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Whether this is your first, second, or fourth trip around the postpartum block, there’s a good chance your post-baby body feels a lot different than your pre-pregnancy self (you did just birth a human, after all!).

But if you’re eager to get moving, you might be wondering when it’s safe to return to exercise and what types of workouts are best in the first few weeks and months after childbirth.

While your pregnancy, type of birth, and any complications you experienced during delivery will dictate specific exercise guidelines, the most important factor to consider is how you feel.

That’s because easing into any type of workout after giving birth is key to both the long-term success of your fitness plan and your overall health. In other words, try to be patient and realistic about what you’re capable of doing.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the type of pregnancy and delivery you had are the primary considerations for deciding a start date for fitness. In general, if you had a healthy pregnancy and delivery, you can start working out when you feel ready. For some women, this may be as soon as a week after giving birth. (But it’s OK — and perfectly normal — if you need longer!)

If you had a cesarean delivery or other complications such as diastasis recti or severe vaginal tears, you’ll need to work with your doctor to determine a timeline for when it’s safe to begin exercise again. In general, you’ll need to wait several weeks to return to an exercise program — so enjoy some guilt-free rest, recovery, and… relaxation? (As much as is possible with a newborn, that is!)

When you do head back to the gym or hit the trails for a walk, aim to stay active by engaging in low-impact aerobic activity for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Add on 10 minutes of simple postpartum exercises that help strengthen your abdominal muscles and other major muscle groups such as your legs, glutes, and back.

If 20 minutes is too much, scale back to 10 to 15 minutes, two times a day. For example, go for a 15-minute walk in the morning, followed by 10 minutes of gentle yoga or abdominal strengthening exercises at night. You can add time or intensity as you get stronger and your body feels better.

Pro tip

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to nurse or pump before any type of exercise, and wear a supportive bra when you do work out.

Healthline

Exercise, at any point in your life, is one of the best ways to improve your mood, strengthen and tone muscles, and increase overall health. But during the postpartum period specifically, fitness has the potential to:

  • strengthen and tone abdominal muscles that were stretched during pregnancy
  • boost your energy
  • promote better sleep
  • relieve stress
  • help you lose any extra weight you gained

Light-to-moderate intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking) during the postpartum period also has the ability to improve mild to moderate depressive symptoms, according to a 2017 review of studies.

The primary goal in the postpartum period is to move your body and do movements that make you feel good. That said, there is one area that needs a little extra TLC, according to Roselyn Reilly, facility leader and trainer at Fit Body Boot Camp of Berkley, Michigan.

“The most important thing in the postpartum period is getting core strength back,” says Reilly. She recommends focusing on the diaphragm, transverse abdominis muscles, and the pelvic floor. “Cardio is fine, but I would keep it to lighter cardio and really focus on rebuilding the core strength,” she adds.

To whip your core back into shape, Reilly recommends staring with these five moves:

  • Swiss bird dog holds
  • Cat-Cow in tabletop
  • Swiss ball glute bridge
  • postpartum planks
  • side plank leg lifts

And of course, diaphragmatic breathing and Kegel exercises are key during the postpartum period.

1. Pelvic floor exercises (Kegels)

If you followed your doctor’s instructions during pregnancy, there’s a good chance your body already knows how to do a Kegel. Continuing these exercises during the postpartum period can help you strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

  1. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles (the ones used to stop the flow of urination).
  2. Hold for 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat throughout the day.

2. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic or deep breathing is an exercise you can begin within the first few days of giving birth. Taking a few minutes each day to focus on your breath can help you relax and reduce stress. It can also improve core stability and slow your rate of breathing. You can perform this breathing exercise seated or lying down.

  1. Lie flat on the floor on a yoga mat.
  2. Relax your body, focusing on releasing the tension from your toes to the top of your head.
  3. Put a hand on your chest and another on your stomach.
  4. Take a deep breath in through the nose. This will expand your stomach, but your chest should remain relatively still. Breathe in for 2 to 3 seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly while keeping one and on the chest and one on the stomach.
  6. Repeat several times for 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Walking

The first few months after delivery is an excellent time to test-drive that new jogging stroller your BFF handed down to you. Walking, while pushing a newborn, will give your body an amazing workout, especially if you can find a route with some hills (hello, glute muscles!).

As you get stronger, consider stopping every 10 to 15 minutes and performing a few bodyweight squats. If the weather is nice, take your baby out of the stroller and hold them in front of you while squatting. The extra resistance will really give your backside a boost, and your little one will love the face-to-face time.

4. Swiss ball bird dog holds

This exercise helps with stability, posture, and reduces low back pain, which is pretty darn common after giving birth. You’ll need a stability or exercise ball (shop online for one here) to perform this move.

  1. Lay down on top of the ball, so that your torso covers the ball. Your body will be in a straight line, with your palms flat on the floor and toes touching the ground.
  2. Looking down at the floor, lift and reach your left foot and right arm at the same time. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds.
  3. Return to the starting position and change sides.
  4. Alternate sides for 20 total repetitions.

5. Cat-Cow in tabletop

The Cat-Cow stretch is a beginner yoga move that helps to support back muscles, strengthens the core, and promotes mobility in the spine. Including this move in your postpartum workouts can help reduce back pain, promote relaxation, and improve circulation.

  1. Get on the floor on all fours. Keep your back flat, spine neutral, and gaze looking down at the floor. Your wrists will be directly under your shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Inhale and take a deep breath. On the exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling. Your head and tailbone will move closer to each other.
  3. Hold in the cat position for 1 to 2 seconds. Then, inhale, arch your back, and lift your tailbone and head toward the sky as you relax your belly to the floor to move to the cow position.
  4. Do this continuously for about 60 seconds.

6. Swiss ball glute bridge

Reilly says the Swiss ball glute bridge exercise is great for pelvic floor and core stabilization. It works the abdominal muscles, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. You will need a stability or exercise ball to perform this move.

  1. Start with your back flat on the ground, knees bent, and stability ball by your feet.
  2. Place your feet flat on the ball, press through the heels, and raise your hips into the air. Use your glute and hamstring muscles to assist. Your shoulders and upper back will remain in contact with the floor, and your body should be in a straight line.
  3. Hold at the top for a few seconds and return to the starting position while keeping the ball still.
  4. Perform 3 to 4 sets, 10 to 20 repetitions each set.

7. Postpartum planks (aka standard plank hold)

The standard plank is an excellent total body exercise that retrains the core, strengthens the muscles in your upper body, and gives your glutes a nice lift. You can perform a standard plank within the first few weeks of giving birth, as long as you had a vaginal delivery without complications.

If you need to modify this move, Reilly says to start on your knees before doing a full standard plank.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor and elbows beneath shoulders. Your feet will be flexed with toes on the floor.
  2. Engage your glutes and core and rise up on your toes so that only your forearms and toes touch the floor. Your body should be a few inches off the floor in a straight line.
  3. Contracting your deep abdominal muscles, bring your belly button to spine, and tighten your buttocks and upper body. Breathe normally and hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 1 to 2 times. As you get stronger, increase the hold time.

8. Side plank leg lifts

The side plank leg lift is a variation of the standard plank. It’s more advanced, so you may want to save this move for 6 to 8 weeks postpartum. This exercise will work your glutes, obliques, and to a lesser degree, the shoulder muscles.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor and elbows beneath shoulders. Your feet will be flexed with toes on the floor.
  2. Go on one forearm and turn sideways.
  3. Raise your body off the floor to get into a side plank position.
  4. Raise your top leg and hold it in the air for 20 to 30 seconds or repeatedly perform leg raises until the time is up.
  5. Perform 1 to 2 sets on each side.

Mon-Wed-Fri and Sat or Sun

  • 30-minute stroller walk followed by the five core exercises listed above. (You can do diaphragmatic breathing and Kegels daily.)

Tue-Thu

  • Functional training workout below.
  • Once you hit the 12-week mark, you can substitute the Tabata-style workout (below) for one of the functional training workouts.

Functional training workout

Reilly suggests a functional training workout using a very light weight — or baby as your weight. You can perform this routine 2 to 3 times in a row, taking a 30-second break at the end of each round.

  • Bodyweight squats: 12 to 15 reps
  • Push-ups: 12 to 15 reps (can modify by doing them on your knees)
  • Lunges: 10 lunges on each leg
  • Deadlift using light dumbbell (or baby in place of dumbbell): 12 to 15 reps
  • Bent-over row using baby or a light medicine ball: 12 to 15 reps
Healthline

Tabata-style workout

At 12 weeks postpartum, Reilly recommends a bodyweight workout using a Tabata-style outline of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest.

Perform each move for 8 rounds — 1 exercise at a time. For example:

  • 20 seconds of squats
  • 10-second rest
  • 20 lunges
  • 10-second rest
  • 20 push-ups
  • 10-second rest
  • 20 seconds of plank holds
  • 10-second rest
  • Repeat for a total of 8 rounds.
Healthline

Remember, the postpartum period is a time to be kind to yourself and ease back into exercise. Each time you work out, make it a point to check in with your body and ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I feel?
  • Does anything hurt?
  • Does this workout make me feel energized or ready for a nap?

If possible, take a few notes after each workout — at least in the early stages of postnatal exercise. That way, you can see any patterns or areas of concern that you may need to share with your doctor.

Some red flags to be aware of during this time include:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • abdominal pain
  • sudden discomfort in your pelvic region

If exercise is causing you pain or bleeding, talk with your doctor right away. In addition to an office visit, they may recommend modifications such as decreasing the intensity and duration of the activity.

Including exercise in the postpartum period can help strengthen your core muscles, boost your mood, reduce stress, and prevent low-back injuries. It also gives you time to focus on you, which is a rarity during motherhood. Our motto? Take care of you so you can take care of them.