Congratulations on your wonderful newborn(s)! We want to provide you with a quick reference document on how to safely exercise after pregnancy. Please keep in mind that all exercising should first be approved by your doctor! The type of pregnancy you had will also determine how quickly you can begin your routine.
When can I start exercising?
A healthy pregnancy will allow the mother to begin exercising typically 4-6 weeks postpartum. It is important to not only follow by “the book” but to also follow your instincts! Many women aren’t fully ready to begin a new routine within 6 weeks and may need more time to begin their program. No matter the circumstance, always take your time and SLOWLY start the process. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. While this is the ultimate goal for all, postpartum exercise may not be best measured by time. ACSM suggests wearing a pedometer where the amount of steps taken is the measure of progress rather than the time it takes to get a specific amount of steps. If you find you’re only taking 1,000 steps per day, try and add an additional 250-500 steps every 2 days. For those mothers who feel they are ready to exercise via time, it is recommended to start with only 20-30 minutes maximum. (1)
A cesarean pregnancy (c-section) can be rather complicated when it comes to prescribing safe exercises. As stated, always refer to your doctor about what and when it is best to start exercising. Oftentimes this will require a longer timeframe than the 4-6 week window.
What are the best exercises for me?
Assuming you had a healthy pregnancy, all facets of fitness are important. Cardiovascular exercise will be a great place to start because all you need is you! Simply start by going for short walks. DO NOT try and run right away, always build into a program. A c-section pregnancy will limit strength training but will not limit a walking regimen as much. Again, always refer to your doctors orders.
As for strength training, always utilize compound / multi-joint exercises. These include body squats, shoulder press, push-ups, rows and more. Accessory exercises or isolation exercises, aren’t as effective but still can be in a well-rounded program. We start our postpartum clients on a slow, phase 1 introduction to strengthening the stomach and back muscles. Typically strength is lost in the abdomen and so we want to focus on that to prevent back pain. Consider a simple routine such as a dead bug hold (pictured), bird-dogs and supine scissor kicks. These three exercises can help strengthen the stomach without being excessively strenuous. Measure progress by repetitions and/or time.
How intense should the workouts be?
Keep the intensity low to low-moderate. Your level of physical health prior to pregnancy will determine the intensity you can have postpartum. For mothers who were sedentary before their pregnancy, they should begin the new exercise regime with a slow cautious approach. Baby steps really (pun intended)! According to ACSM, “light to moderate exercise does not seem to affect breast milk, whereas high-intensity exercise can increase lactate levels in milk.Consider breastfeeding or pumping just before exercising to both feel more comfortable when you are exercising and avoid the increase in lactate associated with high-intensity workouts. A personal trainer can provide guidance on appropriate activities, form, and intensity.” (2)
ACSM states that postpartum exercise has been shown to:
- ○ Reduces fatigue and increases vigor
- ○ Improves mood states and mental acuity
- ○ Improves fitness
- ○ Promotes return to prepregnancy weight
- ○ Decreases the risk for developing future chronic health conditions
- ○ Provides important “mom time” and social interactions (2)