7 Tips for Resuming Exercise Post-Baby
Postpartum exercise is incredibly beneficial, but it does require some specific considerations. Follow these 7 tips to ensure your return is safe and effective.
1. Get clearance from your doctor: You cannot resume exercise until you are officially cleared by your doctor at your postpartum check-up (typically around 4-6 weeks for a vaginal birth, and 6-8 weeks for a C-section).
2. Get checked for Diastasis Recti and pelvic floor problems: Your doctor should check for these at your postpartum visit, but unfortunately many do not, so ask! Diastasis Recti is a separation of the outer abdominal muscle layer that’s common during pregnancy. It results in a visible belly “pooch” and a weak and ineffective core. Pelvic floor complications include stress incontinence (accidental urine leakage during coughing, laughing, sneezing, etc) or prolapse (bladder or rectal organs descending through the vaginal or rectal openings). DR and pelvic floor problems can lead to further complications if not addressed, and do require specialized treatment like physical therapy or a specific rehabilitation program.
3. Re-connect with your “inner girdle:” This is your largest and innermost core muscle – your transverse abdominis (TVA). Your TVA wraps around your entire mid-section (literally like a girdle!) and is responsible for essentially “pulling everything in” (AKA giving you that lean flat waistline). A growing belly during pregnancy essentially “loosens this girdle,” and so the first step in rebuilding your core is to tighten it back up! Try this simple Belly Breathing technique. You can actually begin doing it immediately after delivery!
4. Rebuild the “floor of your core”: If you think of your TVA as the walls of your core, your pelvic floor muscles form the floor. After 9 months of supporting your growing belly and uterus -- combined with either delivery method (vaginal or C-section) -- the pelvic floor muscles are often very weak (which leads to a weak core and often the not-so-fun issues described in #2). Kegels can be an effective exercise to strengthen these muscles IF performed properly. Once you master them, try doing several sets per day. Doing a few sets each time you feed your baby is a great way to ensure you get in plenty, and you can start these as soon as you’re comfortable after delivery too.
5. Hold off on those sit-ups and planks! These exercises require very strong inner core muscles, and performing them with weak inner core muscles can do more damage than good. Focus first on mastering tips #3 and #4, then follow a gradual progression to work up to more advanced core work.
6. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Nursing moms need at least 12 glasses of water per day, more if you are exercising. Use the color of your urine as a gauge. It should be straw color. If it’s darker or deep yellow, this could be a sign you are dehydrated.
7. Start slowly and listen to your body! While you may be eager to lose that baby weight, going back too fast and too hard can backfire – causing pain, extreme soreness, and even injuries that stop you altogether. A good rule of thumb is to start by taking it one notch below your third trimester exertion level, and gradually work your way back up as you feel comfortable.