Getting back into the swing of normalcy after a baby takes time and life changes into a new “normal”. Parenthood enriches a couple’s purpose in life and brings a tremendous amount of joy. Life with a newborn is an adjustment; just like any big change in life. The day-to-day activities such as taking a shower, cooking dinner and trying to start a load of laundry suddenly seem overwhelming. Exercise may seem out of the question, but before you know it, you can ease back into a workout routine. I can also guarantee that the first workout you do postpartum will feel amazing!
Those early weeks take time for you to get to know your baby and for your baby to get to know you! Life is quite different for the little one outside the womb and it takes a little time for parents and baby to adjust. Having assistance from friends and relatives is helpful during this time. Don’t be afraid to ask them to help you in getting some of the housework completed or care for your baby while you shower. After several weeks, you and your baby will settle into a routine and getting other activities accomplished will become easier to fit into the day.
Getting back into exercise after giving birth is a great way to relieve stress, decrease postpartum blues and help your body regain some core strength lost during pregnancy. Just like every pregnancy is different, every delivery is different. Depending on the type of delivery you and your baby experienced will determine how soon you can resume postpartum exercise. Your doctor will advise you on how soon he/she believes it will be safe for you to resume light activity. Typically, having a vaginal delivery will mean that you can resume light exercise in three to six weeks; while a cesarean delivery may mean a longer recovery of four to eight weeks. My doctor advised me that it was okay to begin light exercise after two weeks, but I waited until my body felt ready, as well. Ultimately, you are the one to listen to your body and figure out when the right time is to exercise.
After eight days, I went out for a walk. I made it ten minutes and decided my body just wasn’t ready yet for a longer bout of walking. After two weeks, I was itching to get in the water and go for a swim. Since swimming wasn’t weight bearing, I was ready to swim faster than I was ready to go for a long walk. Thirteen days after giving birth; I made it to the pool. I loved every minute of swimming. Not only did it feel refreshing to be outside in the sun, but also I loved moving my stiff body. I was tight and sore from labor, breastfeeding and adjusting to bending over to care for my baby. Despite overall exhaustion from lack of sleep, I felt a surge of energy after exercise. I swam for 45 minutes and not only loosened up my body physically, but used the time to mentally clear my mind. After the swim, I was ready to get back to caring for my daughter!
After three weeks, I was back on my bike and after four weeks, I returned to running. My running was modified in that for the first few runs, I only ran uphill. I found this was much easier on my joints and on my pelvic floor while they continued to gain strength. It is important to listen to your body and not push your body beyond its new limits. After birth, your body continues to have relaxin; causing the ligaments to stay loose. For this reason, I would advise against walking or jogging on an unstable surface as a precautionary to avoid twisting an ankle.
The biggest challenge for moms to be able to exercise is time. A great activity to start out with would be to take a walk with your baby. Both you and your baby will get the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and you will get to exercise. If you would like to go for a swim or head to the gym, coordinate with your spouse or friend to set up a time for you to get out while someone cares for your baby. I tried to time my workouts while my baby was napping, this way; I knew that I had some time before she would get hungry or fussy.
It’s also important to realize your body is different postpartum. The first time I tried running, I had to stop and adjust my outfit. A well-supported sports bra is essential, especially if you are breastfeeding. I doubled up on two supportive sports bras and this made my workout significantly more comfortable. In addition, your uterus continues to shrink over the course of six to eight weeks postpartum. Take it easy on strength training and core work over the first four to eight weeks.
Exercising postpartum can also alleviate back pain caused from a weak core post pregnancy. I had back pain the first week postpartum, but once I started a simple core routine, my back immediately began to feel better. Your core muscles have been stretched out during pregnancy. Take the time to slowly regain your core strength. An easy exercise to continue postpartum and beyond is to work on your kegels. Strong kegels improve bladder control, sex and future deliveries. Do your kegels while you nurse or while you are brushing your teeth.
Exercise is highly recommended by doctors for new moms. Not only do mother’s need time to regain fitness for their physical health, but exercise is a great medicine for mom’s mental health. I was shocked how quickly I felt great swimming/biking and running. I was so used to working out with a depressed aerobic system while pregnant, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to breathe while working out post partum. This excitement tempted me to push my body more than it was ready for, but remember to ease back into your fitness and let your muscular system catch back up with your aerobic system! Start small with your workout goals and then gradually build back in as your baby gets bigger and you continue to recover postpartum and get stronger! Good luck and have fun!