Exercise offers new moms numerous physical and emotional benefits. Exercise can promote weight loss, restore muscle strength, tone abdominal muscles, and firm up the body. It also boosts energy and promotes better sleep. Exercise can be a mood booster, a stress reliever and most importantly, it can help prevent postpartum depression.

To regain the level of fitness they had before becoming pregnant, new moms will need to pace themselves, set realistic goals, and maintain a regular fitness routine. They need to keep in mind that their body experienced many changes during pregnancy, so exercise in the first weeks and months after childbirth will be different than before they were pregnant. Abdominal and lower back muscles tend to be weaker after pregnancy and ligaments and joints are also laxer, so there’s a greater risk of injury.

When is it OK to begin exercising again?

Women who have exercised during their pregnancy and have had a healthy pregnancy with a normal vaginal delivery can generally start with gentle exercise (such as walking and pelvic floor exercises) as soon as they feel able. Women who had a cesarean delivery or other complications should talk to their doctor about when it’s safe for them to start exercising. Doctors typically recommend waiting 6 to 8 weeks to do anything more than easy walking.

What is the appropriate amount of exercise new moms should aim for, for optimal health?

New moms should aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. This can be broken up to three ten-minute sessions or two 15-minute sessions, whatever works best for mom and baby. The most important thing is to get moving and keep in mind that even 10 minutes of exercise is beneficial to her physical and emotional health.

How does exercise affect our weight and mood?

Exercise increases serotonin production, a chemical that helps the brain regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. It also releases chemicals called endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood lifters. Regular exercise has also been associated with a lower risk of depression and anxiety, something that is of great concern during the postpartum period. Plus, when paired with a healthy balanced diet, exercise can help in weight loss management.

Best exercises for new moms: Are there any that are unsafe?  Are there any you can do with your new baby?

New moms can start doing pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) as soon as possible after birth, as well as gentle walking as tolerated. With time, she can gradually add moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking, yoga or an elliptical workout. Women who exercised vigorously before pregnancy can usually work up to vigorous-intensity activity. If a woman feels pain, notices bleeding or any other unexplained symptoms, she should immediately stop exercising and consult with her doctor.

Do not go swimming until you have had your postnatal check. New moms are at risk for infections while their womb (uterus) is still healing. They may need to wait longer to swim if they have had a cesarean or stitches.

Avoid doing a lot of tummy muscle work or sit-ups and crunches, as these exercises can make stress incontinence worse in moms who you have a weak pelvic floor. They can also cause or worsen separation of the abdominal muscles (called diastasis recti).

It is also best to avoid high-impact exercises such as running or jumping early after childbirth as these may reduce pelvic floor muscle strength and cause long-term bladder and bowel problems.

Including baby with exercise is a great motivation to exercise and bond with baby.  New moms can take the baby on daily walks, either in a stroller or baby carrier. The baby can lie next to her on the floor while doing abdominal and pelvic floor exercises. New moms can also carry the baby while doing lower body exercises, such as squats and lunges.

Tips on how to make time for exercise. Solo exercise vs. group exercise – is one better than the other?

  • Ask your partner, a family member or friend to be your workout buddy. This allows you to catch up, plus it keeps you accountable and motivated.
  • Start walking. It’s safe, free, you can do it any time or place, plus you can bring your baby along in a stroller.
  • Break it up. Exercising 10 minutes at a time.
  • Find something you enjoy. You’re more likely to exercise if you’re doing something you like.
  • Check with your local fitness clubs or community centers for special postpartum exercise classes. It’s a great way to connect with other moms.
  • Make sure you give yourself quiet time too. A ten-minute meditation session, a short walk by yourself, a calming bath, or some reading time.

All content/responses provided by Dr. Angeline Ong-Su, Family Medicine Specialist and the Wellness Champion at the Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center. This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.