Exercise might be the last thing on your mind after you give birth, but it's worthwhile. In fact, exercise after pregnancy might be one of the best things you can do for yourself. Follow these tips to keep exercise after pregnancy safe.
Benefits of exercise after pregnancy
Regular exercise after pregnancy can:
- Promote weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
- Improve your cardiovascular fitness
- Restore muscle strength and tone
- Condition your abdominal muscles
- Boost your energy level
- Improve your mood
- Relieve stress
- Help prevent and promote recovery from postpartum depression
Better yet, including physical activity in your daily routine helps you set a positive example for your child now and in the years to come.
Exercise and breast-feeding
Exercise isn't thought to have any adverse effects on breast milk volume or composition, nor is it thought to affect a nursing infant's growth. Some research, however, suggests that high-intensity physical activity can cause lactic acid to accumulate in breast milk and produce a sour taste a baby might not like. If you're breast-feeding, you can prevent this potential problem by sticking to moderate physical activity and drinking plenty of fluids during and after your workout.
If vigorous activity is a priority during the first few months of breast-feeding, consider feeding your baby before your workout or pumping before your workout and feeding your baby the pumped breast milk afterward. This can also help you stay comfortable while you're exercising. Alternatively, you can simply avoid breast-feeding your baby right after your workout. After months four to five of breast-feeding, physical activity has less of an impact on your milk because your body produces most milk at feeding time.
When to start
In the past, health care providers often instructed women to wait at least six weeks after giving birth to begin exercising. The waiting game might be over, however. If you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it's generally safe to begin exercising as soon as you feel ready. If you had a C-section, extensive vaginal repair or a complicated birth, talk to your health care provider about when to start an exercise program.
Physical activity goals
For most healthy women, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — preferably spread throughout the week — after pregnancy. Consider these guidelines:
- Take time to warm up and cool down.
- Begin slowly and increase your pace gradually.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Wear a supportive bra and, if you're breast-feeding, nursing pads in case your breasts leak.
- Avoid excessive fatigue.
- Stop exercising if you feel pain.
Activities to try
When you're ready to exercise, start with something low impact and simple — such as a daily walk. If you're looking for camaraderie, check out a postpartum exercise class at a local fitness club or community center.
With your health care provider's OK, also consider these specific exercises:
- Pelvic tilt. Try the pelvic tilt a few times a day to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your pelvis up slightly. Hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat five times and work up to 10 to 20 repetitions.
- Kegel exercise. Use this exercise to tone your pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. Contract the muscle you use to stop your urine flow. Hold for up to 10 seconds and release, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day.
When you're caring for a newborn, finding time for physical activity can be challenging. Hormonal changes can make you emotional, which might lead to sedentary behavior. And some days you might simply feel too tired for a full workout. That doesn't mean that you should put physical activity on the back burner, however.
Instead, do what you can. Seek the support of your partner, family and friends. Schedule time for physical activity. Exercise with a friend to stay motivated. Include your baby, either in a stroller while you walk or lying next to you on the floor while you do abdominal exercises.
Remember, exercise after pregnancy might not be easy — but it can do wonders for your well-being, as well as give you the energy you need to care for your newborn.