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Postpartum Exercise: What to Know About Exercising After Pregnancy

Feb. 17, 2021 - Katie McCallum

Life looks different after having a baby. From your morning routine to your evening routine to your workout routine, almost everything changes.

Speaking of your workout routine...

How soon after giving birth can you start thinking about exercise again?

"Pregnancy and childbirth are accompanied by some pretty significant changes in your body. Exercise can help you heal and recover, but your workouts will look different than what you're probably used to for several weeks," says Dr. Kathleen Mundy, OB-GYN at Houston Methodist. "While many women are eager to burn off baby weight, I recommend thinking of postpartum exercise as a way to reap the lifestyle benefits of physical activity, while also slowly regaining strength in the muscles weakened during your pregnancy."

Making time for exercise after pregnancy can help you:

  • Feel more energized
  • Sleep better
  • Manage stress more effectively
  • Lose weight
  • Regain strength in your abdominal muscles

"Regular exercise may also help fight symptoms of postpartum depression, the baby blues some new moms feel after giving birth," adds Dr. Mundy.

How soon after giving birth can you exercise?

Like most things exercise, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to how soon is too soon and how much is too much.

"When it's safe for you to start exercising again depends on your how your pregnancy and delivery went. If you had an uncomplicated pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery, you can start doing light exercises as soon as a few days after giving birth. If you experienced a complicated pregnancy or had a cesarean section, your body will likely need more time. Your doctor will help you understand when you can start exercising again," explains Dr. Mundy.

And a certain emphasis needs to be placed on light exercise. Trying to do too much too soon may be tempting — especially if you miss your old workout routine — but it's ill-advised.

"First and foremost, and regardless of your pre-pregnancy fitness level, it's important to start slow and let your body be your guide," recommends Dr. Mundy. "The structural and hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy don't just disappear as soon as your baby is delivered, and overdoing it after pregnancy can result in urine or feces leakages, pelvis discomfort, joint pain and even injury."

Slowly easing into exercise means opting for low-impact workouts — such as walking and postpartum exercises — long before you go for a run or do a HIIT workout. And, as you slowly increase the intensity of your workouts over time, be sure to listen to your body and stop immediately if you feel any pain.

"Most importantly, set realistic exercise goals for yourself. If you're new to exercise and looking to burn some baby weight, keep in mind that, in addition to regaining strength, improving your overall cardiovascular fitness and building muscle takes time. If you're already an avid exerciser, you'll still need to be patient as your body recovers."

What are postpartum exercises and why are they important?

Pregnancy and childbirth change your body in many ways, but, in particular, they weaken your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. This is significant because these muscle groups help provide stability and balance while performing daily activities, as well as while exercising.

"After pregnancy, it's very important to regain strength in these muscles, and postpartum exercises are a way to do that," explains Dr. Mundy. "These exercises can help prevent incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse in the future."

A postpartum exercise routine can safely include:

"Be very cautious about the type of abdominal and pelvic muscle exercises you do after pregnancy," warns Dr. Mundy. "Quickly returning to high-intensity core workouts can strain your weakened abdominal and pelvic muscles and cause pain or injury."

Can exercise affect your breast milk if you are breastfeeding?

For the first several weeks after giving birth, your exercises won't entail jumping, running, weightlifting or anything rigorous. But once you do get to a healthy fitness level where your workouts really get you moving, you may be wondering how exercise affects breastfeeding.

"There's a misconception that you should breastfeed or pump before your workout, as high-intensity exercise can cause lactic acid buildup in your breast milk, which babies won't eat. This is probably very rare. That being said, I do still recommend that you pump before a workout simply because exercising when your breasts are full can be uncomfortable," explains Dr. Mundy.

Here are some do's and don'ts of exercising while you're breastfeeding:

  • Do drink plenty of water
  • Do wear a supportive bra that fits properly (not too tight, but not too loose)
  • Do gradually increase your activity level
  • Don't exercise with full breasts (breastfeed or pump before a workout)
  • Don't overdo it — stress and fatigue can reduce your breast milk and increase your risk of a breast infection
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