What New Moms Need to Know About Postpartum Fitness

It's more complicated than you think

Updated 11/10/18

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Whether you’re looking to begin (or resume) your workout routine, tone up your postpartum bod, or just want some “me” time at the gym, one thing is for sure — working out after having a baby is a whole new ballgame.

Since your body has undergone massive physical changes during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, everything is likely to look, feel and perform a bit differently during your initial workouts after having a baby. (Which, BTW, should happen only after receiving clearance from your OB/GYN!)

But if you’re ready to get back into the game and need a little guidance, we’ve got you covered. BRIDES spoke with Emily A. Bessemer, a women's health physical therapist specializing in postpartum care and pre and postnatal yoga instructor for her expert tips.

Take Your Time

Baby life can make everything seem like it’s moving at breakneck speed, but it’s imperative that you don’t rush things when you get back to working out. “If you have a moment where you feel like you're leaking or feeling heaviness in the your pelvis, just stop — wait for a little bit and try again later,” says Bessemer. In particular, breastfeeding moms may find that they aren’t able to exercise as long or hard as they used to at first. “All of the tissue in the pelvis takes even longer to ‘firm up’ again and bounce back,” says Bessemer.

Potential Physical Changes

Your body has just gone through an incredible and rigorous transformation, and resuming your workouts can trigger further changes or alert you to changes you hadn’t previously noticed. Bessemer says there are some natural and normal feelings like general fatigue, and that giving your body more time to recover will help everything settle. However, there are some common conditions in postpartum women that require some extra help.

“Abdominal distension with difficulty engaging the muscles, pelvic floor weakness — like urinary leakage or generalized heaviness — these things are really common, but not normal,” Bessemer says, urging those who experience these symptoms to work with a pelvic floor physical therapist.

Muscle Areas of Focus

After 10 months of pregnancy and the craziness of raising a child, you may just want to get back to working out to generally feel better and more fit. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there are also areas of the body that particularly need to be built back up safely after pregnancy.

Bessemer says to concentrate on the transversus abdominus, a thin little layer of muscle that acts like the corset of our core to support and stabilize your spine that is also a major supporter of our abdominal and pelvic organs. “You also want to refrain from bearing down or holding your breath,” Bessemer says. “Activities that use the diaphragm to help with muscle contractions, like yoga or pilates, can be great.”

Key Moves to Try

Bessemer suggests the following moves as good transitional workout options for postpartum moms.

Square Breathing: Inhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds

Abdominal bracing with a head lift: Using your hands or a sheet to pull the sides of your torso together, then lift only 1 inch off the floor, lift your head and breathe out. Hold for a full breath out, and then rest.

Abdominal bracing with heel slide: Repeat the above but instead of lifting your head, slide your heels along the ground while engaging your abdominal muscles.

Transverse abdominal activation with knee 90/90: Bend your knees over your hips at about a 90-degree angle. With your head down, press your hands into your knees and knees into your hands, and hold (while breathing!) for a count of ten.

Warning Signs

Pregnancy, childbirth and raising a baby can take a toll on new moms both emotionally and physically, and it’s natural and understandable that moms want to whip themselves back into their pre-baby shape as soon as possible. But it is imperative that new moms keep an eye out for warning signs before, during and after workouts.

Bessemer specifies that dizziness, increased or starting to vaginally bleed, strong pelvic pressure or pain, and urinary leakage are all signs that you should rest, and contact a medical professional.

Best Advice

“Not only is exercise important for overall health and wellness but it's also incredibly important to allow mom to get good endorphins and hormones that can help her cope with the new challenges that postpartum life can bring,” Bessemer says. “A new mom needs gentle exercise to get herself back, but also must allow herself to take it easy when it's needed!”

It’s that last part that’s key. Most of all, remember the crazy ride you’ve been on and try and remain patient.

“Don't pressure yourself to meet crazy expectations of ‘getting your body back’”, Bessemer says. “You've done some incredible things and you're so much stronger than any exercise could have ever made you. If all else fails, just breathe.”

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