The Critical Role Exercise Plays In Postpartum Health

Published on 05/21/21

When you become a new mom, the last thing on your mind is exercise. Late nights, feedings, mood swings, and a tower of diapers are enough to make you feel you have exerted enough energy for a day. Having motivation for fitness is a lot more difficult now and although it is very difficult to fit into your day, most doctors would recommend and encourage new moms to stay active postpartum to help experience better health as a new mom.

Exercising After Pregnancy

Finding time to workout after pregnancy can be difficult but it has it’s benefits. It can help you and your body adjust to motherhood. It doesn’t have to be vigorous! Even lighter activities like a 15 minute walk each day can benefit new moms. This can start adjusting you to better quality of sleep, higher energy levels and help lower stress.

Not to mention – a personal favorite – combined with proper nutrition, exercise can help you lose extra baby weight, build muscle and slim down your abdomen after delivery.

Exercising postpartum is an excellent example of hard work and the beginning of a healthy active lifestyle for your child. Which, as your child grows, will hopefully emulate for themselves. 

Plan A Postpartum Exercise Plan

Before anything, always talk to your doctor about what’s right for you postpartum. Every woman will be different postpartum. Talk to your doctor about creating a postpartum exercise plan specifically formulated for you.

With natural vaginal delivery, becoming active can happen just a few days after giving birth. So long as your OB/GYN discusses limitations with you. Move slowly and listen to your body. 

If you’ve had a C-section, healing time may be a little longer. Normally, the average wait time is 6+ weeks. Talk to your doctor about exercise during your post-natal care appointments. 

Postpartum Exercises

Experts at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — i.e. anything that bumps up your heart rate and makes you break a sweat, like brisk walking or bike riding — every week, along with two days of strength training (which includes yoga, Pilates and lifting weights).

It’s good to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. That is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Anything that helps raise your heart rate and helps you to sweat. For example, a brisk walk, biking, strength training like Pilates, etc.  If you’re wondering what exercises can help reach your goals, try these:

  • Postpartum exercise classes. Some gyms, yoga studios, and even hospitals offer classes designed for new moms. These classes take it easy on your body while emphasizing rebuilding strength in your abdomen and pelvic muscles.
  • Walking is a safe postpartum exercise you can do with your newborn. Head to your favorite park or jogging path with your baby safely secured in a stroller or carrier.
  • Aqua classes. Like swimming, aqua classes allow you to move while putting less stress on your joints and muscles. Try aqua yoga, Zumba or aerobics to find an exercise that works for your body.
  • Pelvic and Kegel exercises. You can perform these exercises at home to rebuild your pelvic floor muscles, reducing your risk for incontinence or other postpartum complications.

If doing any of these exercises leads to bleeding, discomfort or pain, stop exercising and allow yourself more time to recover. Pushing yourself too hard can hurt your entire recovery.

The majority of experts say that women can start Kegel exercises and walking within the first 24 hours of giving birth. A couple of 5 minute exercises can help count towards a half hour. 

It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that the ACOG started to encourage women to exercise, slowly increasing their activity back to pre-pregnancy. This came to realization when doctors started to realize that being sedentary in pregnancy and postpartum can place the mother at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and blood clots. 

However, this is determined by your birthing experience. It’s important to get the okay from your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Exercise Tips

It’s okay to rely on the people around you for support. While you take a little time for yourself, you should:

  • Schedule time for your partner to care for the baby while you go exercise.
  • Find friends who also need to exercise and go to classes or on walks together.
  • Incorporate your baby into exercise by attending Baby & Me classes.
  • Remember that even just 10 minutes of exercise can make a difference. Try to fit in exercise when and where you can.

If you’re truly worried about anything, make sure to speak to your OB/GYN for additional advice.

If you had a vaginal birth without any major complications – you can begin modified pre-pregnancy exercises almost right away. As long as you are not experiencing any symptoms to be concerned about. Once your healthcare provider gives you the green light, and you feel safe and ready, start with bodyweight exercises or light weights. As you build the strength back, increase your intensity and duration as long as you feel comfortable.

If you had a vaginal birth with tearing – depending on the level of tearing, it can take two to three weeks to heal. Discuss upper body and walking exercises with your doctor for approval.

If you had a C-section – walking can be done the day after delivery or as soon as possible. This can help with avoiding blood clots and increase circulation. For exercise, waiting the six week mark will be more than likely recommended. Talk to your doctor before you decide on any workout regime. 

How Will I Know When I Am Not Ready?

Watch out for specific signs, similar to:

  • Bleeding (i.e., lochia)    
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vaginal pain
  • 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 are dealing with any of the above symptoms, talk to your healthcare practitioner. They can give you the best advice for your postpartum journey. 

Avoiding Certain Exercises

Pregnancy does a lot to your stomach and abs. Being extra cautious with abdominal work is important. Look for doming or bulging in the center of your abs. Talk to your doctor if you start to notice anything. Also, avoid holding your breath or straining which isn’t good for your abs or pelvic floor. Either hold off on the exercise or lighten the weight load.

Exercise and Breastfeeding

Make sure to have a supportive bra because this will most likely be painful. To avoid additional discomfort, it’s best to breastfeed before you work out. Full breasts and exercise is definitely uncomfortable. 

Breastfeeding and exercise used to have hesitation behind it because it may cause breast milk to become more acidic and lower in ph. However, it’s been determined that the quality of your breast milk won’t actually change much.

Buy very supportive bras and make sure to drink enough water, before and after your workout routine.

How Is Exercise Different Postpartum

The point to make here is everyone is different. How you like exercise and how much your body responds to it. It’s dependent on a variety of factors including labor and delivery. 

Listen to your body. Talk to your body if you need to, discuss adverse symptoms if they worry you, if you’re tired – rest, or if you don’t feel well – take a break. 

Don’t have high expectations just know that you are starting a healthier journey for you and your baby.

Can exercise prevent postpartum depression or anxiety?

This time post pregnancy is all about balancing hormones. After pregnancy potent pregnancy hormones combined with little sleep can affect up to 1 in 5 women and result in postpartum depression. It’s a complex issue. However, there is evidence that suggests exercise can help lower postpartum anxiety and depression symptoms in most women. 

It not only supports muscles and joints but helps rebalance the biochemistry in women post pregnancy. Not to mention, a wonderful stress outlet for everyone. 

How long before I get to my pre-pregnancy fitness levels?

Normally by week 6 postpartum, most women are allowed to return to their normal pre-pregnancy routines. Some women may take longer to get there. However, all activity and progress should always be under the recommendations and guidance of your doctor. 

If you were working out regularly before and during pregnancy, returning to ‘normal’ fitness levels usually happens faster than the normal. 

For Questions About Exercising Postpartum, Call Rosh Maternal and Fetal Medicine

For additional support losing weight, you can rely on Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine Women’s Care Florida. Our understanding experts can help you develop a personalized plan for postpartum exercise and diet.

From questions about exercising postpartum and nutrition to concerns about post-delivery symptoms from complicated labor, new moms have a lot of questions.

The team at Rosh Maternal & Fetal Medicine are prepared to give you answers and provide top-notch medical care so that you have a healthy postpartum experience for you and your baby. If you’d like to schedule post-natal care or have questions about postpartum life, call their office in the Midtown East area of New York City, or schedule an appointment online.