After giving birth last fall, one of the first questions I had for my midwife was, “When can I exercise again?” I ran until I was 7 months pregnant, when I had to hang up my running shoes due to health concerns. So I couldn’t wait to get moving again. (Information on keeping a safe running routine throughout pregnancy can be found here.)
But starting a fitness plan postpartum requires that you take special care. Whether you’re an athlete eager to get back into your favorite sport or you’re looking for a way to shed the pregnancy pounds, you can safely get in shape after having a baby.
Being active boasts a bunch of health benefits for new moms. Exercise can boost your energy, reduce postpartum fatigue, fight stress, improve your mood, strengthen your muscles and help you lose weight. Plus, you’ll be setting up lifelong healthy habits and be a good role model for your child.
Before you head to the gym, though, you’ll need to get the OK from your doctor or midwife. Delivering a baby takes a toll on your body, and it can take weeks to recover (or even months if you delivered by cesarean section or had a difficult childbirth). Rest is usually best in the first few weeks after having a baby.
Experts say that most postpartum women can do some light walking as soon as they feel up to it. In general, women who delivered vaginally can start more vigorous exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, and women who delivered by C-section can engage in more intense activity 6 to 8 weeks after childbirth. But know that every woman is different and recovery times vary. Always ask your doctor how long you should wait after the birth of your baby before resuming or starting an exercise program.
Sticking With It
Still, even if you have clearance from your doctor, wait until your body feels ready before you move from walking to more intense activities. Once you feel ready to exercise, follow these tips for success:
· Ease into it. Doing too much before your body is healed can be a recipe for disaster. You risk injury if you jump into intense exercise too soon. Take it slow and, in time, you’ll be able to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout sessions.
· Have realistic expectations. You just had a baby! You are likely sleep deprived and stressed. If you don’t have the stamina for your planned workout one day, don’t sweat it. Just take a walk instead. Remember that even a little bit of exercise is better than none. Pop baby into a jogging stroller and get going! (with luck he’ll even finally fall asleep!)
· Stay well hydrated. Be mindful to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. This is especially crucial for breast-feeding women because you lose fluids during nursing sessions. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help you feel more energized and combat fatigue.
· Plan ahead if you’re breast-feeding. In the first few months postpartum, you may feel more comfortable if you exercise immediately after nursing your baby. Note that working out will not negatively impact your milk supply.
· Watch for warning signs. If you have bright red vaginal bleeding that’s heavier than a period, stop exercising at once and get medical help.
New moms: how do you make time for fitness? I like to multi-task; I used to lift weights and do jumping jacks while my son played on his activity mat.