Six Essential Postpartum Exercises
Physical activity and exercise are important before, during, and after pregnancy. During pregnancy, most women experience significant weakening of certain muscles, often due to stretching and hormonal changes that occur to prepare the body for the birthing process. It is common for women to experience lower-back pain, pelvic discomfort, swelling, and general achiness. After her baby is born, some of these common aches and pains continue for weeks.
For women who experienced an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it's generally safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth, or as soon as they receive clearance from a healthcare provider. For women who experienced a C-section, extensive vaginal repair, or a complicated birth, there is no standard time to resume or start exercise programs, and they should consult with their healthcare provider before starting or resuming an exercise program.
Developing an exercise routine, or exercising regularly, can become a life-changing, positive habit. This positive behavior also provides a benefit to one’s child, as the child will observe what the caregiver is doing, and bonding can occur.
Zero to three weeks post-partum - easy cardiovascular activity is recommended. For those who are just beginning regular physical activity, walking is helpful. Start with 15-20 minutes and work up to 30 minutes per day, three times a week. Mothers can take their babies for a stroll, and this way they can bond, and the baby can get fresh air and sunlight as well. Moms can also carry their babies in a sling or carrier. The intensity and pace of walking will depend on the mother’s fitness levels, and comfort level (how they currently feel after having a baby). For new moms, it is best to start easy, and then over time, gradually increase speed and frequency. Her strength and fitness levels will continue to improve.
· Strengthening exercises that can be performed in addition to cardio exercise:
o (1) Leg lifts (while standing – front, back, and side) – to strengthen quads, glutes, and hips. Lift 10-20 times per side (front, back, and side), per leg
o (2) Kegel exercises – to regain strength in pelvic floor. This exercise can be done almost anywhere. Try to do this exercise 15-20 times per day. This exercise can be done even a few days after giving birth.
Three to six weeks postpartum - simple floor exercises should be introduced, and the mother can increase cardiovascular activity. Pelvic floor exercises, stretching, cycling, and walking are all acceptable. If a woman’s pelvic area has recovered, cycling is a good low-impact post pregnancy cardio activity – but also a stationary bike in a gym at this stage is recommended if accessible. Attending a 60-minute high-intensity spin class for her first workout post-partum, is not recommended. Moms can include their newborn baby, lying close by on the floor, while doing abdominal exercises and stretching. Mothers can now start doing light abdominal exercises, if she has received clearance of muscle separation (diastasis recti).
· Strengthening Exercises:
o (1) Standing Bicycles - Standing, lift one leg to 90 degrees, and place hands on ears. Try to reach opposite shoulder to opposite knee, and alternate sides; then
alternate again. Perform this exercise for 30 seconds. Do three sets with 30 seconds recovery between each set. Engage the oblique muscles as you twist side-to-side, as well as the lower abdominal muscles.
o (2) Bird/Dog Exercise – Starting in the position, where your hands and knees are on the floor, lift opposite leg and opposite arm. Extend the arm forward, and the leg back. Hold that position for a couple of seconds, and then switch sides. Perform this exercise 10-20 times per side.
Six to eight weeks postpartum – this is the time to start reintroducing pre-pregnancy fitness levels. If the post-partum checkup is complete and the participant received clearance from her healthcare provider, then, she can start reintroducing regular cardiovascular activity, while gradually building back up to pre-pregnancy levels of fitness. Mothers need to listen to their bodies. For mothers with a C-section, stitches, or other complications, recovery may take longer.
· Strengthening Exercises:
o (1) Squats - Stand shoulder-width apart. Make sure that when you squat, all your weight is in your heels and glutes, and not your knees and toes. When you bend, make sure that you are able to see your toes, and that your knees are not going over your toes. You should feel like you are sitting in a chair when you are in the squat position. Do three sets of 10-15 squats. For added intensity, hug dumbbells in front of your chest, with elbows out to the side.
o (2) Side Plank - Lie on one side, in a straight line from head to feet, resting on your forearm. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder. With your abdominals gently contracted, lift your hips off the floor, maintaining the line. Keep your hips square and your neck in line with your spine. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Perform three sets, and take 30 seconds recovery between sets. For added intensity here are some variations: lift top arm, raise top leg, lower body up and down, from the hips.
Physical activity after pregnancy can help with the following:
· Reduce feelings of depression and stress, while improving mood and overall emotional well-being
· Increase energy levels
· Improve sleep
· Empower the new mother to feel more in control
Adding physical activity to a new mother’s life does not have to be overwhelming. Performing a few exercises every day, and engaging in continuous, cardiovascular activity, can be beneficial for the new mother and her baby. The most important part about postpartum activity is to keep it fun, enjoy the process, and capture all the precious moments with the newborn baby!