Exercise After Pregnancy
Frequently Asked Questions: Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum Care
Exercise has the following benefits for postpartum women:
- It helps strengthen and tone abdominal muscles.
- It boosts energy.
- It may help prevent postpartum depression.
- It promotes better sleep.
- It relieves stress.
- It can help you lose the extra weight that you may have gained during pregnancy.
After having a baby, you should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. You can divide the 150 minutes into 30-minute workouts on 5 days of the week or into smaller 10-minute sessions throughout each day. For example, you could go for three 10-minute walks each day.
An aerobic activity is one in which you move large muscles of the body (like those in the legs and arms) in a rhythmic way.
Moderate intensity means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating. You can still talk normally, but you cannot sing. Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include brisk walking and riding a bike on a level surface.
A vigorous-intensity activity is one in which it is hard to talk without pausing for breath. If you followed a vigorous-intensity exercise program before pregnancy, it may be possible to return to your regular workouts soon after the baby is born. Be sure to get your health care professional’s approval.
This type of exercise works the body’s major muscle groups, such as the legs, arms, and hips. Examples include yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, sit-ups, and push-ups. There also are special exercises (called Kegel exercises) that help tone the muscles of the pelvic floor. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done in addition to your aerobic activity on at least 2 days a week.
If you had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery, you should be able to start exercising again soon after the baby is born. Usually, it is safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth—or as soon as you feel ready. If you had a cesarean birth or other complications, ask your health care professional when it is safe to begin exercising again.
Aim to stay active for 20–30 minutes a day. When you first start exercising after childbirth, try simple postpartum exercises that help strengthen major muscle groups, including abdominal and back muscles. Gradually add moderate-intensity exercise. Remember, even 10 minutes of exercise benefits your body. If you exercised vigorously before pregnancy or you are a competitive athlete, you can work up to vigorous-intensity activity. Stop exercising if you feel pain.
When you are ready to start exercising, walking is a great way to get back in shape. Another good way to get daily exercise is by joining an exercise class.
Check with your local fitness clubs or community centers for classes that interest you, such as yoga, Pilates, spinning, and dance. Some gyms offer special postpartum exercise classes and classes you can take with your baby.
If you do not want to join a gym but want the benefits of having someone to exercise with, ask a friend to be your workout buddy. If you want to exercise on your own, check out fitness videos and online exercise programs. Many are designed for women who have just had a baby.
You may already have a great exercise tool in your pocket. Smart phone apps for exercise and fitness can help you stay motivated, keep track of your progress, and connect you with others with the same exercise goals. Many apps are free or cost very little.
As you get ready for your workout, follow these steps:
- Wear loose-fitting clothing that will help keep you cool.
- If you are breastfeeding, feed your baby or express your milk before your workout to avoid any discomfort that may come from engorged breasts.
- Wear a bra that fits well and gives plenty of support to protect your breasts.
- Have a bottle of water handy and take several sips during your workout.
Cesarean Birth: Birth of a fetus from the uterus through an incision (cut) made in the woman’s abdomen.
Kegel Exercises: Pelvic muscle exercises. Doing these exercises helps with bladder and bowel control as well as sexual function.
Postpartum Depression: A type of depressive mood disorder that develops in the first year after the birth of a child. This type of depression can affect a woman’s ability to take care of her child.
If you have further questions, contact your obstetrician–gynecologist.
FAQ131. Copyright July 2019 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.