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How soon after delivery can I start exercising?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says it's okay to gradually resume exercising as soon as you get the go-ahead from your doctor or midwife, and as long as you feel up to it. Your provider may want you to wait until your six-week postpartum checkup to see how you're doing first.
Generally, if you exercised throughout your pregnancy and had a normal vaginal delivery, you can safely do light exercise – walking, modified push-ups, and stretching – within days of giving birth as long as you're not in any pain.
Just be careful not to overdo it. If you weren't active during your pregnancy, or tapered off your fitness routine as the weeks went on, check with your doctor or midwife before you begin exercising.
How do I get started, and which workouts are best for new moms?
Start slowly with a low-impact aerobic activity, such as walking. As you regain strength, you can increase the length or number of walks.
If you had a c-section, check with your provider first and expect to wait until you recover from your operation before beginning an exercise program. A c-section incision takes at least several weeks to heal, and it may be some time after that before you feel like working out. However, walking at an easy pace is encouraged because it promotes healing and helps prevent blood clots and other complications.
If you want to take an exercise class, try to find one taught by a postpartum exercise specialist. Many YMCAs, recreation centers, gyms, and yoga studios offer exercise classes for new moms. (Strollercize and Baby Boot Camp programs are popular options.) Or you could try a low-impact class that focuses on toning and stretching.
Exercise is good for you, but listen to your body and don't overdo it for the first few months after giving birth. Your body needs time to heal, and you need time to adjust to your new role – and bond with your baby.
Do I need to be careful with my abdominal muscles after delivery?
Many women develop a gap between their abdominal muscles as their belly expands during pregnancy and labor, a condition called diastasis recti. The gap may or may not fully close after delivery, but in most cases it doesn't cause any short- or long-term problems.
Take it easy on your abdominal muscles and don't do any traditional sit-ups or crunches for the first several months after delivery – these put too much stress on those muscles and aren't effective for rebuilding abdominal strength.
Instead, ask your healthcare provider (or a fitness instructor with expertise in prenatal exercise) to show you gentler exercises for strengthening your abs. Good postpartum abdominal exercises should minimize stress on your lower back and midline (the center of the abdomen running vertically from your sternum to your pelvis).
A note about abdominal binders (also known as belly wraps): Some women say that belly wraps helped them get their figures back faster, but fitness experts often caution against them. Says Catherine Cram, a fitness professional specializing in prenatal and postpartum exercise: "By binding the abdominal muscles, you're reducing the work those muscles do, and they become weaker as a result. I recommend binders as a support garment only when the woman has a back problem."
Will exercise affect my ability to breastfeed?
No, it won't. As long as you drink plenty of water, even vigorous exercise won't significantly affect the amount or composition of your breast milk. But you'll want to avoid exercises that make your breasts sore or tender.
Wear a supportive sports bra while working out, and try to nurse your baby before you exercise so your breasts won't feel uncomfortably full. If your breasts feel sore during workouts, try wearing two fitness bras for extra support.
Are there any physical signs that I might be trying to do too much too soon?
Too much physical activity during the first few weeks after delivery can cause any of the signs below. Call your doctor or midwife if:
- Your vaginal discharge (lochia) becomes redder and starts to flow more heavily.
- Bleeding restarts after you thought it had stopped.
- You experience pain of any kind during exercise, whether it's joint, muscle, or birth-related.
Slow down or take a break from working out if you:
- You feel exhausted instead of invigorated.
- Your muscles feel sore for an unusually long time after a workout, affecting your ability to support your body as you move. Your muscles may also feel shaky when in use.
- Your morning resting heart rate is elevated by more than 10 beats per minute above your usual heart rate. Consider checking your morning heart rate before getting out of bed each day – it's a helpful indicator of your general health. When it's elevated over your normal rate, it's a sign you're doing too much and need more rest.
What's the best way to lose weight after giving birth?
The best way to start dropping those pregnancy pounds is to do some form of cardiovascular exercise to get your heart rate up. Try walking briskly, running, swimming, or biking.
But wait at least six weeks – and preferably a few months – before actively trying to slim down. And don't aim to lose more than a pound per week, especially if you're breastfeeding.
Starting a diet too soon after giving birth can affect your mood and energy level as well as your milk supply. If you're patient and give your body time, you may be surprised at how much weight you lose naturally.