After nine months of pregnancy, you are probably eager to get back in shape by resuming your old exercise routine. But how soon is too soon to exercise after giving birth? And how much exercise is too much?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), you can start to exercise gradually after pregnancy, as soon as it is medically safe. For women who had a healthy pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery, this can mean as soon as a few days after your baby is born. Pelvic floor, or Kegel exercises, may begin immediately.
If you delivered your baby by cesarean section, or had other complications, ask your healthcare provider when it is safe to start exercising.
Some women fear exercise will decrease their ability to produce milk, and ultimately affect infant growth. However, as you long as you are properly hydrated, exercise while breastfeeding does not decrease milk production.
How Much Should I Exercise After Pregnancy?
The ACOG recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, with strength-training exercise like yoga or weight lifting, added on at least two of those days. The aerobic activity can be broken up into 10-minute sessions throughout the day, or longer 30-minute sessions.
Returning to Exercise Safely
After more than nine months of constant change, your body is not what it was before. Your ligaments are lax, some muscles are weaker, and some tighter. Don’t push yourself to come back too soon, or put a timeline on how long you have to get back to your "pre-baby" body.
As an expectant mother and now a new mother, most of what you do will lead to rounded shoulders, a tight chest and weakened back muscles. Your exercise routine should work to address these issues.
Although a gradual return to exercise is safe, women in the postpartum period should take a few things into consideration:
Walking is a great first step back into exercise.
Protect Against Injury
Initially, avoid high impact and lateral movements (side shuffles, jumping/hopping side to side, side lunges). The hormone relaxin can stay in your body for 6-12 months after delivery, increasing risk for injury due to laxity.
Check Your Abdominal Muscles
Every new mom should check to see if she has a significant separation in her abdominals known as diastasis recti. This is an easy self test that you can do at home. Knowing if you have a separation can help guide your return to exercise, and core strengthening:
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor.
- Put two fingers right above your belly button, pointing toward it, and press down gently.
- Then lift up your head about an inch while keeping your shoulders on the ground.
- If you have diastasis recti, you will feel a gap between the muscles that is wider than an inch, about 2 fingers. For a gap that is 3 fingers wide, or greater, you should consult your physician.
Wear Proper Attire
Nursing moms may need more support, especially for the chest.
Many women suffer from incontinence after childbirth. Incorporating Kegels into your daily routine can help to strengthen the pelvic floor, and decrease episodes.
If you are experiencing any increased, or new bleeding, stop exercising and consult your physician.
As you start exercising after pregnancy, you'll reap the physical benefits of weight loss, restored muscle strength, improved cardiovascular fitness, and better-conditioned abdominal muscles. And mentally, you'll feel more energetic, have less stress, and be in a better position to care for your infant.