Postpartum exercise is a great way to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, but knowing when to start and how much to do can be tricky. Exercising after birth can help strengthen stretched out muscles and burn calories, but it’s important to listen to your body and your doctor.
When to Start
If you had a vaginal birth, the general rule is to wait 3 weeks after delivery before beginning postpartum exercise. This waiting period doubles to 6 weeks for those who had a C-section. These numbers are just suggestions. Some women may feel ready to exercise right away, and others may need some more time to adjust to their new bodies and their new lives. Either way, once you’re ready to begin, be sure to clear it with your doctor ahead of time.
Take It Slow
It took your body 9 months to get to its present condition and it isn’t going to instantly jump back to normal. Just like the prenatal period, your body is undergoing drastic changes, so it’s important to take it slow. How much you can do largely depends on how much you exercised before and during your pregnancy. If you didn’t exercise at all, be kind to your body and start out with gentle activities like walking, stretching or post-natal yoga classes. If you exercised right up to your delivery date, continue at the same pace for at least a few weeks before slowly increasing back to pre-pregnancy levels. Remember that for 3 to 5 months following pregnancy, your joints and ligaments are still looser than normal, meaning that you’re more prone to certain injuries.
Once you begin a postpartum exercise routine, eating properly becomes even more important. If you’re breastfeeding, your body needs about 500 extra calories a day to continue producing milk. Although exercising does not inhibit milk production, a lack of sufficient calories and nutrients can. Even though your goal is to shed that baby weight, be sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain your body, your increased activity and your baby.
Warning Signs You‘re Overdoing It
Watching and listening to your body is the first step to knowing how much postpartum exercise is right for you. When doing cardiovascular exercise, aim to maintain an intensity that allows you to carry on a conversation but still raises your heart rate. Never exercise so intensely that you feel lightheaded, dizzy or weak. If you feel sharp pains, stop immediately. If your postpartum flow becomes pink or red, stop exercising and call your doctor. Although your flow may increase slightly with normal exercise, if it increases dramatically or if it restarts once it has stopped, this is another sign that your body has been pushed too far.
After pregnancy, many women’s abdominal muscles are still separated. If the width between your stomach muscles is 3 fingers or more, avoid doing intense abdominal exercises like sit ups and double leg lifts. You can measure the width by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and feeling a few inches below your belly button to see if there is a separation in the abdominal wall. Wait until the gap has closed to two fingers or less before starting an ab routine.