Postpartum can be a tough period, even for the strongest woman. From sleepless nights to hormonal changes and the constant care a newborn requires, there’s a lot to deal with. And of course, then comes the pressure to ‘bounce back’ to your pre-baby body.
But you’re here because you’ve made up your mind that it’s time to reclaim your fitness, at your own pace, in your own way.
This guide is designed to support you on your journey back to fitness.
It covers the unique needs of every type of mom, whether you had a natural birth or a C-section, whether you’re breastfeeding, or whether you’re juggling multiple children. Everyone is different, and we believe that every mom deserves a tailored approach to postpartum fitness.
How Soon Should You Exercise After Giving Birth?
It is advised to wait a minimum of six weeks after vaginal birth and eight weeks after a C-section before returning to pre-pregnancy exercise levels. This is the advice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) (1) (3).
The reason for this waiting period is simple: your body needs time to heal. Childbirth, whether vaginal or cesarean, puts a significant amount of strain on your body, and jumping back into exercise too quickly can cause complications. Remember the mantra: slow and steady wins the race. This is particularly true when it comes to postpartum fitness.
Of course, every woman is unique, and how quickly you can return to exercise is dependent on a variety of factors, such as your overall health, your fitness level before and during pregnancy, and the particular demands of your childbirth experience.
For example, if you had a straightforward vaginal delivery and were active throughout your pregnancy, you may feel that you are ready to start gentle exercises sooner than someone who had a C-section or experienced complications during delivery (1).
At the same time, if you were on bed rest or had a physically demanding labor, you may need more time to recover before you slowly reintroduce physical activity.
It’s also important to remember that starting an exercise routine doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym for an hour every day. Even gentle walks with the stroller can be a great way of starting to get active again.
In our article on running postpartum, we share a guide to getting you back on track for running, but the principles can be applied to any exercise.
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What Exercises Can I Do Postpartum?
After you consult with your doctor and feel ready for light physical activity, you can perform postpartum exercises. These are specifically designed to help your body recover from childbirth and slowly regain strength and fitness.
They are primarily focused on strengthening the core, improving flexibility, and enhancing overall stamina. They can easily be incorporated into your postpartum workout plan at home and are adaptable to accommodate your needs if you are breastfeeding.
Here are some exercises that can be included in your 12-week or 30-day postpartum workout plan.
Kegel exercises are an essential part of any postpartum workout plan. These exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which become stretched and weakened during childbirth. They are particularly beneficial following a vaginal birth, but can also be useful post-C-section to help with overall recovery.
- Identify your pelvic floor muscles
- Tighten (contract) your pelvic floor muscles
- Hold the contraction for five seconds, then relax for five seconds
- Increase your hold to 10 seconds at a time
- Aim for a minimum of three sets of 10 repetitions a day
Pelvic tilts are excellent for strengthening your abdominal muscles and can be incorporated into a postpartum workout plan while you are breastfeeding. They are also beneficial for reducing postpartum back pain.
- Lie down on your back, bend your knees, and keep your feet flat on the floor
- Flatten your back against the floor by tightening your abdominal muscles and bending your pelvis upward slightly
- Hold for up to 10 seconds
- Repeat 10-20 times, in sets of 5
Walking is a simple and effective way of starting to get active, particularly in the first few weeks postpartum. It can easily be integrated into your postpartum workout plan week by week.
- Start with a slow, short walk
- Gradually increase your pace and distance over time
- Maintain good posture and remain hydrated
- Repeat daily and gradually increase as per your comfort
Yoga is a great way of regaining flexibility and balance postpartum. It can be a part of your postpartum workout plan at the gym, or it can be done at home with online classes.
Rather than head straight into core exercises postpartum, you should consider starting with gentle yoga exercises such as cat-cow and child’s pose.
- Start with a gentle yoga class or video
- Follow the instructor’s guidance for each pose
- Focus on your breath and the movement of your body
- Practice regularly, at least twice a week
The after-pregnancy stomach is a real issue for many women. Gentle Pilates exercises are an excellent way of strengthening and toning the core muscles, which will have been severely stretched during pregnancy.
These exercises often involve conditioning of the entire body but focus on the abdominal muscles in particular. Before you add this to a postpartum workout plan after a C-section, make sure you have received clearance from your doctor.
- Start with a gentle Pilates class or video
- Focus on proper form and control of your movements
- Avoid any exercises that cause you discomfort or pain
- Practice regularly, at least twice a week
Low-impact cardio activities such as swimming, cycling, or using a stationary bike can be incorporated into your postpartum workout plan to help increase endurance and overall fitness. They are also gentle on the joints, which makes them ideal for postpartum recovery.
- Choose an activity that you enjoy and that feels comfortable for your body
- Start slow and gradually increase the intensity over time
- Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity, three times per week
- Listen to your body and rest when you need to
Which Exercise Is Best for Postpartum Belly?
Any exercise that increases your heart rate and engages your abdominal muscles can help with postpartum belly.
However, the length of time since delivery is important. What we call a postpartum belly may not actually be fat and is simply the abdominal muscles and skin that have become stretched during pregnancy.
In this case, exercises such as kegels, pelvic tilts, gentle yoga, and Pilates can help strengthen and tone those muscles back to their pre-pregnancy state.
If you’re further along postpartum or have additional excess fat in your belly area, low-impact cardio activities can help burn calories and reduce fat.
What Stretches Should I Do at 2 Weeks Postpartum?
At two weeks postpartum, your body is still in the early stages of recovery, and your exercise routine should reflect that. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) emphasizes the importance of light exercise and activity in the weeks immediately following childbirth (1).
Gentle, restorative stretches can help improve flexibility, enhance circulation, and foster overall well-being (2). These stretches are low-impact and they are entirely suitable for this stage of postpartum recovery.
Below are some postnatal yoga stretches that can be incorporated into your postpartum workout plan 2 weeks after delivery:
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This is a basic and restorative pose that stretches the back, hips, and thighs. It is also an excellent opportunity for deep breathing and relaxation. Depending on how you’re feeling, you can hold this pose for anything from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
- Start on your hands and knees with your arms stretched out in front of you
- Slowly lower your hips toward your heels and rest your forehead on the floor
- Keep your arms stretched out in front of you or alongside your body
- Hold for as long as comfortable, then slowly come back up to the starting position
2. Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana)
This is a gentle pose that focuses on stretching the spine and abdomen while opening up the chest and shoulders. You can make your movements as slow or as quick as you want, depending on how your body feels.
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips
- As you inhale, arch your back and look up toward the ceiling (cow pose)
- As you exhale, round out your spine and tuck in your tailbone (cat pose)
- Continue this movement for a few breaths
3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
This pose stretches the hamstrings and hips while promoting relaxation and calming the mind.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then slowly bend forward from your hips
- If possible, place your hands on the floor beside your feet, or use blocks for support if required
- Relax your head and neck and let your upper body hang down
- Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then slowly come back up to a standing position
5. Side-Lying Stretch
This is a gentle stretch that targets the chest, shoulders, and obliques.
- Start by lying on your side with your knees bent
- Place your top hand on the floor in front of you for support
- Slowly extend your bottom arm out to the side and gently rotate your upper body toward the floor
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other side
6. Neck and Shoulder Rolls
These simple stretches can help alleviate tension in the neck and shoulders, which are often sore from breastfeeding and carrying your baby.
- Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor
- Slowly roll your shoulders forward, up, back, and down in a circular motion
- Repeat 5-10 times before reversing the direction
- Slowly tilt your head to one side and hold for a few seconds before returning to the center
- Repeat on the other side
7. Side Stretch
This stretch targets the oblique muscles and can also provide relief for tight lower-back muscles.
- Start by sitting cross-legged on the floor or a mat
- Extend one arm up toward the ceiling, then slowly bend to one side, reaching your hand over your head
- Keep your hips anchored to the floor and avoid leaning too far forward or backward
- Hold for a few breaths, then switch sides
- You can also incorporate a gentle twist in this stretch by turning your upper body toward the ceiling while reaching overhead with your arm
- Remember to breathe deeply and listen to your body as you hold each stretch
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Incorporating gentle exercises, stretches, and low-impact cardio into your postpartum workout plan can help with your physical recovery and improve your overall well-being. Remember to always listen to your body and consult with your doctor before you start any new exercise routine, particularly after giving birth.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I make my tummy flat after delivery?
To flatten your tummy after delivery, engage in exercises that target your abdominal muscles, such as gentle Pilates or yoga, together with low-impact cardio to help with fat burning. In addition, maintaining a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help with weight loss.
What exercises should you not do postpartum?
You should avoid intense abdominal workouts such as sit-ups, crunches, or planks immediately after delivery as these can place undue stress on your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. High-intensity workouts or heavy lifting should also be avoided until your doctor clears you for such activities. You must always remember to prioritize rest and recovery in the early postpartum period.
Does exercise affect milk supply?
Moderate exercise does not generally affect milk supply. However, intense workouts can cause dehydration, which could potentially impact milk production. Remaining hydrated and eating a balanced diet can help maintain a healthy milk supply. If you are breastfeeding, ensure that you wear a supportive sports bra during exercise to prevent discomfort.
How can I lose weight after pregnancy?
Losing weight after pregnancy involves a combination of regular exercise and a balanced diet. Start with light, low-impact exercises such as walking, gentle yoga, or pelvic floor exercises and gradually increase the intensity as your body recovers. Eating a diet that is low in ultra-processed foods and high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains can also help.
The Bottom Line
The best postpartum workout plan is gentle (to avoid injury), customized (because everybody is different), and focused on overall well-being rather than just weight loss. Remember to prioritize rest, listen to your body, and consult with your doctor before you start any exercise routine after giving birth.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Exercise After Pregnancy (2022,acog.org)
- Stretching: 9 Benefits (2019,maine.gov)
- When and how to exercise after a c-section (2021,tommys .org)