Postpartum exercise: Avoid overdoing it

What to Know

  • Benefits of postpartum exercise
  • Warning signs for when to stop exercising

Postpartum exercise provides numerous positive benefits to new moms. Exercising can help increase your muscular and cardiovascular strength and stamina, relieve stress, augment your energy level, help you sleep better, and expedite weight loss back to your healthy pre-pregnancy weight.

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Postpartum exercise is usually safe as long as you listen to your body. Start with simple exercises (aerobic and strengthening) and increase the duration and intensity slowly over time. If you experience any of the following warning signs, stop exercising: headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, increased vaginal bleeding or chest pain.

What to Do

Build up postpartum exercises slowly over time

Check in with your health care provider prior to starting exercise. Many women with a normal, uncomplicated, vaginal birth are ready to go for short walks just days after birth. If you had a cesarean section, a complicated delivery, or more than normal bleeding, then you will likely need to wait a bit longer before breaking a sweat.

Choose activities that are safe and comfortable

Start with gentle stretching and strengthening exercises such as curl ups and pelvic tilts. You may need to modify some exercises to account for your postpartum body. For example, positions that require you to lie flat on your stomach may be uncomfortable if you are breastfeeding and your breasts are engorged.

Try group postpartum/new mom exercise classes to get you out of the house and in touch with other new moms. Many exercise classes even allow you to keep your baby with you, like outdoor stroller classes and mom and baby yoga classes.

Warm up for at least 5 minutes before exercising

Before launching full-tilt into vigorous exercise, move around and warm up your large and small muscle groups to help prevent injury and increase circulation. Simple walking for 5 minutes will do. There are differences of opinion on the benefits of stretching before exercise but post-exercise stretches can increase flexibility and prevent muscle aches and joint stress. For the lower body, try a runner’s stretch, pelvic tilts, lunges, squats, quad stretches and forward bends. For the upper body, try pre-workout elbow bends, side stretches, shoulder rolls and neck rolls.

If your joints are loose due to pregnancy, consider a soft knee brace for support and comfort. If you are experiencing pelvic girdle discomfort, ask your healthcare provider to prescribe a pelvic support belt.

Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercising

Providing your body with enough water helps prevent dehydration and the headaches, dizziness, and rapid pulse that go along with it. Keep a water bottle with you and drink before, during, and after your exercise session. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, then rest and make sure you replenish your fluids and electrolytes. Remember – maintaining adequate fluid intake is especially important while you are lactating.

With all that drinking, make sure you go to the bathroom often – especially before you exercise – as holding your bladder has only downsides and the strain to the bladder can contribute to urinary incontinence (whereas, doing pelvic floor exercises such as Kegels has only upsides).

Breathe at a comfortable rate

Rapid, short, shallow breaths, or hyperventilation, can cause lightheadedness and may result in fainting. While you are exercising you should be able to talk at a normal conversational pace. If not, you need to slow down the intensity of your exercise. Take deep breaths with a slower exhale, and rest if and when you need to – postpartum is not the time to prove you’re a super athlete.

Check the weather and heed heat advisory warnings

On extremely hot and humid days, exercise indoors (preferably in air conditioning) so you can feel good after your workout rather than completely worn out. Swimming is a great option for hot weather workouts and you may be able to find a mom and baby swim class at your local recreation center.

Give your musculoskeletal system time to recover

Your musculoskeletal system will need time to bounce back into its pre-pregnancy state, with the lower spine, pelvis and knees being especially vulnerable after carrying the brunt of your pregnancy weight. Low back pain, sciatica, pubic symphysis discomfort, and tenderness in the knee joint are common ailments during this recovery phase. Listen to your body, take your time when changing positions between lying, sitting and standing, and avoid rapid twisting movements that could exacerbate any muscle, bone, or joint issues.

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