Get in Shape After Having a Baby
Starting or resuming exercise after baby’s birth may help shed baby weight and raise mom’s spirits. Be sure to get your doctor’s OK first.
Between sleepless nights and adjusting to a new schedule, getting active after baby’s birth can be challenging. But it’s beneficial for most mothers to gradually fit exercise into their new routines. Exercising after baby’s birth can help:
- Increase your energy and fight postpartum fatigue
- Boost your mood
- Start or maintain lifelong healthy habits
- Shed weight gained during your pregnancy
Getting started with exercise
Most women can safely start or resume a fitness program after giving birth. But it’s important to take a few precautions:
- Get your doctor's approval. Don’t start an exercise program without first getting your doctor's OK. Your body needs time to recover from labor and delivery. Your doctor can tell you when it's safe to start exercising and whether there are activities you should avoid. If you delivered by cesarean section (C-section), it may be be longer before you are able to start a full exercise routine.
- Be realistic. There are no specific rules about how long you should wait to exercise after having your baby. Some women can begin gentle exercise within days. Others may need more time. Every woman is different, so don't pressure yourself to start exercising by a set date. Being ready for exercise after pregnancy depends on a number of factors including:
- Your activity level before and during pregnancy
- How long labor lasted
- Whether you delivered vaginally or had a C-section
- How well you have recovered from childbirth
- If you have an underlying health condition
- Ease into it. Don’t jump into hard workouts right away, even if you exercised during your pregnancy. Doctors suggest starting gradually. Once your body fully recovers from pregnancy and childbirth and gets stronger, you can increase the length and intensity of your workout sessions. Start with exercises that are easy for you, such as walking. Walking is a simple, low-impact activity you can do anywhere. You can even bring baby along.
- Listen to your body. Your energy levels will vary day to day. If you don't feel up to a full workout today, just do what you can or take a rest. It's normal to feel fatigued for a time after the baby's birth. That said, a little activity may energize you. If you’re struggling with motivation, try a new-mom group fitness class. You may enjoy the camaraderie and support. Listen to your body during exercise. Know when to stop.
- Stay hydrated. Take in plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. Nursing mothers need additional liquids to maintain milk supply.
- Be comfortable. Wear lightweight, relaxed clothing. Your bra should fit well and provide plenty of support.
Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. It’s best to spread activity throughout the week rather than do a few long sessions. When you’re ready to increase intensity, choose activities that you’ll stick with and that tone your muscles and work your heart and lungs. As you progress, try to include two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities.
If weight loss is your goal
Your body took nine long months to put the baby weight on, so don't expect to get your pre-baby body back overnight. Weight loss is best if it's done gradually.
The best approach to weight loss is to combine regular exercise with healthy eating:
- Choose foods from all the groups. When possible, choose whole grains, a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein. Limit saturated fats, sugary sweets and alcohol.
- Don’t skip meals. You need a steady source of calories to keep up your energy and mood, especially if you are breastfeeding. Try smaller meals throughout the day, or supplement your diet with healthy snacks.
- Breastfeeding women need 450-500 extra calories per day to meet your energy needs and the needs of your baby. Because breastfeeding burns calories, some nursing mothers lose weight faster than non-nursing moms.
Ask your doctor what your activity level and goal weight should be and how many calories a day is best for both you and your baby.
* If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.
By Jenilee Matz, Contributing Writer
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise after pregnancy. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Health.gov. Physical activity guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Mayo Clinic. Exercise after pregnancy. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Last Updated April 30, 2019