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Resuming exercise after giving birth – is six weeks the magic number?
Most women have heard, from one source or another, that you need to wait six weeks before resuming exercise after giving birth. The implication is that exercise before six weeks is unsafe and then magically at six weeks you have the green light to do anything and everything.
Like most things, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all guideline when it comes to how long after giving birth to wait before resuming exercise. So, six weeks isn’t the magic number that applies to all postpartum moms. Some moms can resume exercise before the six week mark and for others six weeks is too soon.
Unfortunately, in a general blog post such as this, I can’t give you an answer as to how long you personally should wait. But I can give you some tips on how you can go about determining what your time frame is.
- First and foremost, how do you feel? Much like paying attention to how your body felt when exercising during pregnancy, you need to cue into your body to figure out when you’re ready to resume physical activity.
- Have you had a conversation with your doctor or midwife about resuming physical activity? If you’re feeling physically ready, talk with your healthcare provider and make sure there aren’t any medical reasons why you shouldn’t exercise quite yet.
- If you feel physically ready and your healthcare provider gives you the go-ahead, resume physical activity gradually. This is really important and a tip that is often ignored. It’s tempting to jump back into exercise, perhaps even at pre-pregnancy intensity and frequency. Your body has been through a lot and is still recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. The smartest and safest plan is to gradually re-introduce exercise, while continually paying attention to your body. Pain, urine leakage and changes in bleeding are all signs that your body is not ready for that level of activity.
For personalized support and direction on specifically what your postpartum exercise routine should consist of, sign up for our custom online postpartum exercise plan. After getting to know you, we’ll develop an entire exercise plan that will safely and effectively re-introduce exercise into your life and help you reach your goals.
Before beginning any postpartum exercise program, be sure to check for diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles that can occur during pregnancy. For instructions on how to check yourself, watch our simple how-to video.
I’m 39 weeks pregnant (well actually 39 weeks and several days to be exact) and still exercising daily. Since so many women have stopped exercising by this point in pregnancy, I thought I’d share why I’m sticking with it. Hopefully some of my reasons for continuing to exercise will inspire others to maintain a regular exercise program throughout pregnancy.
It makes me feel good
Physically and mentally. Exercising during pregnancy should always make you feel better not worse. I do activities that make me feel good, and those can vary depending on the day. Listening to my body and being flexible allows me to continue to exercise safely and to actually enjoy it!
For my baby’s health
Research shows several health benefits for babies of moms who regularly exercise throughout their entire pregnancies. Benefits include a reduced risk of developing future weight problems, improved ability to handle the stresses of labor and delivery, improved ability to adjust to life outside of the womb and improved neurological development.
For my health
Research also shows several health benefits for moms who regularly exercise throughout their entire pregnancies. Reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, postpartum depression. Reduced risk of preterm birth. Reduced need for medical interventions during labor and delivery. Improved ability to lose both weight and fat after delivery.
To prepare my body for labor and delivery
Exercise is a great way to prepare your body for labor and delivery. Labor and delivery is a significant physical event and the right kind of “training” is essential…much like training for a marathon. Here are just a few examples of childbirth prep exercises: stability ball childbirth prep, squatting, exercise trick to help the baby engage in the pelvis.
To help me recover from childbirth
Staying physically fit during pregnancy works wonders during the recovery process. Regardless of the type of delivery you have, your body goes through a lot and needs to heal and recover after. Exercising during pregnancy helps make the post-pregnancy recovery process easier and faster.
To reduce pregnancy aches and pains
The right kind of exercise done regularly throughout pregnancy reduces (or even eliminates in some cases) typical pregnancy aches and pains. But the trick is that you have to keep exercising in order to keep the pains away. Research has shown that women who stop exercising at some point during pregnancy often experience an emergence of aches and pains after stopping.
To strengthen my body for the challenges of motherhood
Motherhood brings with it a multitude of challenges, but in this case I’m referring to the physical challenges of having a baby – all of the lifting, carrying, bending and twisting. Babies are heavy and keep getting heavier. Then add on all of the baby stuff. Motherhood requires strength in specific areas and exercising during pregnancy (and then continuing after baby is born) will help you lift, carry, bend and twist pain-free.
What are your reasons for continuing to exercise?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been contacted by moms who’ve read or been told that exercise won’t do anything to treat diastasis recti and surgery is the only treatment option. One important part of my job as a perinatal exercise specialist is to correct misinformation and educate moms on how to safely and effective use exercise to reach their health and fitness goals. Treating diastasis recti is one topic in particular that I regularly talk to concerned moms about and get the opportunity to teach them exercise-based, non-surgical treatment options.
The good news is that for the large majority of moms with diastasis recti, the separation CAN be corrected with simple recovery exercises and a few lifestyle modifications. The exercise-based option does require commitment for a few weeks on the mom’s part. It’s not an overnight fix but it IS A FIX that is simple to implement.
A little background in case you’re not familiar with diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle that can occur during pregnancy or delivery. Most women with this separation notice it at some point after delivering and describe it as a “bulge” or “gap” in the abdominal area.
Diastasis recti in and of itself is usually painless, but it often leads to back pain as the abdominal muscles are lacking in strength and aren’t fully able to do their job of stabilizing the spine. The back pain might not trigger a new mom to think something else is going on, as many new moms complain of back pain, regardless of whether or not they have diastasis recti. As an aside, there are many exercise options to help moms with back pain…check out this post for information.
I encourage all new moms to check themselves for diastasis recti and in the event that a separation is present, take the necessary steps to correct the separation. The video below will show you how to check yourself for diastasis recti. If you find that you have a separation, contact us to get started on correcting it. One main thing that sets us apart from online diastasis recti correction techniques is that we personalize every single recovery program. Every mom is different and often can’t get the separation corrected with a one-size-fits-all program. Or, moms using these online programs might temporarily resolve the issue but after stopping, find that the separation returns. We give our moms a maintenance plan so they know how to keep the separation from returning.
Are celebrities appropriate role models for new moms?
I hear it over and over again from new moms – (insert name of female celebrity mom) looks amazing just ____ (days/weeks/months) after delivering. How come I don’t look like that? How come I can’t lose the weight as quickly as she did? How come I don’t look that rested? How come I don’t look like that in a bikini, and come to think of it, how come I’ve never looked like that in a bikini? I must be doing something wrong.
The media is full of updates and images of celebrity moms’ post-baby bodies. While it is reassuring that there seem to be more messages circulating lately about the pressure placed on women to look a certain way after pregnancy, the fact still remains that when the media puts out these updates and images of celebrity moms, women are interested. They click, view and share so much that the media continues to feed the demand.
The first message I want to convey to all of you moms out there is to stop comparing yourself and your body to others, including celebrities. You are unique, in your experiences, lifestyle, medical history, body type, genes, diet and so on. You are unlike any other woman so why compare yourself to other women? Focus on yourself and your health…whatever your version of healthy is.
The second message and the focus of this post is that the post-baby bodies of celebrity moms aren’t appropriate for us regular moms to emulate.
Celebrity moms aren’t just like regular moms, no matter how much they claim to be.
They get paid to look great. Their livelihood depends on how they look, so the incentive is that much stronger to put in the time to look great physically. If you read an honest interview with a celebrity mom who didn’t bounce back quickly, chances are she’ll mention that she took a break from work and didn’t have a runway, photo shoot, television show, weight loss company endorsement deal, performance, or movie to get ready for.
They have lots of time and money to devote to exercising and eating healthy. They have people on retainer to help them do these things. Personal trainers. Chefs. Expensive meal delivery services.
Most of them have help around the house. Nannies and housekeepers at the very least.
Most of them have been blessed with great genes.
To be fair, there are plenty of “regular” moms who, like celebrity moms, are also blessed with great genes or are able to afford full-time nannies. Each component on its own doesn’t necessarily set celebrity moms apart, but it does when examined from the bigger picture and factored in with everything else.
The moral of the story is…
The next time you see an image of a celebrity mom’s post-baby body (or any other new mom for that matter), immediately stop yourself from comparing. Her body looking great doesn’t take anything away from you and your worth. She is who she is and you are who you are. Live your version of a healthy lifestyle. Find activities that you enjoy and that you can realistically incorporate into your life. Eat foods that make your body feel and function at its best. Be the best that you can be.
Prenatal Squat Workout
- It strengthens your lower body
- It strengthens your pelvic floor
- It opens your hips
- It works with gravity to help the baby descend
- It’s one of the most effective birthing positions
“Really the squat isn’t an exercise at all, but a basic human movement that we used to do all the time.” -Nicole Crawford
Since most modern-day Americans don’t perform squats regularly throughout the day and a majority of their time is spent sitting, whether in a car, in front of a computer or on a coach, squats can be difficult to perform at first. Take your time to get comfortable with the exercise and make sure your form is correct. As with all exercises performed during pregnancy, listen to your body when doing this prenatal squat workout. If something doesn’t feel right, pay attention to your body’s cues and stop what you’re doing.
Squats are safe and effective to perform throughout your entire pregnancy (as long as you’ve been cleared by your healthcare provider to exercise during pregnancy). While you might be tempted to stop squatting or exercising in general as you near the end of your pregnancy, squatting regularly will work wonders in preparing your body for childbirth.
Squats can also be done with your partner. Exercising with your partner is a great way to include him or her in your pregnancy journey and open the lines of communication before you go into labor. We’ve found that partners love activities like this and feel great knowing that they can physically support their pregnant partner. The photo below illustrates one way for partners to assist with squatting. Simply get into a deep squat and hold onto your partners hands. Your partner should be in a stable position and able to support you, making the exercise easier for you to perform.
Ready to get started with the prenatal squat workout? Click on the video below…
No Time to Exercise After Pregnancy
Recently we polled new moms on the challenges they face when exercising after pregnancy. “No Time to Exercise After Pregnancy” was one of the top reported challenges. While this isn’t surprising, the good news is that we have lots of ideas on how to overcome this challenge and help you incorporate exercise into your life as a new mom.
Most new moms find that their time is more limited after baby is born, or more specifically, that their alone “me” time is more limited. Before baby’s arrival you might have had an hour to yourself several times a week that you spent at the gym, going for a run or taking an exercise class. After baby’s arrival it might be hard to find ten minutes to yourself and if you do, chances are you’ll do something extravagant like showering.
Here are some ideas for overcoming the “no time to exercise after pregnancy” struggle:
- Exercise WITH your baby – Put baby in the stroller and go for a walk or jog. Use baby as your weight and do exercises such as squats and lunges (check out our Baby Weight workout for more ideas). Take a mom & baby exercise class (the majority of classes offered are yoga classes, but there might be more options depending on where you live).
- Exercise when baby naps or exercise before baby wakes up in the morning.
- If you work outside of the home, exercise on your lunch break so when you get home you can relax and just spend time with your family.
- Workout in short bursts throughout the day – 10-15 minute bursts of exercise scattered throughout the day are perfect for busy new moms. Not sure what exactly to do for an effective short burst of exercise? Try our 10 minute workout for new moms.
Have you overcome this challenge? Share below what worked for you…
Top 3 home workout tools for moms
For many moms, exercising at home is their only workout option. A common misconception we hear quite often is that working out at home isn’t good enough and if you can’t get to the gym it’s not worth it to exercise at all. The good news is – you CAN get a GREAT workout at home! You can even incorporate your kids in your workout.
Home exercisers or aspiring home exercisers – this post is for you! We’ve compiled a list of our three favorite home workout tools for moms. These tools are effective and affordable. How perfect is that?!
Dumbbells are inexpensive, easy to use and can be incorporated into so many different exercises. One of the biggest mistakes we see moms make (and women in general for that matter) is using very light dumbbells, say three pounds for example. While the specifics vary depending on whether your goal is general muscular fitness, endurance, hypertrophy or strength, the overall recommendation is the same – your muscles need to work more than they do in everyday life in order to deliver results. Those bags of groceries you carry every week or the child you pick up multiple times each day…chances are they weigh more than three pounds. Choose a weight that fatigues your muscles in the last few reps of the set. So if you’re doing a set of 12 reps, you should start to feel fatigued by about the 8th or 9th rep. If you’re a beginner you might need to start with three pound dumbbells and that’s totally fine. Find what works for you. We recommend buying a few different sizes initially so you can use the lighter one when working your weaker muscles and the heavier one for your stronger muscles.
Stability balls are one of our absolute favorite home workout tools for moms. Why? Because they can be used during all stages of motherhood and they are effective at each stage. Pregnant moms can use them throughout pregnancy, to prepare for childbirth and even during labor. New moms can use them to workout, while breastfeeding to help improve posture and reduce back pain, and to calm a fussy baby. After the “new mom” stage, moms can use them in workouts to strengthen and challenge their bodies. Sizing is important when buying a stability ball. Use the general sizing guidelines below as a start but be sure to test out the ball to make sure it’s the right fit for you.
Your Height Ball Size
5’0” to 5’5” 55cm
5’6” to 6’1” 65cm
Resistance bands are another great home workout tool. Since they’re light and compact they’re also great to take when traveling so you can stick with your workouts. The two commonly used types are – resistance tubes with handles and flat bands. They typically come in different resistance levels, such as light, medium and heavy. Many are sold as a set so you get one of each resistance. Keep in mind the same rule of thumb as with dumbbells – choose a resistance that fatigues your muscles at the end of each set.
Have fun assembling your home gym and be sure to check out our mom workouts page.
Third trimester – home stretch! The third trimester can bring with it a recurrence of some symptoms from the first trimester (fatigue being one), a big belly and some new discomforts. Unfortunately, the third trimester is also a time when many women significantly decrease or stop exercising completely. Assuming there are no medical conditions necessitating the cessation of exercise, exercise should be continued throughout your entire pregnancy, including the third trimester.
Why? For the answer we reference Dr. James F. Clapp’s research and his book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Dr. Clapp explains that by stopping exercise, expecting moms miss out on the benefits that prenatal exercise has on the health of both mom and baby. These women are either in the same boat as women who didn’t exercise at all during pregnancy or in some cases they are worse off!
Here are some examples:
- Women who stop exercising in late pregnancy tend to produce the biggest and fattest babies of all (with even more body fat than babies of women who didn’t exercise at all during pregnancy).
- Women who cut way back or stop exercising in late pregnancy gain about five more pounds and accumulate about one to two percent more body fat than women who don’t exercise at all during pregnancy.
- Once stopping exercise, women often experience an increase in the usual pregnancy-related physical symptoms such as fatigue, leg aches and lower back pain.
- Women who stop exercising also miss out on the labor and delivery benefits that exercise has been shown to provide, which can be generally stated as a decrease in the need for all types of medical intervention (i.e. pain relief, labor stimulation, forceps delivery, cesarean section).
Pretty convincing reasons to keep exercising!
Here are some tips to help you with third trimester exercise:
Third trimester exercise should make you feel better, not worse. Listen to your body and pay attention for feelings of pain or overexertion. These are signs that you need to take a break, decrease the intensity or change the type of exercise.
Stay hydrated – hydrating is important all throughout pregnancy and any time you exercise. In the third trimester it becomes even more important because dehydration can bring on contractions and preterm labor.
Walk regularly or do other forms of weight bearing cardio (dancing and stair climbing are two other options to consider).
Squat! If squats aren’t already part of your exercise routine, now’s the time to get started. Squats are not only a great resistance exercise but also one of the best exercises to prepare your body for childbirth. Because we do so much sitting in our everyday lives, squatting can be difficult at first. Squatting with a stability ball between your lower back and a wall is a great way start.
Do what you can, even if all you can manage is 10 minutes. We know you have a lot going on in your third trimester and you might not be feeling 100%, but regular exercise is beneficial for you and your baby, and 10 minutes of exercise is better than no exercise.
Ready to try some actual workouts? Check out our mom workouts page.
Alternatives to running during pregnancy
Let me start out this post by clearing some things up regarding running during pregnancy. Running during pregnancy is not in and of itself a “good” or “bad” type of exercise. It’s safe, appropriate and a good choice for some and unsafe or not recommended for others. Like many things during pregnancy, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all guideline when it comes to running. Figuring out whether running during pregnancy is right for you can’t be done through a blog post or an article posted on the internet. The best way to proceed if you’re unsure is to talk with your doctor/midwife AND with a qualified prenatal exercise specialist.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the post.
Many women enjoy running pre-pregnancy, continue after conceiving and then at some point during pregnancy stop running. Often, these moms have a hard time finding alternative pregnancy appropriate exercises at their fitness level. Their comments are usually some variation of: I can’t get a good workout when I just walk, do prenatal exercise videos or take a prenatal yoga class.
I can definitely empathize. Prior to becoming pregnant, I enjoyed high intensity exercise, running included. I loved sweating and pushing my body to new limits. Early on in my pregnancy, the kinds of activities I enjoyed before becoming pregnant stopped feeling comfortable. The prenatal exercise specialist inside of me told me to pay attention to what my body was telling me. This is an invaluable prenatal exercise tip and one that I repeat over and over again to clients and pregnant friends.
So what are some alternatives to running during pregnancy? Here are some ideas that have worked for my clients and that I also personally love:
Stairs: If you don’t know already, stairs provide a great and challenging workout. And all you have to do is walk up and down. No running necessary. If you need some variety try adding side steps, if you’re able to keep your balance.
Hill Walks: Hills are also a great alternative. If you’re up for it and you have a high fitness level, find a hill or set of hills with a challenging incline instead of bunny slopes.
Water Jogging: If running on land isn’t comfortable, try jogging in the pool. Being submerged in water has a lower impact on your body while still giving you a great workout. Try jogging in place and across the pool.
As I said earlier, listen to your body and do what feels right for you. These are simply suggestions and won’t work for every pregnant mom. For more options, try our indoor cardio workout and check out our Mom Workouts page.
Share: What are your alternatives to running during pregnancy?
Fit for Expecting’s Around-The-House Workout Experiment
Unfortunately, a lot of moms don’t exercise regularly. Many don’t exercise at all. The reasons we hear frequently are some variation of – I can’t workout because I can’t get to the gym. I can’t workout because I’m with my kids all day. I can’t workout because I don’t have time. I can’t workout because I have other responsibilities at home.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – taking care of yourself, which includes exercising regularly, is important not just for you but also for your family. Taking care of yourself makes you a better woman, mom, spouse, employee and friend. Believe it or not, you DO have the time if you’re willing to MAKE the time. We know this is easier said than done, so to help you out we devised a little experiment.
We picked some typical around-the-house tasks and assigned exercises to each of them. Then we picked a day as our “around-the-house workout” day and did the exercises that corresponded to the tasks. All day. We didn’t go to the gym or do another type of formal workout that day.
Here are the tasks and associated exercises for our Around-The-House Workout:
Getting In & Out of Bed: 5 diaphragmatic breaths
Place your hands on your belly. Inhale, filling your lungs with air and feel your hands rise with your belly. Exhale the air out of your lungs and contract your abdominal muscles (as if someone were about to punch you).
Opening the Fridge: 5 push-ups against the fridge (after closing it of course)
Turning on the TV or Using the Computer (pick one): 15 couch/ottoman/chair squats
Washing your Hands: 10 calf raises
Using the Microwave or Stove/Oven (pick one): 5 side lunges with rows (5 on each side)
(ideas to use as weights: water bottle, gallon of milk, laundry detergent, dumbbell)
And how did we fare? Initially it took a bit of getting used to, since we don’t usually do exercises along with these typical tasks. But once we got the hang of it, we were on a roll. It was great not having to set aside a separate time just for working out. By the end of the day, our bodies felt great and we felt as if we had moved a lot, which we had! We also found that by adding in exercise throughout the day, we were more likely to keep our bodies active when we weren’t doing one of the assigned exercises. It had a ripple effect – when we started moving it felt so good that we kept moving.
Note: The instructions are suggestions and can definitely be modified to fit your individual needs. For example, if you find that you do these tasks quite a bit during the day and it’s too difficult to do the workout all day, just do the workout for a portion of the day. Or if there are different exercises you prefer, go ahead and do those instead. Everyone is different and only you know what’s best for you.
Give our around-the-house workout a try! And for more workouts and exercise resources just for moms, join us on Facebook.