Mom working out with baby

Are you thinking of getting back into exercise? If you’ve given birth recently, you may be battling exhaustion and wondering how and when to get started.

The good news is that exercise can actually help you feel more energetic, and exercising during the postpartum period can also help boost your mood and help you get back into shape.

This guide will help you get moving again, whether your goal is to lose some of your pregnancy weight gain, tone up your tummy, or simply to do an activity you enjoy—or perhaps a combination of all three.

Read on to find out when you can resume exercising after childbirth, what benefits may be offered, and nine great postpartum exercise options to consider.

When Can You Start Exercising After Childbirth?

There’s no hard and fast rule on when during the postpartum period you can begin exercising. If you gave birth vaginally and your healthcare provider has given you the all-clear, you can probably start exercising as soon as you feel ready. For some moms this could be within a few days of giving birth, while for others it may take longer.

If you had a cesarean section or other complications during labor or childbirth, it may take a little longer before you feel ready. Experts generally say that after a cesarean section, you can start light exercise about four to six weeks after giving birth, but it’s best to ask your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

The (Many) Benefits of Exercise After Giving Birth

There is so much you can get out of doing regular postpartum exercise, including

  • generally feeling better

  • having more energy

  • weight loss

  • increased cardio fitness

  • more toned tummy muscles

  • reduced symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety

  • sleeping better

  • meeting other moms if you choose to do group classes

  • the chance to have some time to yourself.

There’s one more potential benefit: By getting into a lifelong habit of exercising regularly now, you’ll be setting a good example for your little one in the years to come.

9 Postpartum Exercise Ideas

Although you should always check in with your healthcare provider before you resume working out, here are nine exercise ideas for the postpartum period and beyond:

1. Walking

It sounds simple, and it is—walking is a terrific way to get back into exercise. Start with a short, brisk walk every day, and gradually increase the duration and distance as you're able.

It's always fun to head outside, at least when the weather and season permit, but you can also search out places to walk indoors, too, whether it's a shopping mall or an indoor track. And you don't have to walk alone: You can take your baby in his stroller, or arrange to meet other moms (or a friend or family member) to walk together.

2. Swimming

Swimming is another good choice, because it offers a healthy postpartum cardio workout without putting pressure on your joints.

If you enjoy being in the water, you might like the meditative nature of swimming laps, or you might prefer to take part in an aqua-aerobics class designed for the postpartum period.

Before jumping in the water (or attempting any of the activities on this list), it's wise to check in with your healthcare provider.

3. Core Exercises

The “core” muscles of your abdominals and lower back become stretched during pregnancy. Experts say that starting at about six weeks after giving birth, doing ab workouts can be an effective way to help tone and strengthen these muscles.

One way to begin is with a simple exercise called the pelvic tilt. To do these, lie on your back with your knees bent. Clench your abdominal muscles and slightly tilt your pelvis back toward your abdominals. Hold it for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat. Work your way up to doing about 10 to 20 of these a day.

Here are a few other core exercises to try during the postpartum period, with detailed instructions under the visualization:

Postpartum periods core exercises

Each of these exercises gets a little harder as you go from A to E. Work your way up to doing about 20 repetitions of each exercise, and then add the next one to your routine.

  • Four-point kneeling. Kneel on all fours and take a deep breath. Squeeze your abs as you breathe out.

  • Leg slides. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Engage your abs and slide one foot along the floor until your leg is straight. Then bring the leg back into the starting position and switch to the other leg.

  • Knee raises. Stay in the leg slide position, and raise one leg bending the knee above the hip. Straighten out your other leg. Then “cycle” the legs by bending the straight leg and straightening the bent leg.

  • Heel touches. Next, bend both knliees above your hips, keeping your calves parallel to the floor. Lower one heel to the floor while keeping your knee bent. Bring the leg back up to 90 degrees and touch the other heel to the floor. A harder version is to touch both heels to the floor at the same time. The key is to keep your back pressed to the floor—don’t let your lower back arch as you dip your heels. If you find your back arching, don’t go down all the way to the floor; instead, lower your heel only as low as you can without arching your back.

  • Leg extensions. Staying on your back, raise and bend your legs so that your knees are bent over your hips, keeping your calves parallel to the floor. Straighten one of your legs out so that the leg is diagonal and your foot is hovering one to two feet above the floor. Bring your leg back and do the same with the other leg.

4. Gentle Strength Training

Strengthening your muscles with resistance training is an important part of getting back into shape. Once your healthcare provider has given you the all-clear, you can begin with training the major muscle groups, including your back and abdominals, before moving on to more intense exercises that incorporate other muscle groups like your arms and legs.

Resistance training can help tone your muscles, boost your metabolism, support your weight loss goals, and improve your balance, among many other benefits.

To get started, you could join a gym, do online videos or apps at home, or even hire a personal trainer. There are many forms of training to choose from. Some involve simply using your own body weight as resistance, while others require hand weights or resistance bands you can purchase.

One thing to keep in mind with strength training is that if you had a cesarean section, your healthcare provider may recommend not lifting anything heavier than your baby in the first six to eight weeks after delivery.

5. Postpartum Group Classes

There may be group exercise classes designed specifically for the postnatal period near you. These classes could be anything from gentle aerobics and dance classes to strength training classes. Another benefit of group exercise designed for postpartum moms is that you’ll be with others who are going through the same things as you are.

To find a class, see if your local fitness club or community center offers classes specifically for new mothers. Your healthcare provider may also be able to recommend one.

If you join a group class that’s not specifically designed for postpartum moms, always let the instructor know that you have recently given birth.

Some fitness clubs also offer child care services, so ask about this as well when you enquire about classes.

6. Postnatal Yoga

With so much going on in your life right now, you might appreciate a more relaxing form of exercise, like a postnatal yoga class. Yoga can help reduce stress, and can help improve your strength and flexibility.

See if you can find a postpartum yoga class near where you live. Going to a class with a trained instructor helps ensure you’ll be doing poses that are safe in the postpartum period, and if any of the poses feel uncomfortable you can ask the instructor for modifications. You might also enjoy the chance to meet other moms who are in a similar life stage to you.

One yoga pose you can do in the comfort of your own home, as long as your provider says it’s OK, is the happy baby pose. This pose is designed to relax and stretch the pelvic muscles that may be tight and painful after giving birth.

To do this pose, lie on your back and bring your knees up toward your chest. Keeping your knees nice and wide, reach your arms between your knees and grab the outside of your feet or ankles. Gently pull down. Check that the bottoms of your feet face upward and are parallel with the ceiling. Hold this pose for about 90 seconds.

Happy baby yoga pose

7. Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pelvic floor exercises (also known as Kegels) help strengthen the muscles of the pelvic and genital area. Doing Kegels regularly can also help reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.

To do Kegels, squeeze the muscles you would squeeze to stop the flow of urine and hold the squeeze for about 10 seconds. Experts recommend doing about 10 to 20 of these clenches in a set, and doing three sets a day. The great thing about Kegels is that you can do them pretty much anytime and anywhere—no equipment is needed. To help you find the right muscles, check out this diagram and read our detailed guide on Kegel exercises.

8. Baby-and-Me Exercises

Why not work your baby into your exercise routine? It can be done! Many gyms offer mommy-and-me or baby-and-me classes. You get the benefit of having an instructor guide you through the best post-pregnancy workouts, and your baby gets to watch the other moms and babies move about the room.

Just check with your baby’s pediatrician about when your little one is ready to start joining you during these workouts. You never know—your pediatrician may even be able to recommend a class or instructor in your neighborhood.

You can even do baby-and-me workouts in the comfort of your own home or outdoors in a nearby park, for example. See Farrah’s story about losing weight after pregnancy while bonding with her baby:

Exercises
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9. Jogging

If you’re ready for something more intense than a brisk walk, why not consider jogging?

When your baby is older, you can even consider going jogging with your little one in tow. Just remember you’ll need a jogging stroller to do this safely, and you’ll need to get your pediatrician’s OK before taking your little one out for a run.

Tips for Postnatal Exercise

Getting started with exercise after giving birth can be challenging. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Remember that everyone’s journey is unique. When it comes to postpartum exercise there’s no one-size-fits-all. Instead, think about your goals, the forms of exercise you like, any medical issues you may have, and whether you prefer group or solo exercise. Don’t put pressure on yourself to “bounce back” quickly, and only start exercising again when you really feel ready.

  • Take things slow. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance on when you can safely start exercising again. Once you do get started, it could be that you do just a few minutes here and there and slowly work your way up to doing about 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, or about 150 minutes over the course of a week. Give yourself lots of time to get back close to your pre-pregnancy fitness levels, and keep your eye on your long term goals instead of focusing on immediate results.

  • Take your fitness level into account. How you get back into exercise also depends on whether you were working out before you were pregnant and during your pregnancy. For example, if you’re new to exercise now, you may need to take it extra slow now and gradually work your way up to harder exercises or longer workouts.

  • Make things fun. You don’t want exercise to be a chore, so pick a sport or an activity you enjoy and mix it up by doing something different from day to day. You might also enjoy working out with your baby, such as by doing ab exercises while your baby is next to you on the floor, for example. Or, you might pair up with another new mom or a friend so you can use the time to catch up while you work out.

  • Be extra careful if you are breastfeeding. Drink lots of water, follow a healthy diet, and keep the intensity of exercise to a moderate level so you don’t exhaust yourself. Also, it might help to breastfeed your baby before exercising and to wear a supportive bra so that you don’t feel any discomfort in your breasts. You may also like to wear nursing pads if your breasts leak.

  • Don’t lift heavy weights if you recently had a cesarean section. Follow your healthcare provider’s personalized advice, but a general guideline is not to lift weights heavier than your baby in the first six to eight weeks after delivery.

  • Drink lots of water. You can check that you’re drinking enough by looking at the color of your urine. It should be a pale yellow color. If it’s a dark yellow color, you likely need to drink more water.

  • Consider your child care solutions. It can be hard to find time to exercise when you’re also caring for your little one. If you don't have child care available, think about taking your baby for walks in the stroller, doing baby-and-me classes or videos, or training at home while your baby takes a nap.

  • Give yourself time to rest. Rest and sleep are particularly important for your well-being, especially if you’re adding regular workouts to your day. You may even find you sleep better if you’re exercising regularly.

  • Schedule your exercise time. It can be easy to prioritize everyone else in your family, but postpartum exercise is important for your health and wellbeing, so why not block a certain time of the day for exercise so that it’s less likely to fall by the wayside.

See Your Healthcare Provider If…

Before starting to exercise again, it’s safest to ask your provider for the OK. Once you start exercising, stop exercising and contact your provider if you

  • experience pain

  • feel faint or nauseous

  • have vaginal bleeding

  • get unusually short of breath (not associated with the workout itself)

  • feel extremely tired

  • have any other concerns.

How Long Will It Take to Get Back Into Shape?

It might take up to 6 to 12 months to get close to your pre-pregnancy weight. Losing about one to two pounds per week of the weight gained during pregnancy [weight you gained during pregnancy] is generally considered a healthy rate of weight loss, but consult with your healthcare provider to find out what's best for your situation. Avoid crash diets, as your body needs the energy and nutrition from healthy food to recover after pregnancy and childbirth.

The key is to be patient with your body. There’s no need to put extra pressure on yourself to “bounce back” by a certain time. Instead, engage in physical activity because it makes you feel good, and eat well because it helps provide the energy to care for yourself and your little one.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • If you gave birth vaginally and childbirth was uncomplicated, you may feel ready to start gentle exercise within a few days. If you gave birth via a cesarean section or there were complications, you may need to wait about four to six weeks to feel ready.

    Ask your healthcare provider for personalized advice.
  • Yes. Just be careful to drink lots of water, rest as much as possible, and eat healthily to keep up your energy stores.
  • If you already did vigorous exercise before or during your pregnancy, and your pregnancy and childbirth were uncomplicated, you can work your way back to doing high-intensity workouts after giving birth, once your healthcare provider has given you the all-clear.
  • If you have a condition called diastasis recti, where the abdominal muscles have separated, your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy. Your physical therapist will be able to recommend exercises to try.

Given the changes you’ve gone through during pregnancy and childbirth, it’s important to give yourself time to recover physically and adjust mentally and emotionally. Once you feel ready to get back into exercise, take things nice and slow and take the time to enjoy it.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.