If you’re reading this as a new mom who’s six weeks into caring for a newborn, congratulations! You deserve major props for making it through the first 42 hectic days and sleepless nights with your newborn.
If you’ve taken a look at our guide to your first six weeks of postpartum fitness, you’ve hopefully found some time to realign your posture and strengthen your pelvic floor. Depending on your birthing experience, maybe you’ve gotten on your feet and started ramping up to the 150 minutes of weekly light movement recommended by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for new moms. It’s also 100% fine if you’ve spent the first few fortnights of motherhood focused on rest, recuperation, and bonding with your bundle of joy. And if your OB-GYN recommends a more cautious approach, following their advice is what matters most.
But no matter your timeline or fitness goals, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually want to move on from basic breathwork and actually start sweating again. Figuring out how to safely and successfully up the ante with your activity somewhere between seven and 18 weeks after giving birth is where we’ll pick up today. As you’ll see, it’s entirely possible to thrive during this second stage without worrying about whether or not your neighborhood gym allows strollers.
Once you’ve corrected your postpartum posture and strengthened your pelvic floor, it’s time to start rebuilding strength across all the major muscle groups of your body through low-impact bodyweight exercises.
If you’re already familiar with these exercises from your pre-prenatal days, great! If you’re starting from scratch, this is an excellent time to start building towards the many movements that can be especially useful for new moms. Think lunges, squats, modified push ups, or even planks (if you aren’t experiencing symptoms of abdominal separation).
These may seem easy on the surface, but don’t let the “low-impact” element fool you: it will take time, energy, and effort to master proper form through eight to 12 reps of these movements. This typically takes between four and 12 weeks for most moms, but proceed at whatever pace feels right for you. Working alongside a postpartum personal trainer makes it easier to ensure you stick to a pace that balances progress towards your goals with continued healing, and as always, be sure to heed any relevant medical advice from your physician.
So why can’t you jump right into these “real” exercises? It’s true that not every new mom necessarily needs four to six weeks to heal their bodies, strengthen their pelvic floor, and re-establish core stability. But just like you can’t put furniture in a house with no floor, there’s no getting around how important these first core and pelvic floor-focused steps are to maintaining good form for these bodyweight exercises.
Take squats, for example. Core-focused breath work can help you more intuitively exhale on the “hard” part of the movement (starting to rise up from the bottom of the squat), and inhale in on the “easy” part (beginning to lower from the top of the rep). As you rise up, knowing how to consciously and confidently engage your pelvic floor pulls your belly button to your spine. This keeps you aligned excellently all the way to the top of the rep, before breathing in while releasing your pelvic floor as you start to lower down again.
In this way, the second phase of your postpartum exercise plan is a matter of layering new forms of movement on top of that initial floor and core work. Not only can those fundamental movements make you less likely to experience some of postpartum exercise’s potential adverse effects (more on that in a bit), this process lets you work new muscle groups more efficiently with help from the ones you’ve already strengthened.
Bodyweight exercises are great for easing you into a more dynamic, active form of exercise without overloading too quickly. What’s even better is that once you’ve spent those weeks mastering these moves, it doesn’t take much extra effort to start adding the resistance that can help you realize the many benefits of strength training.
There are a few different ways to go beyond bodyweight and add extra pounds to these movements, some of which may already be a part of your home gym setup. Resistance bands (especially useful for on-the-go workouts), TRX straps, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls are all excellent options. But feel free to improvise with heavy yet holdable household objects. There’s nothing wrong with squatting while holding that five-pound bag of flour if that’s what it takes to kick things up a notch.
Just like you did without the weights, aim to complete between eight to 12 reps per set. Starting with the lowest amount of added weight available to you, and calibrate your resistance as you go. You’ll know you’ve found the sweet spot when the last few reps feel challenging, but you can still maintain proper control of your form throughout the movement. This is where muscle overload happens, which is key to creating the aesthetic and physiological changes you’re after — including weight loss.
After nine months of pregnancy and a few weeks or months as a new mom, you’re probably very used to getting unfamiliar signals from your changing body. As you integrate new movements into your routine, it’s important to know what to watch out for. Keeping tabs on how you’re feeling and consulting with your postpartum fitness coach and/or OB-GYN can help you figure out if you might need to slow down or press pause entirely.
When everything’s clicking, your workouts will feel both physically beneficial and mentally nourishing. If you’re generally moving without pain and aren’t experiencing any symptoms or sensations that strain your postpartum body, take it as a sign that you can handle your current workload — and are on track to be ready for more when the time is right.
Noticing any of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily require you to slam on the brakes, but take them as a warning to proceed with caution. Dialing back the frequency or intensity of your exercise could help, but it may be as simple as cutting out a certain movement (like planks for those dealing with DRA) that’s causing pain or discomfort. With that in mind, here are some things to look out for:
Feeling pain or a tugging sensation on your cesarean scar
New or unfamiliar aches or pains
Doming or tenting of the linea alba
Any other signs of exacerbated abdominal separation (diastasis recti)
Any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction (like leaking, feeling of heaviness, pain, etc.)
Stop exercising and consider reaching out to your OB-GYN if you experience any of these more severe symptoms:
Severe urine or feces leaking
Intense feelings of heaviness, dragging, or bulging in the vagina
C-section scar or incision complications
Headaches or migraines
Breathlessness unassociated with exertion
For moms who’ve begun these bodyweight movements around the seventh week after childbirth, the focus should be on mastering these exercises and adding resistance through week 18. Once that 19th week rolls around, then you can think about adding plyometrics, high intensity interval training (HIIT), or any other explosive movement tied to your postpartum fitness goals. But just like babies learn to crawl before they walk, you have to breathe before you can really move, and you have to get comfortable moving with a little weight before it’s time to jump or sprint. Listening to your body can tell you when it’s time to take those next, more explosive steps.
Conversely, there’s no rule that says you have to take that leap to the next level of exercise to hit your goals. If you’re working with a postpartum personal trainer who says these slower, steadier bodyweight movements are all you need, it’s completely fine to stay on this level.
Not every day will feel easy, and you may not feel ready when you think you “should” feel ready. But through a mix of patience, dedication, and self-compassion, those baby steps will become the big strides that lead you to discover your mom strength.
During this busy season of life, working with a Future coach means that planning effective workouts is off of your to-do list. You can choose from a host of postpartum-focused experts, many of whom are moms who know exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes. They’ll support you with customized training plans while offering the advice and accountability that can help you strike a balance between childcare and self-care. No matter when you can find time to work out or what questions are keeping you up at night, your Future coach is just a message away to help you realize just how much a mom like you can do.
And for a limited time, you can try Future completely risk-free for 30 days. Whether you’re just emerging from bed rest or trying to shed that last bit of lingering baby weight, there’s no better way to try out remote postpartum coaching without paying a penny. Answer just a few questions about your goals and we’ll match you with your ideal coaching fit, and cancel at any time if you’re not completely satisfied.
About the author: Ashley currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and four sons. When she's not coaching, Ashley spends the majority of her time homeschooling her boys or shuttling them around to various sports and extracurricular activities. Her passion is fitness and health, so you'll find her at the gym, on a run or even a hot yoga class any chance she gets. Any free time is spent with her family playing outside, watching movies or seeking out new adventures.