Exercise after pregnancy: How to get started

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Exercise after pregnancy: How to get started

Exercise might be the last thing on your mind after you give birth, but it's worthwhile. In fact, exercise after pregnancy might be one of the best things you can do for yourself. Follow these tips to keep exercise after pregnancy safe.

Benefits of exercise after pregnancy

Regular exercise after pregnancy can:

  • Promote weight loss
  • Improve your cardiovascular fitness
  • Restore muscle strength
  • Condition your abdominal muscles
  • Boost your energy level
  • Improve your mood
  • Relieve stress
  • Help prevent and promote recovery from postpartum depression

Better yet, including physical activity in your daily routine helps you set a positive example for your child now and in the years to come.

Exercise and breast-feeding

Exercise isn't thought to have any adverse effects on breast milk volume or composition, nor is it thought to affect a nursing infant's growth. Some research, however, suggests that high-intensity physical activity can cause lactic acid to accumulate in breast milk and produce a sour taste a baby might not like. If you're breast-feeding, you can prevent this potential problem by sticking to moderate physical activity and drinking plenty of fluids during and after your workout.

If vigorous activity is a priority during the first few months of breast-feeding, consider feeding your baby or pumping before your workout — which can also help you stay comfortable while you're exercising — or discarding any milk produced 30 minutes afterward. After months four to five of breast-feeding, physical activity has less of an impact on your milk since your body produces most milk at feeding time.

When to start

In the past, health care providers often instructed women to wait at least six weeks after giving birth to begin exercising. The waiting game may be over, however. If you exercised during pregnancy and had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it's generally safe to begin exercising within days of delivery — or as soon as you feel ready. If you had a C-section, extensive vaginal repair or a complicated birth, talk to your health care provider about when to start an exercise program.

Physical activity goals

For most healthy women, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — preferably spread throughout the week — after pregnancy. Consider these guidelines:

  • Take time to warm up and cool down.
  • Begin slowly and increase your pace gradually.
  • Avoid excessive fatigue.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Wear a supportive bra.
  • Stop exercising if you feel pain.
  • Stop exercising and seek medical help if you have bright red vaginal bleeding that's heavier than a period.

Activities to try

When you're ready to exercise, start with something simple — such as a daily walk or laps in a local pool. If you're looking for camaraderie, check out a postpartum exercise class at a local fitness club or community center. With your health care provider's OK, also consider these specific exercises:

  • Bridge. To strengthen your core muscles, lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position, not arched and not pressed into the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Hold for three deep breaths. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Pelvic tilt. Try the pelvic tilt a few times a day to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your pelvis up slightly. Hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat five times and work up to 10 to 20 repetitions.
  • Kegel exercise. Use this exercise to tone your pelvic floor muscles, which can help control bladder leaks, heal your perineum and tighten your vagina. Contract the muscle you use to stop your urine flow. Hold for up to 10 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times at least three times a day.

Bridge exercise

Do the bridge to strengthen your core muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and ...

Illustration of bridge exercise

Pelvic tilt exercise

Do the pelvic tilt to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your ...

Illustration of pelvic tilt exercise 

Overcoming barriers

When you're caring for a newborn, finding time for physical activity can be challenging. Hormonal changes can make you emotional, which might lead to sedentary behavior. And some days you might simply feel too tired for a full workout. That doesn't mean that you should put physical activity on the back burner, however. Instead, do what you can. Seek the support of your partner, family and friends. Schedule time for physical activity. Exercise with a friend to stay motivated. Include your baby, either in a stroller while you walk or lying next to you on the floor while you do abdominal exercises.

Remember, exercise after pregnancy might not be easy — but it can do wonders for your well-being, as well as give you the energy you need to care for your newborn.

Last Updated: 2011-03-31
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