Your Postpartum Workout: A Week-by-Week Guide

Now that your baby's out of your belly and in your arms, it's time for a postpartum workout! Here's how to gradually -- and safely -- stretch and tone your body. Check out this week-by-week excercise guide.

After giving birth, getting your post-baby body into a postpartum workout routine can seem daunting. Even if you have the desire, it's hard to know where to start or what's safe to do.

"The most important thing to remember is that every woman's recovery is different and that she should talk with her physician before starting any exercise program," says Dr. Lindsey Longerot, an obstetrician/gynecologist at The Women's Specialists of Houston at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women.

Fitness experts agree that women need to listen to their recovering bodies and ease back into exercise as they feel ready. According to Burr Leonard, fitness expert and creator of The Bar Method, if you were active prior to and during your pregnancy, chances are you will be able to slide into a postpartum workout routine sooner than the standard six weeks.

However, Leonard cautions women to be mindful of how their bodies change during pregnancy, noting that because "ligaments and lower back muscles are fragile for several months after childbirth," women should avoid intense stretches that could overextend their ligaments during this stage.

What Exercises Are Appropriate Postpartum?
Rest as much as possible during that first week after your baby is born, says BFX Studio instructor Rachel Nicks, who is also an internationally certified doula. She suggests using this week-by-week postpartum exercise program as a guide:

  • Week #1
  • Week #2
    "Light walking is a great activity to do with your new baby. Go slow and do short distances at first as you begin to regain strength," says Nicks, adding that it's good for mom and baby to try to get outside, as well. Kegel exercises are also a great exercises to begin with, she notes. Try doing kegels, holding them for five seconds, then 10 seconds and slowly building.//
  • Week #3
    In addition to light walking and kegel exercises, Nicks recommends adding abdominal toning during this week and into week #4. In an all-fours or kneeling position, engage your transverse (middle) abdominal muscles. This will give you the same feeling you would have had hugging your baby belly. Engage and hold your muscles for five, 10 and then 20 seconds, building gradually. Release, relax and then repeat.
  • Weeks #4 and #5
    "Keep in mind that you were pregnant for 40 weeks! Be patient with your postpartum body," advises Nicks. At this point in your postpartum recovery, you can add more stretching and body work if it feels good for you. "Allow your workouts to be a slow build. Avoid high-impact workouts until you feel that you have regained your pelvic floor and abdominal strength," says Nicks. "Your baby has been sitting on your pelvic floor for almost a year and then passed through it. Give your pelvic floor lots of attention."
  • Week #6
    Nicks calls this week a milestone week. "Please get clearance from your gynecologist that it is safe to begin exercising. It's best to only begin a more steady exercise routine once you have stopped bleeding. Please remember you are still healing after six weeks." Nicks recommends the following exercises at this point:  

"When deciding on an appropriate exercise plan, I caution patients to start slowly," stresses Dr. Longerot. "Many of the changes of pregnancy can persist for up to six weeks. Also, most women decrease the intensity and frequency of their workouts during pregnancy.

Therefore, they should not attempt to start at the level at which they were exercising prior to pregnancy." Try walking -- a great, low-impact exercise and a way for both mother and baby to get out of the house and enjoy being outdoors. Yoga and Pilates are other great options.

For more ideas, try these 15 Post-Pregnancy Workouts.

Shannon Moyer-Szemenyei is a certified birth and postpartum doula, a mother of two busy boys (Owen, 5, and Graeme, 1).

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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