Physical activity after childbirth has many benefits. It has been shown to promote weight loss, while improving fitness and strength. It can also boost mood, relieve stress, and help prevent complications like blood clots. Most importantly, including exercise in your daily life helps establish a pattern of healthy living for you and your growing family.
You may have heard from friends, relatives, or other sources that it is unwise to begin exercising until at least six weeks after delivery. That may be true for some women. However, most women can safely begin light exercise much sooner. In the first weeks after delivery, each woman must judge for herself when she is ready. Some can go for a short walk the day after giving birth and others need a full six weeks of recovery before doing any kind of aerobic activity.
Generally, if you exercised throughout your pregnancy and had a normal vaginal delivery, you can safety resume light exercise within days of giving birth. Walking at an easy pace is one activity that may be started within the first few weeks after an uncomplicated delivery.
If you had a caesarean section (C-section), complicated delivery, or extensive vaginal repair, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. A C-section incision takes several weeks to heal. Until your body is adequately recovered, your doctor may advise you to limit activities such as lifting that strain your abdominal tissue.
Kegel exercises are one safe activity that all women are encouraged to do immediately after giving birth. They strengthen the pelvic floor, helping to prevent leakage of urine in the future. To do them, repetitively contract the muscles in your vagina. If you did not do these exercises during your pregnancy, after childbirth is a good time to start.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that adults do at least two and a half hours of physical activity each week. This includes moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and activities for building strength. If that sounds difficult, you may want to expand your idea of exercise. Going for a brisk walk and taking the stairs are easy ways to add physical activity into your day.
Every woman has different exercise goals – both before baby and afterwards. Once your baby is born, it is a good idea to start at the level you were at during pregnancy. Do not expect your body to bounce right back to the way it was before you were pregnant. Finding what works for your body is part of maintaining a successful exercise program. Let it become a natural part of your daily life.
When it comes to losing weight after delivery, patience is your friend. If you find you still look pregnant months after giving birth, you are not alone.
During the first few months after delivery, focus on making healthy choices rather than weight loss itself. This includes eating healthy foods and doing regular physical activity. The amount of time it takes to return to your pre-pregnancy weight will depend on how much you gained during pregnancy and your diet and exercise levels afterwards.
The best way to drop those pregnancy pounds is to focus on aerobic activities that raise your heart rate like jogging, swimming or biking. It is a good idea to wait at least six weeks before actively trying to slim down. After that, a reasonable weight loss goal would be no more than a pound a week.
If you are nursing, you will probably be very hungry! Health Canada recommends that breastfeeding moms take in an extra 330 calories daily for the first six months. After that, an extra 400 calories daily are recommended until you stop breastfeeding. These extra calories only represent two or three Canada Food Guide servings – roughly the same as an extra snack or small meal a day.
Exercise does not reduce milk production or the growth of breastfeeding babies, even in mothers who are losing weight. However, high intensity exercise may increase the level of lactic acid in your breast milk. This can cause a sour taste that your baby might not like. If you find that your baby does not feed as well right after you exercise, consider nursing before activity. You might also delay feeding until one hour after exercise.
Staying well hydrated is very important, particularly while breastfeeding. Nursing moms need an average three litres of water a day, and more if doing vigorous activity. This means that you need to drink more than you normally would during exercise as well as during the day.
Your breasts have changed a lot since you became pregnant. You have likely gone up at least one bra size. Be sure you have a properly fitting and supportive bra for exercising. Always take off a restrictive sports bra after you are done working out to avoid blocked milk ducts.
Although you are no longer pregnant, your body is not the same as it was before.
If you are thinking about starting or restarting an exercise program after delivery, seek the support of your family and friends to stay motivated. Remember that you do not need to run a marathon to be physically fit. Every little bit helps. Include physical activity into your life in ways that work for you.