How should you exercise after having a baby? Your doctor cleared you, so anything goes, right? Definitely not. In this article I’ll explain why postnatal exercise is different. And why you don’t want to go to that “baby bootcamp” your gym is putting on, start up a stroller running club, or even ease back into the workouts you were doing before you became pregnant.
If you have that magical wave of motivation + some time carved out for yourself, I’ll share moves and workouts deemed unsafe for your postnatal exercise endeavors. Avoid them to heal properly! But first, let’s discuss why we can’t do just any type of exercise after being cleared.
Why Exercising After Pregnancy Can be Unsafe
A woman’s body changes dramatically during and after pregnancy- obviously. But just because you’ve given birth doesn’t mean everything has gone right back to normal! Here are three main areas of concern when people rush to start their Couch to 5K immediately after being cleared.
It could take your hormones over a year to return to their normal levels. Specifically, we’re talking about the hormone relaxin that increases your joint laxity and causes joint instability. Your joints just went through a period of time where they had a lot of extra stress and pressure on them, so you need to be overly cautious to avoid injury. Even if they feel fine, this is something of which to be mindful in postnatal exercise.
Your abs were stretched out to give your baby room to grow, so your core needs to be safely strengthened before you can do certain exercises and activities. You’ll need to take precautions to strengthen your core properly so you can be more active later without risking injury. Core stability is also crucial for preventing pain.
It’s true that you can still look pregnant months after giving birth- and this is mainly due to your abs separating or bulging. Some separation in your abdominal wall – called Diastasis Recti– is normal and can heal on its own. However it’s not going to heal if you’re putting unnecessary strain and pressure on it.
This isn’t just for the whole flat ab allure, it’s also to help your core and pelvic floor function properly and to prevent back pain!
Your Pelvic Floor
Pregnancy, childbirth, and/or C-sections can do a number on your pelvic floor.
70% of women will experience incontinence during or after pregnancy. Many will also suffer from prolapse, which is when the pelvic organs descend from their rightful place, put extra pressure on the pelvic floor, stop functioning properly, and in worst case scenarios, start to bulge out….of places.
Performing the off-limits exercises can increase the pressure on your pelvic floor and your risk for incontinence, prolapse, and pain. It’s helpful to think of your pelvic floor like a wet paper bag after pregnancy. Take good care of yourself by not setting this important area up for failure.
Best News Ever
By performing safe postnatal exercises for a few months and avoiding those on this list, your body, which was designed to heal, will be ready to tackle anything and everything you want it to. Just take care of it while it’s healing and give it time, and then you can climb Everest whilst sneezing without peeing. Dreams really do come true.
Exercises to Avoid After Pregnancy
There are other reasons you want to be cautious on how you exercise after pregnancy, but let’s jump into the exercises of which you should steer clear.
If something isn’t a “don’t” it’s most likely safe, however you’ll want to listen to your body. Each of the following should be considered off-limits until you regain core strength and have safely exercised for around 3 months:
You’ll need to strengthen and activate your abdominal wall before you put all this pressure on your pelvic floor. Remember, wet paper bag.
This is where baby bootcamps, running clubs, and classes like Zumba can set women up for failure.
If your stomach is facing the ground then gravity/your weight is putting strain on your abdominal wall and organs.
This includes exercises like
- bent over rows (or bent over anything!)
- stability ball walkouts… (any ab exercise on your stomach)
Any Type of Crunching
The most vilified postnatal exercise- and for good reason. This includes exercises like:
- bicycle crunches
- sprinter crunches
- leg lifts
- leg raises
- reverse crunches
- sit ups
- toe touches
These exercises are basically training your belly to bulge when it’s not strong enough to handle that safely and effectively. They can make your “mummy tummy” worse and prevent the possibility of a flat stomach.
Certain Yoga Poses
Some yoga poses, like cow pose, downward dog, upward dog, triangle pose, any backbends, etc should be avoided until you’ve strengthened your core safely and given your body time to heal.
I personally would avoid yoga unless it’s with a postnatal certified instructor since your joints and connective tissues are so lax. A certified pro should help you successfully perform postnatal yoga.
Your unstable core makes heavy lifts more dangerous. Stay away from heavy lifting until you’ve rebuilt a foundation of strength and core stability.
Especially avoid exercises that overwork the front side of your body, like bench press or curls for the first few months.
This probably goes without saying, but please stay away from exercises that are extremely stressful or cause pain. And avoid any trainer that tells you no pain no gain, especially right after having your baby!
You will eventually be able to do all of the exercises you love (or love to hate); however, within a few months postpartum is not the time.
Be patient; it will be worth it.
How to Get in Shape After Pregnancy
So with all these don’ts, what’s a girl to do?
Listen to Your Body
I know this can be annoying terminology, but are you exhausted? Does your core feel really unstable? Does your back hurt? Are you energetic and excited to start moving?
Find something that matches your energy, your time available, and how your body is feeling. Don’t push it to do something if it feels really unstable, painful, or you just have a bad feeling that you’re not ready yet.
Follow A Safe Postnatal Exercise Program
I know the list of what not to do seems long, but there’s plenty of effective strength training, fat burning exercises left to get you in shape!
Here’s my recommendation: follow a postnatal exercise program. You are worried about sleep schedules, feeding schedules, diapers, and everything revolving around how this new life changes your old life! And that’s great- stick to that. Let a pro worry about what’s safe and what should be avoided.
Just show up, do what’s in your workout, get results- and feel like a champ.
One less thing you have to think about.
You can do this in the comfort of your own home with my Postpartum Workout Program. It has everything you need:
- safe exercises and breathing techniques you can do even before you’re cleared
- safe, short workouts to get you a good base of strength and get your metabolism going
- a guide to C-section recovery
- workouts for at home or in the gym
- a guide to the do’s and don’ts of a postpartum body
- a guide on how to heal diastasis recti
And if you prefer working one-on-one with someone, find a trainer certified in postnatal exercise!
Reframe Your Goals
In this postpartum season, it’s important to reframe your mindset around fitness. Although you might want (and everyone is telling you should want) to “get your body back” it’s not usually that easy. For many women, it takes awhile for her body to feel and look familiar again. It’s best to reframe your goals for this season of life and do your best to take care of your post-baby body. It will repay you later!
Goals to focus on instead:
- getting stronger
- preventing pain
- more stability
- fit for motherhood
- more energy
- core strength, etc
Weight loss is possible during this time, and strength training + safe cardio are extremely effective! However, with your hormones still elevated from pregnancy, it might take awhile for some mamas. Having a “strength” or “health” mindset can help offset the disappointment if the weight takes longer to come off!
I’m so proud of you for thinking about getting in shape after being pregnant. What an awesome gift to both you and your family! I hope this article helps clear up what you should avoid and why, at least for the first few months.
I created my Postnatal Exercise program, to help simplify safe strength training and weight loss during this season of life. The workouts are short and you’ll have access to a coach to help you along the way. It’s hard to make time for yourself and I’m so impressed by you. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!
Share this with any other postpartum mama in the trenches <3