When it comes to getting back in shape after having a baby, everything can feel overwhelming. You’re busy being a mother, balancing a new routine, and trying to get your sense of self back. Postnatal fitness depends heavily on patience. You must give your body time to heal, but also give yourself the much-needed self-care you need to get back on your feet.
Check with Your Doctor
Before you jump back into a postnatal fitness routine, be sure to get the all-clear from your doctor. Every pregnancy is different, and each individual person has a different set of postnatal health circumstances to work with. For example, women who are suffering from diastasis (ab separation) may have to alter their fitness routines either temporarily or permanently depending on the severity of the condition. Alternatively, women who have had C-sections and are looking to get back into shape will need to avoid most workouts other than walking in order to heal properly.
Either way, it’s important to have a real, honest conversation with your physician before jumping back into any postnatal fitness routine. Ask when you can start undergoing short, simple workouts and what muscle groups you should allow to heal further.
Start Low and Slow
When your body undergoes so much change in such a short amount of time, it’s easy to want to jump right back to intense workouts. However, you really can’t push yourself until your body returns back to normal. During birth, your bones undergo tremendous stress, your muscles are traumatized, and it takes time to get things back to normal. Additionally, pregnancy hormones like to linger in your system for up to six months post-partum (groan!). Unfortunately, this also means the hormone relaxin, which keeps your joints loose in preparation for birth, is still floating around, leaving you susceptible to injury.
Start with small amounts of non-impact cardio. Think 10 to 15 minutes on an elliptical a few times a week (or spread out over twice a day). Keep reps and weights to a minimum for strength training workouts, and don’t overdo it. Keeping things low and slow is difficult, especially if you were on a steady routine up to giving birth. Even if you’re a pro athlete, you still need some time to recover and recoup after giving birth.
Work with a Post-Natal Specialist
If you’re just getting back into a workout routine, choose your trainer wisely. You’ll want to look for specific training and certifications from your personal trainer, such as a trainer specializing in postnatal workouts. If your current trainer doesn’t have any postnatal experience, consider asking them who they would recommend. This is especially important if you underwent any complications during your pregnancy.
Let’s Talk About Legs
When it comes to leg exercises for postnatal fitness you want to stick to squats. Avoid lunges for the first two months. Lunges put a lot of stress on your pubic bone and any pelvic floor issues may become worse with heavy-lunge exercises. This can cause your internal lady bits to drop down out of your body (not a nice picture, we know!).
Keep squats interesting by doing different variations (front-load squat, farmers squat, etc.) and keep weight low, if you choose to use any at all. Only lift around five to 10 pounds and don’t increase weight for six weeks to three months post-partum.
Upper Body Freedom
When it comes to upper body workouts post-baby, you’ve got much more freedom in your exercises. You can do almost anything (bench presses, overhead shoulder workouts, arm curls, and so on) as long as you do these exercises seated.
Your core muscles underwent drastic changes over the past few months and you simply need to give them time to return to their original health. When you stand for arm exercises, you put quite a bit of additional stress on your core, something a post-baby body isn’t ready to handle until at six to eight weeks after birth. So get those arms toned while seated instead.
When you’re pregnant, your core muscles stretch significantly, sometimes this causes a condition called diastasis, where your core muscles pull apart at the center of your core, putting a lot of lateral stress on your abs. For this reason, you want to avoid exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planks for the first two months (even more depending on the severity of diastasis).
Instead, focus on isolating one side of your core at a time (similar to prenatal workouts). Exercises like bicycle crunches, alternating single-leg lowers, side plank hip drops, and other movements that isolate only one side of your core are all excellent postnatal core exercises. Also, practicing bracing your core while you’re hanging out with your baby, at home, or on the go is another great way to get your core back into tip-top shape. Focus on sucking your belly button back towards your butt and tucking your tailbone under and squeeze your glutes. Hold the position for a few seconds, then release.
Lower Back Love
Save your back when you’re carrying your baby by focusing on exercises that strengthen your lower back. For the first three to six weeks, target the different muscles that you use carrying your baby in different ways. The Superman, or lying on your stomach and hold up your opposite hand and foot for one breath, is an excellent way to keep your lower back strong.
Keep on with the Kegels
From the moment you give birth, you can begin to do Kegels and pelvic floor exercises. Keeping up with Kegels will help you restore your pelvic area and core to a healthy position quickly and limit the side effects of giving birth, such as peeing a little when you sneeze or laugh.
Squeeze your pee muscles and hold for two counts. Do ten sets at a time one to three times a day. This not only strengthens your pelvic floor, but it also aids in getting your inner core muscles back in shape so you can start doing crunches and lateral ab exercises sooner. Just remember, don’t try to do Kegels while trying to urinate!
Postnatal Fitness and Nursing
Of course, we all want our pre-pregnancy bodies back, but it’s important to understand that this transition needs to happen slowly, especially with nursing mothers. Aim to lose a maximum of a half pound per week and not more. Excessive weight loss while nursing will strip your breast milk supply and can harm the health of your baby.
Breastfeeding and producing breast milk burns around 500 calories a day, compound that with a big workout routine and you can find yourself short on milk. Remember to keep things low and slow.
Don’t be shy to chug down on the water during your postnatal fitness routine. In fact, you should target to drink a gallon of water a day. Milk is a liquid, and since it takes a lot of water to produce, you’re going to want to double up when you work out. Keep a full water bottle around you at all times and take drinks throughout the day.
It’s Okay to Say No
Remember, you’re a new mother. There is so much to focus on, and your body is still in overdrive producing milk for your new baby. If you feel tired or exhausted, rest. Athletes need to remember to take it slow and not push yourself as you adjust to your new life. This mindset is certainly tough, as many athletes are at a higher risk of post-partum depression. So remember, be honest about how you feel, you will get to a point where you can get back to your normal fitness routine.
After you’ve gotten your doctor’s approval to begin light, postnatal fitness routines, stick with these golden rules in order to gently introduce your body back to fitness. As always, it’s still okay to Netflix and chill with your little one if you aren’t up for the task. It takes a lot to rear an infant, so give yourself thanks, focus on what you can do, and take it slow for the first two months.