How Your Relationship With Fitness May Change After Pregnancy

New mothers taking a postpartum yoga class

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Everything changes after pregnancy and childbirth—including your relationship with fitness. To ease back into this part of your life, you’ll need to adjust your expectations slowly.

Every pregnancy and birth experience is unique, and returning to exercise will not look the same for every new mom. On top of all this, having patience with yourself and your new body is a must when it comes to postpartum exercise.

"Pregnancy and motherhood arm us with a strength that only exists once you have traveled the path," says Brooke Cates, a prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist and founder of the online fitness platform, Studio Bloom. "Honoring that new strength and re-defining your relationship with not only fitness, but the way you move in all areas of your life, will drastically allow that strength to shine."

Exercising After Pregnancy

The first rule of exercise post-pregnancy is to start when you are ready. For some people, this might be within a few days after delivery. But for others, it may take several weeks before they feel like resuming an exercise program. You should also consider safe and healthy guidelines recommended by the experts. 

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women who had a healthy pregnancy and vaginal delivery can start exercising shortly after childbirth. In general, this can be as soon as a few days after giving birth.

That said, you should only resume physical activity if you are ready. If you had a cesarean section or experienced complications like diastasis recti or severe vaginal tears, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. 

How Fitness Is Different After Having a Baby

When thinking about fitness after pregnancy, you might assume that things can resume as they were pre-pregnancy. But to truly embody the strength available to you postpartum, Cates and other experts recommend you temporarily shift your relationship with fitness while knowing this new relationship will give back more than it ever did pre-pregnancy. 

“The primary change to your relationship with fitness should come from understanding that your body just went through trauma in addition to some significant hormonal and structural changes,” says Mahri Relin, a pre and postnatal exercise specialist and founder and creator of Body Conceptions

With so many pressures in your life as a new mom, it’s so important to honor your postpartum recovery process and find ways to adjust your expectations while still taking care of your health. 

How to Adjust Your Exercise Expectations 

Changing how you view fitness after pregnancy is not easy, especially if exercise was a significant part of your life before your baby. Here are six tips to help you adjust your fitness expectations after pregnancy.

Accept Your Postpartum Body 

“Keep in mind that your mental body will try and trick you into speeding up the process of returning to your older self,” says Cates.

Her recommendation? Stand strong and remind those unsupportive thoughts that you aren’t trying to reclaim the old you and that your postpartum version is going to up-level your previous self in ways beyond your current comprehension.

“Be your own competition, and for the love of owning your body in all its glory, stop the comparisons before they sneak their way into your life,” Cates says. 

Start With Breathing

Regardless of where you are, Relin always advises starting your fitness journey with proper breathing. 

“Since the connections between your diaphragm, pelvic floor, and deep core abdominal muscles can be altered after pregnancy, focusing on coordinating everything together is a wonderful way to heal properly from the inside out,” she says.

It also helps you control internal pressure more effectively so you don’t injure yourself with exertion. And according to Relin, it enables you to feel stronger and more capable in general and in your new exercise routines. 

Pay Attention to Your Body

Be patient and pay attention to your body because it will take a while to get your groove back. Even if you were a fitness fanatic before pregnancy, your body is entirely different in the months after childbirth.

As you get back into it, aim for 20 minutes a day and start with simple postpartum exercises that help strengthen the major muscle groups. Relin always advises new moms to pay as much attention to their own bodies as possible as they navigate the world of fitness for the first time post-delivery.  

Specifically, she says to notice and back off from any pain and listen to your energy levels as well. You should also consider getting an evaluation from a doctor or physical therapist who understands postpartum bodies to help get a sense of any pelvic floor or diastasis (abdominal split) issues.

“These issues are very common, but they affect the way you should approach your exercise,” she says. Plus, it’s also critical to take into account your looser ligaments, tendons, and muscles, and back away from high-intensity movement and sudden weight shifts. 

Do What Makes You Happy

“Fitness should be something just for you, and it can be one of the best outlets available, but don’t feel pressure to spend too much time on it if you don’t have it,” Relin says. 

Once you find what works, Relin says to make sure and think about what resonates with you before you jump in. “Do this, and you will be rewarded many times over,” she says.

Set Yourself Up for Long-Term Success

Exercising during the fourth trimester (aka first six-weeks postpartum) gives you a chance to set your body up for success.

“This is an excellent time to use exercise to help speed up healing, address postpartum discomforts, get ahead on common injuries associated with pregnancy, and to begin to build the foundational work necessary to regain a deeper level or core strength as you prepare to return to the fitness class of your choice,” Cates says. 

Remember, You’re Enough Right Now

Your body, right now, is enough. It’s strong, beautiful, imperfect, and doing the best it can to support you and a new baby. Remove your ego and be OK with scaling back where it’s needed.

“Challenging your body (especially your core) in exercise isn’t going to feel the same as it did pre-pregnancy, and while you might have been able to hold a plank for one minute before getting pregnant, you’ll want to always meet your body where it is to reap the best results moving forward,” Cates says. 

A Word From Verywell

Your relationship with fitness will look and feel different after pregnancy. The goal is to go slow, be safe, and include activities that make you feel good both physically and mentally. Although it may take a while to get your groove back, the simple fact that you are moving your body is enough.

1 Source
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  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise After Pregnancy. Last reviewed July 2019. 

By Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on health, fitness, nutrition, parenting, and mental health.