No time in life is more magical than those first days and weeks after welcoming a child into the world. It’s also a hectic period when so many aspects of self-care go off the rails. That can leave many moms torn between wanting time to stop so they can soak up every second, while simultaneously wishing they could fast forward to the part where they’re sleeping regular hours again. Suffice to say, exercise is probably one of the last things on your mind during the first six weeks after childbirth.
And for the most part, it should be. Every mom deserves time for rest and recovery, and tending to your baby’s needs will naturally occupy most of your time and attention. It’s neither prudent nor wise to jump up and go for a run or complete a HIIT circuit in the days after coming home from the hospital. But as time passes and you start to feel recuperated, integrating even a little bit of light exercise into the early postpartum period - as long as you're doing them safely - can relieve stress, promote better sleep, strengthen the abdominal muscles, and boost energy levels.
While every birth is unique and every body recovers differently, reaping those benefits over the first weeks and months after childbirth starts with simple, strategic steps. By prioritizing these four things, you’ll soon realize that the return to exercise doesn’t have to feel so daunting.
Just like your baby, you have needs, too. Before you take your first steps towards light movement, take care of the fundamentals. Make sure your hydration is on point. Try to get as much quality sleep as you can. No matter how you delivered your baby, grant yourself the patience to heal, and listen to your gut feeling about whether or not you’re ready. When in doubt about your readiness, it’s always worth consulting with your physician.
Once you’ve established that basic foundation of self-care, you’ll feel so much more ready to start with the movements that can ease your body out of pregnancy and into the proper postpartum period.
During pregnancy, your posture changes to accommodate the added weight in your abdomen. In addition to rounding your shoulders and widening your hip positioning, this weakens your core muscles and can create unwelcome back pain. That’s why one of the first things on your postpartum to-do list is all about realigning your posture for the better, which can literally position you to succeed with whatever longer-term goals you have in mind.
Start with some of the light stretches you might encounter in the warmup or cooldown phase of a yoga class. Breathing your way through cat-camel poses, tabletop, and seated butterfly can target the chest and hip flexors without putting your body through too much too quickly. A slow, intentional walk is also a great option for improving alignment.
If some of those movements feel like too much too soon, there are other ways to easily and mindfully readjust your posture within the flow of your daily routine as a new mom. Whether you’re feeding your baby or sitting and relaxing, get back to a neutral spine by keeping your ears, shoulders, and ribcage in as straight of a line as possible. If you’re standing, think about that straight line extending from your heels, through your hips, and all the way up to your ears. Whether you incorporate some stretching or just take the time to reorganize your posture, you’ll soon be standing tall and ready for the rest of the road ahead.
It’s very common for some degree of abdominal separation (also known as diastasis recti abdominis, or DRA) to occur during pregnancy. In fact, it’s totally normal if DRA symptoms linger all the way to your child’s first birthday: 60% of mothers experience DRA at six weeks postpartum, and nearly a third (32.5%) still have DRA symptoms at the one year mark. Doing a self-check or asking your medical provider to take a look can help you understand your current degree of abdominal separation.
No matter the extent of your DRA symptoms (or lack thereof), improving your core stability and strength in the period after childbirth can encourage healing, as well as muscle realignment and regeneration. The good news is that moving on from DRA isn’t about burning out on crunches or planking ‘til you puke. It’s as simple as doing some deep, diaphragmatic breathing that works your pelvic floor.
Focus on expanding your ribs as you inhale, feeling your diaphragm descend. As you exhale, feel your abdomen contract as your diaphragm moves up. Relax your pelvic floor as you inhale, and feel it return to its natural position on your exhale. By practicing this mindful breathing for just a handful of minutes a day, you can start to rebuild the complex network of muscles that go into movements as diverse as sitting, squatting, running, and jumping.
Even if you dodged DRA, integrating some slow and tactful core movements can set the foundation for a fuller range of postpartum exercises. Start with simple core work like small head lifts or hip bridges, focusing on a slow, controlled range of motion while breathing deeply through each rep. If you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you can start these exercises as soon as you feel ready, but moms who delivered via c-section will likely benefit from a little more healing time and a more gradual progression into movement.
On some level, every new mom feels pressure to be perfect. But there’s no “right” way to ease into postpartum life. Every day is a new adventure. Sometimes, just keeping your little one happy and fed counts as a win. Comparing yourself to others — or even comparing your today to your yesterday — is not the answer. Just focus on controlling what you can control, and never lose sight of the amazing feat that you’ve already accomplished by becoming the parent of a newborn.
That’s why every mom’s timeline for (re)starting exercise is unique. If you had an uncomplicated pregnancy and a vaginal delivery, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists advises that it’s safe to start exercising again whenever you feel ready. But if you had a c-section, a complicated delivery, or you’re just not feeling ready for exercise by the time your six week postpartum check-in rolls around, it’s ok to take more time to heal. Listen to your body, and consult with your medical providers so you can feel ready when the time is right.
No matter when you get started, you’ll get up to speed with exercise faster if you replace judgment with patience. Accept that you have more responsibilities and a finite amount of energy. Rather than feeling like you “should” be able to jump back into running or a HIIT routine right away, start slow with low-impact strengthening work and targeted mobility exercises to release tension. By doing your best to move a little bit every day that you can, your exercise goals will start feeling a little closer.
Motherhood is full of challenges and changes, but the process of navigating them is incredibly rewarding. With a bit of planning, self-compassion, and expert guidance, tending to your little one doesn’t have to come at the price of your own physical wellbeing. By showing up for yourself in small ways, you’ll make big strides towards feeling like your best self again.
Through a one-of-a-kind mix of education and empathy, working with a postpartum-certified Future coach will empower you to move towards your goal. No matter where you are in the recovery process or how little time you have, Future’s remote, on-demand approach to personal training is flexible enough for even the most hectic schedules and challenging circumstances. With your coach’s dedicated support, you won’t just return to exercise after childbirth, but transition into this new season of life with confidence.
What’s almost as good as finding that confidence? Saving $130 on your first month of postpartum-focused personal training when you pay just $19 for your first month of Future. Find the mom-focused fitness coach for you here, and cancel at any time if you’re not fully satisfied.
*DISCLAIMER: This article contains generalized information from trusted resources and industry experts and does not replace speaking medical providers about your unique circumstances. This article is in no way diagnosing or providing medical advice. Always consult with your medical provider prior to beginning an exercise routine.