Regular physical activity is important for everyone’s overall health and well-being, including that of new mothers. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), physical activity after childbirth may help prevent postpartum depression, provide for higher quality sleep, increase energy, and decrease stress.
When can I introduce physical activity after giving birth?
If you recently gave birth and feel ready to increase your physical activity level, it is important to gain approval from your doctor before engaging in your desired type of activity. It can take time for muscles and tissues to heal after giving birth. Women who experienced a pregnancy and vaginal delivery free of complications may find that their doctor approves them for gentle activity quite soon after birth. Women who had a Caesarean section should be in contact with their doctor about a timeline for introducing physical activity.
My doctor says I am ready for physical activity. What type should I do?
Ask your doctor for tips on what types of activity or exercise are best for you and if there is anything you need to avoid or build up to more slowly. Aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activity are both important for health.
An example of an aerobic activity is walking. Walking while pushing your baby in a stroller is good for both you and your baby and serves as an excellent place to start. You can easily adjust speed and distance to match how you are feeling.
Examples of muscle strengthening activities are weightlifting, Pilates, or sit ups. Muscle strengthening activities are beneficial and should be introduced with thoughtful consideration. Be aware that many traditional abdominal exercises can be a bit too strenuous soon after pregnancy. Seeking modifications for muscle strengthening exercises is important for the first few months after giving birth, even if you are feeling strong enough. Muscles and connective tissue can take weeks to heal and regain strength. Be kind to yourself and start slow—your body needs time.
How much and how intensely should I exercise?
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. It can be helpful to break down the time into 10, 20, or 30-minute intervals most days. Use how you are feeling as a guide for determining length of time. Begin with 10-minute intervals of lighter-intensity activity like slow walks. Gradually working up to moderate intensity exercises like brisk walks will help you safely increase your fitness.
A guide to determining the intensity of your favorite activity is to notice your heart rate and breathing. Moderate-intensity exercise will increase your heart rate and breathing. You may notice you can talk normally but singing would be difficult. When engaging in vigorous-intensity exercise, you will begin to notice that it is hard to speak without taking a pause for breath. If you were exercising at a vigorous level before your pregnancy, you will likely be able to gradually increase your exercise until you return to pre-pregnancy levels.
To enjoy benefits from physical activity like decreased stress, higher quality sleep, and more energy, after your pregnancy, choose activities that you enjoy and do them regularly. Take it slow, listen to your body, and have fun!
Click here to read about exercising during pregnancy.
Click here for ideas on being active with your family.
Click here for a guide on child development, learning, and more.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, p. 119
ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Jackie Steffen, LaDonna Werth, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child
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