine, pelvis, and knees are especially vulnerable after carrying the brunt of your pregnancy weight.8

Low back pain, pubic symphysis discomfort, and tenderness in the knee joint are all common postpartum ailments, so take your time when changing positions between lying, sitting and standing.8

Avoid rapid twisting movements that could exacerbate any muscle, bone, or joint issues until you are fully recovered.8

If you feel any pain or are uncomfortable, call your healthcare provider.

Taking things slow before engaging in more strenuous exercise will help as you gradually return to your pre-pregnancy state.

Learn More: Postpartum Exercise: Avoid Overdoing It

Does exercise affect your breastmilk supply?

No, it does not! Studies have found that babies of a breastfeeding parent who exercises grow at the same pace as babies whose breastfeeding parent does not exercise, even with a moderate calorie restriction.13,14,15

This indicates that moderate exercise (with or without a moderate calorie restriction) does not impact a person’s breastmilk supply.

Some people are concerned about lactic acid in breastmilk. Lactic acid is an acid created naturally while exercising.16

While lactic acid does increase slightly in breastmilk, this only happens after extremely intense exercise and there are no known harmful effects to the baby.18,19

Additionally, while there may be some instances of babies who are a bit fussier at the breast when feeding post-exercise, most babies have no problem accepting breastmilk after mom has exercised.17

Read about:

What to Eat while Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Breastmilk Supply

Tips for exercising after delivery

Choose activities that are safe and comfortable to start

Starting with low intensity, gentle exercises is important as you recover from delivery.7,8 Begin with gentle stretching and strengthening exercises such as curl ups and pelvic tilts. Add pillows or blankets while seated or lying down for comfort and support.

And remember that positions requiring you to lie flat on your stomach may be uncomfortable if you are breastfeeding and your breasts are engorged.

Stretch and warm up for at least 5 minutes before exercising

Stretching will help warm up the muscles, increase flexibility, and prevent muscle aches and joint stress.5,8

Try gentle dynamic stretching, or repeating a stretch multiple times for a short period of time, as opposed to one deep stretch.4,6,8

Dynamic stretching pre-workout is less likely to overextend your muscles and joints and cause injury.4,8

And to get the most from stretching while avoiding muscle pulls, move around a bit first – try walking around or going up and down the stairs a few times to warm up your muscles.

Learn More: Exercise Warm-ups and Cool Downs

Drink plenty of fluids and fuel with nutritious snacks

Keep a water bottle with you and drink before, during, and after your exercise session.1,10

Providing your body with enough water helps prevent dehydration and the headaches, dizziness, and rapid pulse that may come along with it. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, be sure to stop and rest while replenishing your fluids and electrolytes.

And with all this drinking, remember to go to the bathroom before you exercise as some women experience urinary incontinence after giving birth.

You may need a pre-workout snack, such as a banana, toast with jelly, or granola bar.6 This will provide a bit of energy and may help prevent some of the above symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or dizziness.

Call your healthcare provider if symptoms persist.

Learn More:

Nutritious and Easy Postpartum Snacks

Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Breathe at a comfortable rate

While exercising, you should be able to talk at a normal conversational pace rather than taking rapid, short, shallow breaths (hyperventilation), which can cause lightheadedness and may result in fainting.3,8

If this is not possible, you may need to slow down the intensity of your exercise. Be cognizant of taking deep breaths with a slower exhale, and rest when you need to.

It can take time to work back up to your pre-pregnancy exercise routine. Even though this can be frustrating, cut yourself a little slack as you get back into it, you have earned it!

Look for postpartum group classes

Check your local community centers, yoga studios and neighborhood boards for postpartum fitness classes. You’ll likely find a variety of offerings, from stretching to stroller classes to swimming.

If group classes aren’t your thing, consider hiring a personal fitness trainer who can serve as an expert to guide you back to your pre-pregnancy fitness level.

Get outside

Walk as much as you comfortably can (and bring your baby with you!) or climb some stairs. Fresh air often does wonders for you and your baby.

Heed heat advisory warnings and exercise indoors when recommended

Check the weather and exercise indoors (preferably with air conditioning!) if it’s very hot and humid.10

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Tips For Postpartum Exercise When Short on Time

Strategies For Postpartum Weight Loss

What to Eat after a Cesarean Section (C-Section) Delivery

6 Tips to Help Manage Prenatal and Postpartum Constipation