10 exercises that can be done during the 6 week postpartum wait period
I often get asked as a Physical Therapist when it is safe to start working out again after having a baby. This is a difficult question to answer because every woman’s pregnancy journey, delivery and recovery is so unique. As for me, I worked out my entire pregnancy, even on the day I went into labor! Exercise is just such an important part of my life because it makes me feel good. I believe this picture was taken when I was 39 weeks pregnant as part of a photo shoot for work. I won’t lie, it became pretty difficulty towards the end, but I was determined to keep moving and it paid off big time! I had a long labor however when it came down to delivery I had an uncomplicated vaginal birth with minimal tearing. I felt sore and had some abdominal/pelvic pain for about 1-2 weeks. I began walking the day after I had my daughter and it felt great to move around! By week 3 postpartum I was dying to do some form of gentle strength training again. Let’s also be real here…..I could not laugh or jump up and down without peeing my pants. I was in shock at how weak my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles had become even though I swear I did my kegels during pregnancy! So I talked to my doctor and got the okay to start exercising lightly. I stuck with home workouts, yoga and walking until my 6 week checkup. I lost my baby weight pretty quickly in the first 6 weeks but I felt weak and ready to tone everything up! I definitely credit bouncing back pretty quickly to exercise during pregnancy, eating healthy and breastfeeding! I explain how I lost my baby weight and got back into shape here if you want some great tips!
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The picture above is me two weeks postpartum. My best advice during the 6 week postpartum wait period is to listen to your body and talk to your doctor. If you do not feel ready or you had complications during labor then I think it’s important to wait. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ( ACOG) is a great resource for guidelines on returning to exercise postpartum. Research is now indicating that it is not always necessary to wait 6 weeks to return to exercise but always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, especially after giving birth. I never pushed myself to exercise every day during those first 6-8 weeks after labor, I honestly just listened to my body. There were days where the sleep deprivation kicked in so hard that it was all I could do to just nurse my daughter. Then there were other days where I felt great; I would go for a walk with Piper and get a little yoga session in while she napped.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your body, because you know your body better than anyone else. Personally, I experienced lower abdominal and pelvic pain during those first few weeks when I would walk or stand for too long. What I found to be super helpful in getting my body back after baby was wearing a post partum girdle My absolute favorite must have post partum product that I would recommend to any new mom is The belly bandit . Not only did I feel like it helped to shrink my belly back to size but it gave me amazing support so I could walk without having any discomfort. I even wore my wrap while cleaning the house or doing any other daily activities because it felt so good to have a little support!
That being said, there are some really great benefits to resuming exercises shorty after having your baby during that 6 week postpartum wait. Some of these benefits of exercise include:
- Stronger pelvic floor
- Healing diastasis recti. You can check out my post all about diastasis recti here.
- Less pain and discomfort
- Faster recovery
- Improved posture
- Improved mood ( for me it helped to decrease anxiety)
- Helps assist with weight loss/muscle memory
Here is a progress picture of me at 6 weeks postpartum!
Here are some important things to remember when exercising during the 6 week postpartum period
- Now is not the time to start an exercise routine if you are new to exercise. If you were an avid exercise before and during pregnancy then it is okay to talk to your doctor about resuming early. If you are new to exercise all together, I would suggest waiting until your checkup!
- Start with a gentle from of exercise such as walking just to see how your body feels
- Remember the pregnancy hormone relaxin stays in your system for a few months, leaving you prone to overstretching injury, so take it easy!
- Stay hydrated
- Make sure you are eating enough
- Monitor your bleeding, if it worsens of course stop. I personally waited for the bleeding to stop before I began strengthening ( 2-3 weeks).
- If you are recovering from a C-section or episiotomy, give yourself extra time to heal
- Always stop and consult your doctor if you experience any pain or abnormal symptoms
Here are 10 exercises you can do during the 6 weeks postpartum wait
- Walking. Walking was my favorite form of exercise in those first few weeks after delivery. I am lucky to live in the south because I had my daughter in December but was still able to get outside for walks every day. I would put on my belly bandit and just get outside and walk with my baby. Thank goodness she loves her stroller.
- Yoga. Being a yoga instructor, how could I not recommend yoga? I know you all have heard me talk about how great yoga is for you but I can’t say it enough. As a new mom, I was barely sleeping and when I did sleep it was mostly sitting up in a chair with a baby on me ( you do what you have to do). This however gave me awful neck and back pain. If it wasn’t for yoga, I would have been so miserable. I also needed that 15 minutes a day just to meditate and clear my mind. You may be wondering what type of yoga is safe to do after giving birth ? I recommend starting with a gentle or restorative yoga practice as you ease your way back into exercise. You can check out a few of my routines here.
- Kegel or pelvic floor exercise. To perform: tighten your pelvic floor muscles as if you are trying to stop urination midstream. Hold the contraction for 5 seconds and then relax for 5 seconds. Repeat this 10x. Work on keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds and then relaxing for 10 seconds. Try hard not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, butt or thighs when you do this ( sometimes it happens automatically). Make sure you are not holding your breath. Practice this 3-5x a day. You can do this exercise anywhere, anytime…no one will even know! I may or may not be doing some kegels while I write this post!
- Abdominal bracing with pelvic tilt: When you are recovering from childbirth, it’s important to learn how to properly activate your transverse abdominal muscle so that you can avoid injury, decrease back pain and work towards gaining your strength back. Here’s how you start: lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Take a deep inhale; on your exhale draw your belly button in towards your spine while your press your lower back into the floor (pelvic tilt). Do not “suck it in.” You should feel your abs and waistline tightening. I also like to engage my pelvic floor muscles when I do this. Think about tightening the muscles around your pelvis as though you are trying to draw a marble up into you. Hold this contraction for 5 seconds. Repeat 2-3 sets of 10. Work your way up to 15-20 second holds as you get stronger.
- Bridging: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core as described above and lift you hips up until your thighs are in a straight line with your torso. Keep your back completely still and hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower back down to start keeping your abs engaged: that’s one rep. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Heel slides: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on floor and your back in a neutral position (halfway between a flat back and an arched back). Engaging your core ( TrA), inhale as you slide one foot out until your leg is straight, exhale and bring this leg back to the original position. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform 15 reps on each side. Remember to keep your spine in neutral the entire time.
- Single leg heel tap: Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees. Keep your lower back flat against the floor and keep your navel drawn in towards your spine. Inhale as you lower one leg to tap your heel to the floor then exhale as you bring your leg back up to 90 degrees. Repeat this on opposite side for 30x total.
- Single leg lower: Lie on you back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, spine in neutral position. Engage your core and inhale as you bend one knee up towards your chest and slowly straighten your leg. Exhale as you slowly lower your leg ( keeping the knee straight) down towards the floor, making sure to avoid arching your back to keep your core engaged; return to start position. Repeat on opposite side. 15x each
- Modified tricep push up: To perform begin on hands and knees as shown with your wrists under your shoulders, positioning yourself so you are resting on the lower part of your thighs ( not directly on your knee cap). Inhale. Exhale, keeping your elbows glued to your ribcage as you lower into a tricep push up. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-12 reps. If you feel up to it you can try the full version as shown below with your body in a full plank position!
- Squats: When Piper was a newborn, the only way my husband and I could calm her down and get her to sleep during those first few weeks was to hold her and squat. I cannot tell you how many squats I did on maternity leave…..maybe that is why my legs stayed so strong! It honestly felt good to move my legs and since it worked so well to calm my baby I considered this exercise a win/win. I wore my belly bandit for the first few weeks while I did squats, until I started to work on properly activating my core muscles again. To perform correctly stand with your feet apart ( about hip width) and feet slightly turned out. Engage your core as you inhale and lower into a squat position. Make sure you keep your heels down and that you are keeping your weight through your heels (your knees should never go over your toes). I always tell my patients you should still be able to see your big toes! Exhale as you push up through your heels and return to start position. You can keep your hands on your hips or bring your arms in front of you for balance. If you feel unsteady you can hold onto a chair! Perform 3 sets of 15 reps.
So this is my list of exercises I found to be effective in helping me on my way back to an exercise routine after having my baby. I suggest trying this postpartum routine 3x a week. Always listen to your body and do what feels right. Once I hit the 6 week mark I was back to the gym, but I took my time getting back to lifting heavy weights. Our bodies truly are amazing when you think about it! We must take good care of them! I hope this article helps to answer some questions and give you some ideas about exercises you can do during the 6 week postpartum wait!
If you are past the 6 week post partum wait but not quite ready to get back to the gym yet, you can check out my at home total body toning 30 minute workout with free printout here!
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Dr. Allie Flowers, PT, DPT, RYT