I have never been all that fit, but I have been blessed with a healthy dose of self-confidence. When I look in the mirror, I see Ashley Graham’s twin looking back at me. My cousin calls it reverse body dysmorphia. But the self-confidence went right out the window when I gave birth two months ago. I was warned about how my postpartum figure might look, but I wasn’t prepared for the reality of my new body. I was really sad that I might never be able to squeeze into my favorite romper with the strategically placed cut-outs ever again, but I was also sidelined by the physical and mental stress of having a new baby. While I wanted to get back into working out, I didn’t know how fit postpartum exercise into my exhausting routine as a new mom. “Postpartum fitness is important for safety and sanity,” Christine Bullock, a certified pre- and postnatal fitness and nutrition expert and creator of Body Re-Born, tells HealthyWay. “Moms need a few minutes to themselves to relax mentally while increasing natural endorphins, our feel good hormones.” But new mamas, take heart! It may not seem like it as you’re icing your lady bits and crying over a detergent commercial, but you will feel like working out again postpartum, which benefits both body and mind. Experts and doctors share these postpartum fitness tips.
1. Wait for Aunt Flo to go.
Most pregnancy books, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, say that heavy postpartum bleeding will only last for a few days before tapering off to light spotting and discharge. Honey, please. My heavy postpartum bleeding lasted about two weeks and started to taper off around week four. But every woman is different. Postpartum bleeding can last anywhere from four to 13 weeks. But if you notice you’re bleeding heavily again after exercise, it’s probably a sign you’ve overexerted yourself. If this happens, take a rest break for a few days, and ease back into activity once the bleeding has subsided again.
Oh, that same pregnancy book that told you postpartum bleeding wasn’t going to be so bad also failed to mention that your abs might completely separate, causing your tummy to look like a bowl of Jell-O Jigglers. That tummy pooch is called diastasis recti, aka separation of the abdominal muscles that can happen during the stress of labor. Many women quickly resume ab exercises to try to flatten their tummies postpartum, but Jessica Valant, Pilates instructor and licensed physical therapist, tells HealthyWay, “Crunches are actually the worst thing you can do for a diastasis recti! When the abs are already separated, they can’t contract properly to help you do a crunch. So when your body tries that ‘crunch’ motion, the abs end up separating even more.” Instead, Valant recommends the exercises introduced in this video to help you strengthen your abdominal wall.
3. Squeeze…and release.
Your pelvic floor is ultra important during birth, as those muscles help guide the baby’s head down for delivery. They’re even more important during postpartum recovery, which is why kegel exercises are so important. During my pregnancy, I had to go to physical therapy for severe hip pain. It turns out I had an extremely weak pelvic floor, which had thrown my hips out of alignment. My physical therapist recommend kegel exercises to help tone my pelvic floor. No one tells you how much you’ll pee on yourself every time you cough or laugh or try to sneak a toot and blame it on the baby, so it is important to keep doing kegels postpartum. They’ll help you regain bladder control and strengthen your pelvic floor, which can reduce hip discomfort during other exercise as well.
4. Maybe don’t stretch it out.
Bullock says new moms shouldn’t overdo it when getting back into an exercise routine: “The hormone relaxin is still present in the body as long as mothers are breast feeding. This hormone is released in the first trimester to loosen the joints in order to open the pelvis and make room for baby. But it also has an impact on the stability of all your joints. Therefore, a joint can still be overstretched, even though it feels great hitting that yoga pose at the time.”
5. Bring baby along.
“I love bonding with my daughter Remington while exercising,” says Bullock. “Remi loves hanging out in my Ergobaby carrier, so I take her to the park for playtime workouts. While she is in the carrier I can do all sorts of exercises like step ups or tricep dips on a bench, pushups on a picnic table, or squats.” Walking with baby is also a great way to ease your way back into postpartum exercise. Bullock says she and her daughter take at least three walks a day. “Remi loves the fresh air and activity all around and I can sometimes get up to 22,000 steps in a day. Win–win: bonding and biceps!”
6. Did we just become best friends?
“I know it can be hard to get out of the house, but I find classes are great because of the social interaction that new moms lack,” says Bullock. One of the hardest things about sticking to a postpartum fitness routine is going it alone. Even if you don’t have mom friends yet, there are several groups like Stroller Strides that help new moms get fit together. Or if you can’t make group classes because they don’t fit your schedule, download an app like Hey! Vina to help find other moms who share your workout interests and availability.