You are probably familiar with the many benefits of physical activity: improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, improve psychological well-being, increase energy level, improve sleep, and gain strength. But, there can be a lot of fear and anxiety associated with returning to a fitness program postpartum. Your body is different and may not respond to exercise exactly like it used to. As a new mom, you also have a lot that you are trying to juggle and returning to an exercise plan may seem like an insurmountable goal. Remember, to set your expectations appropriately and be kind to yourself with the process.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Set achievable goals and start small. For example, if you are a marathon runner, start with a walk/run program or a short run two days per week and build slowly back to longer mileage.
- Be creative about finding ways to make participation in exercise stress free
- Think about participating in mommy and me group fitness class to have the flexibility to bring your baby and exercise with an encouraging community of moms. Many of these classes are outdoors, which is great stimulation for your new baby!
- Progress slowly with return to cardiovascular activity. Start at a low to moderate intensity level and progress back to your normal or desired level of intensity over several months. Walking, biking, or swimming are great activities to start with.
- The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (www.acog.org) recommends postpartum women should try to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week.
- Remember, even short bouts of physical activity throughout the day can provide health benefits.
- Try to incorporate whole body strengthening into your fitness routine using body weight resistance or light weights with higher repetitions.
- The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (www.acog.org) recommends that postpartum women do muscle strengthening two days per week in addition to a cardiovascular exercise routine.
- Be cautious with abdominal strengthening and avoid sit ups. Your abdominal wall takes time to heal after having a baby and if you developed any abdominal separation during your pregnancy, it will take longer. Get some advice from a physical therapist or skilled postpartum fitness provider to learn how to activate your deep abdominal stabilizers and pelvic floor appropriately.
- Initially, avoid heavy lifting and consult with your doctor and/or physical therapist if you experience any bulging of your abdomen, pressure in your vaginal or anal area, or incontinence.
- Listen to your body. If a movement or exercise does not feel right or you experience pain, stop the activity and seek medical advice.
- Women who are breast feeding can safely exercise without impacting their milk supply. However, you will be most comfortable during exercise if you pump or nurse prior to activity.
- Remember to stay well hydrated before, during, and after exercise especially in warm weather months.
If you would like some additional advice regarding your return to physical activity postpartum, come see one of our great physical therapists at Stride Physio!
Alexis Eusterbrock, DPT, COMT, OCS – orthopedic and pelvic rehab provider