When Can You Start Exercising After Having a Baby?

 Alexandra Simone

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Postpartum exercise might be the last thing on your mind after giving birth, and that’s OK! But moving your body and picking up a gentle fitness routine after your baby is born can be healthy, energizing, and even mood-boosting—especially if you exercised regularly before pregnancy.

Whatever your level of experience, interest, or postpartum goals, you may be wondering when you will be able to start, how to ease back in safely, and how to manage any challenges that come with postpartum exercise.

When You Can Start Exercising After Pregnancy

Previously, the guidelines were to wait for your six week postpartum check-up to get clearance from your doctor to resume exercise.

However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now says that after a healthy vaginal delivery, most postpartum moms can begin exercise as soon as they feel ready, even within a few days after giving birth.

However, ACOG cautions that if you had a C-section or any kind of complication during birth, you should ask your doctor or midwife about when you can safely resume exercise.

Samantha Spencer, PT, DPT, postpartum rehabilitation specialist and medical advisor at Aeroflow Breastpumps, says whenever you begin exercising postpartum, you should do so gradually.

“You’ll want to focus on bodyweight and lower impact exercise for at least the first 12 weeks after birth to give your body time to recover from pregnancy,” she advises.

Spencer says there are certain clues that might indicate you have moved into postpartum exercise too soon, or that you should do less intense workouts.

“If you’re noticing increased bleeding (not associated with a menstrual cycle), pelvic pressure, heaviness, incontinence, or pain, those are all signs you could be doing too much, too soon,” says Spencer. “Slow your pace and reach out to your provider or a physical therapist to help you figure out what’s up and how to adjust.”

The bottom line? Always listen to your body, and definitely pull back if exercise doesn't feel right. If exercise is causing increased bleeding or any other concerning symptoms, make sure to contact your healthcare provider.

How to Ease Back Into Exercise

It’s best to exercise mindfully and gently in the first few weeks after giving birth. There is no need to rush.

ACOG recommends starting with abdominal and back exercises, gradually building up to moderate aerobic exercise, and to stop exercising if you feel any pain or discomfort. For aerobic exercise, ACOG suggests starting with three 10 minute walks a week, and going from there.

Dr. Helene Darmanin, PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Mama Bear Physical Therapy, recommends reframing what exercise looks like in those early postpartum weeks.

“A ‘workout’ may be something as simple as standing up and down a few times to ease back to squats and pulling on a resistance band in a few different directions,” says Darmanin. “If this gentle return feels OK and any incisions or tears are healing well, then you can start to progress to your preferred method of physical activity.”

Besides light walking and gentle strength training, many postpartum moms focus on abdominal exercises. It’s important to choose exercises that are postpartum-friendly, especially if you are dealing with a diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles).

Consider searching for exercises classes geared specifically toward those in the postpartum period, or consider working with a pelvic therapist who specializes in postpartum exercise and rehabilitation.

Challenges of Postpartum Exercise

While picking up an exercise routine should hopefully make you feel better after having a baby, there are some unique challenges of this postpartum period to prepare for.

Managing Postpartum Conditions

Darmanin recommends pulling back on your postpartum exercise routine if you experience pain or any other issues, such as leaking urine.

If you have diastasis recti—a very common postpartum condition characterized by widening of the abdominal muscles—you should exercise caution and seek expert help so that you perform exercise in a way that won’t exacerbate your condition.

“Urinary incontinence, or leaking of urine, pelvic organ prolapse, back, wrist, pelvic, or upper back/neck pain are also common,” says Darmanin. “These are all things that physical therapists can help with, even virtually if you can’t make it to a clinic.”

Again, if you have any concerning physical symptoms while exercising, especially increased bleeding, pressure, or pain, contact your doctor or midwife.

Choosing What to Wear

In general, wearing breathable, comfortable workout clothing can help immensely.

“Make sure that you have comfortable clothes that are not going to pinch, especially in areas that will be tender after giving birth (the abdomen, the pelvis, and the breasts),” Darmanin advises.

Spencer recommends investing in some workout gear to give you some extra support, as well as a supportive bra. “High-rise or postpartum compression leggings and a well-fitting sports bra can be super helpful for staying comfortable during postpartum exercise,” she says. “They’ll keep your core supported while you gradually build those muscles back up.”

Exercising While Breastfeeding

You can definitely exercise while breastfeeding. ACOG explains that regular exercise while breastfeeding has concrete benefits—specifically, improving cardiovascular fitness—and won’t negatively affect your milk supply, the composition of your breast milk, or your baby’s growth.

ACOG recommends breastfeeding or expressing your milk before exercising to avoid overfull or engorged breasts. You should also make sure to hydrate frequently during and after exercising.

Keep in mind that you will need a good, supportive nursing bra if you are exercising while breastfeeding.

“Lactating breasts can feel heavy, sore, and leaky with movement or exercise, which can be a deterrent to exercising,” Spencer explains.

A Word From Verywell

As you begin considering postpartum exercise, it’s important not to compare yourself to others. Everyone has different bodies, birthing experiences, and goals.

It’s also important to understand that the idea of “bouncing back” after having a baby is a bit of a myth. Most people find that it takes a while for their bodies to heal after giving birth, and that moving too quickly causes more harm than good.

The best advice is to listen to your body, set your own personal goals, and keep in mind that caring for a baby can be really hard. It’s OK if you don’t get in as many workouts as you might like. There will be time for everything soon enough.

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  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise After Pregnancy. Updated July 1, 2019.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Updated April 1, 2020. 

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