When can I start to exercise after giving birth?

How soon can I start exercising after having my baby?

You can start doing your pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) as soon as possible after the birth. Beyond that, a lot will depend on how active you were during your pregnancy, and what type of labour and birth you had.
Working your pelvic floor will help to protect you against leaking wee (stress incontinence) (Boyle et al 2012). You can also gently squeeze your lower tummy muscles to help them regain strength.
If you did regular exercise right through your pregnancy, and your baby’s birth went smoothly, you can carry on with light exercise and stretching as soon after the birth as you feel ready (NHS 2016).
Be guided by how you feel and how much energy you have. A mum who’s recovering from an assisted birth, or caesarean, will feel different from a mum who’s had a straightforward vaginal birth.
Whatever your circumstance, keep it gentle, though. Pregnancy hormones and breastfeeding can affect your joints for several months after childbirth. So be careful not to do high-impact activity too soon (ACPWH 2013).

What’s the best type of exercise to start with?

As well as working your pelvic floor, going for gentle walks is a great way for most new mums to exercise (NICE 2010). Getting out will help to protect you against postnatal depression too (Poyatos-Leon et al 2017).
You can take take your baby out for walks in a pushchair, or a sling.
As your strength returns, you can expand your walking routine by speeding up and taking longer walks. If you feel tired, don’t overdo things. Pace yourself and rest when you need to (ACPWH 2013).
Find out more about safe exercise in the first six weeks.

When do I need to be careful about exercising?

Aside from your Kegels, and gentle walking, you should take up exercise more gradually if you:

  • didn’t exercise regularly before or during pregnancy
  • had an assisted birth
  • experienced complications in labour
  • had a caesarean section (RCOG 2006)

If you had back pain or pelvic pain when you were pregnant, talk to your GP, or ask to see a physiotherapist, before you exercise.
If you had a caesarean, think of the first six weeks or so as time for your body to heal. Wait until after your postnatal check, at between six weeks and eight weeks, before taking up exercise other than Kegels and walking.
Don’t go swimming until you’ve had your postnatal check and have had seven days without any postnatal bleeding or discharge (lochia). You’re vulnerable to infections from pool water while your womb (uterus) is still healing (ACPWH 2013).

You may need to wait longer to swim if you had a caesarean or stitches. Your health visitor will be able to tell you when it’s safe for you to start swimming.
Doing lots of tummy muscle work or sit-ups when you have a weak pelvic floor can make stress incontinence worse, rather than helping it (Dumoulin and Hay-Smith 2010, Junginger et al 2010).
Another reason to be cautious about sit-ups is that your tummy muscles stretched a lot during pregnancy.
It’s common for two vertical muscles down your front to stretch apart, creating a gap. This is called diastasis recti, or divarication (da Mota et al 2014). This separation may also lead to a bulge, usually below your belly button.
The size of the gap varies from woman to woman (NHS 2016), but after birth, be careful about any exercises that cause you to dome your stomach. This may force the gap further apart. Exercises that cause doming can include sit-ups, planks and straight-leg raises.
Your midwife can check your belly to see if you have diastasis recti. If the gap is the same after 10 weeks, ask your doctor to refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist will show you exercises you can do to correct the diastasis recti (NHS 2016).
It’s also best not to do high-impact aerobic exercise, such as running, or cardio workouts, until your pelvic floor and your joints have fully recovered from pregnancy and birth (Bo and Kari 2004, NICE 2010). This can take several months (ACPWH 2013).
If you have ongoing stress incontinence, or a heavy feeling in your vagina (Morkved and Bo 2014, RCOG 2013), this may be a sign that you have damage to your pelvic floor. Don’t strain your body with impact exercise, and ask your GP for a referral to a physiotherapist.

How can I lose weight after having a baby?

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise gives you the best chance of returning to a healthy weight after having a baby (Amorim 2008).
This way, your baby weight will fall off gradually and safely. A safe amount to lose each week is between 0.5kg and 1kg (1lb to 2lb) (NICE 2010). The important thing is to get into good habits that you can keep up.
You’ll find it easier to stay in the habit of eating healthily and exercising if you pick activities you can do with other mums or friends. This will give you a support network to help keep you motivated (Montesi et al 2016).
Breastfeeding your baby may help you to lose weight, as long as you also eat healthily and stay active.
Exclusive breastfeeding can burn up to 330 calories a day in the first six months (NICE 2010). After six months, it can burn up to 400 calories a day (NICE 2010).
Your body needs time to recover from labour and birth. So take it steadily, and don’t feel bad if the weight doesn’t fall off fast.
You can check out our postnatal exercise videos for new mums. They’re simple and easy to fit in around your baby’s routine. Last reviewed: August 2017 ACPWH. 2013. Fit for the future: essential exercises and advice after childbirth. Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health. ACPWH booklet.
Amorim AR, Linne YM, Lourenco PM. 2008. Diet or exercise, or both, for weight reduction in women after childbirth Evidence Based Nursing 11(1):14
Boyle R, Hay-Smith EJC, Cody JD, et al. 2012. Pelvic floor muscle training for prevention and treatment of urinary and faecal incontinence in antenatal and postnatal women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (10) CD007471.
Dumoulin C, Hay-Smith J. 2010. Pelvic floor muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence in women.Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (5) CD005654.
Junginger B, Baessler K, Sapsford R, et al. 2010. Effect of abdominal and pelvic floor tasks on muscle activity, abdominal pressure and bladder neck. International Urogynecology Journal 21:1:69-77.
Montesi L, El Ghoch M, Brodosi L, et al. 2016. Long-term weight loss maintenance for obesity: a multidisciplinary approach. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity: targets and therapy 9(37).
Mørkved S, Bø K. 2014. Effect of pelvic floor muscle training during pregnancy and after childbirth on prevention and treatment of urinary incontinence: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med 48(4):299-310
da Mota P, Pascoal A, Carita A et al. 2015. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain. Manual therapy 20(1) 200-205
NHS. 2016. Your post-pregnancy body – Separated stomach muscles (diastasis recti). NHS Choices, Health A-Z.
NICE. 2010. Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Public health guideline 27.
Poyatos‐León R, García‐Hermoso A, Sanabria‐Martínez G, et al. 2017. Effects of exercise‐based interventions on postpartum depression: A meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Birth 1-9
RCOG. 2006. Exercise in Pregnancy. Statement number 4. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
RCOG. 2013. Pelvic organ prolapse – information for you. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Exercise is good for you, but listen to your body and don’t overdo it for the first few months after giving birth. Your body needs time to heal, and you need time to adjust to your new role – and bond with your baby.

Do I need to be careful with my abdominal muscles after delivery?

Many women develop a gap between their abdominal muscles as their belly expands during pregnancy and labor, a condition called diastasis recti. The gap may or may not fully close after delivery, but in most cases it doesn’t cause any short- or long-term problems.

Take it easy on your abdominal muscles and don’t do any traditional sit-ups or crunches for the first several months after delivery – these put too much stress on those muscles and aren’t effective for rebuilding abdominal strength.

Instead, ask your healthcare provider (or a fitness instructor with expertise in prenatal exercise) to show you gentler exercises for strengthening your abs. Good postpartum abdominal exercises should minimize stress on your lower back and midline (the center of the abdomen running vertically from your sternum to your pelvis).

A note about abdominal binders (also known as belly wraps): Some women say that belly wraps helped them get their figures back faster, but fitness experts often caution against them. Says Catherine Cram, a fitness professional specializing in prenatal and postpartum exercise: “By binding the abdominal muscles, you’re reducing the work those muscles do, and they become weaker as a result. I recommend binders as a support garment only when the woman has a back problem.”

Will exercise affect my ability to breastfeed?

No, it won’t. As long as you drink plenty of water, even vigorous exercise won’t significantly affect the amount or composition of your breast milk. But you’ll want to avoid exercises that make your breasts sore or tender.

Wear a supportive sports bra while working out, and try to nurse your baby before you exercise so your breasts won’t feel uncomfortably full. If your breasts feel sore during workouts, try wearing two fitness bras for extra support.

Are there any physical signs that I might be trying to do too much too soon?

Too much physical activity during the first few weeks after delivery can cause any of the signs below. Call your doctor or midwife if:

  • Your vaginal discharge (lochia) becomes redder and starts to flow more heavily.
  • Bleeding restarts after you thought it had stopped.
  • You experience pain of any kind during exercise, whether it’s joint, muscle, or birth-related.

Slow down or take a break from working out if you:

  • You feel exhausted instead of invigorated.
  • Your muscles feel sore for an unusually long time after a workout, affecting your ability to support your body as you move. Your muscles may also feel shaky when in use.
  • Your morning resting heart rate is elevated by more than 10 beats per minute above your usual heart rate. Consider checking your morning heart rate before getting out of bed each day – it’s a helpful indicator of your general health. When it’s elevated over your normal rate, it’s a sign you’re doing too much and need more rest.

What’s the best way to lose weight after giving birth?

The best way to start dropping those pregnancy pounds is to do some form of cardiovascular exercise to get your heart rate up. Try walking briskly, running, swimming, or biking.

But wait at least six weeks – and preferably a few months – before actively trying to slim down. And don’t aim to lose more than a pound per week, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

Starting a diet too soon after giving birth can affect your mood and energy level as well as your milk supply. If you’re patient and give your body time, you may be surprised at how much weight you lose naturally.

Learn more:

Diet for a healthy breastfeeding mom

Diet for healthy post-baby weight loss

Postnatal exercise: how soon can I start again after a baby?

Days after giving birth

As soon as you feel up to it, it’s safe to go for walks and do pelvic floor exercises and gentle stretches (NHS Choices, 2016a). Don’t worry if you can’t quite manage those pelvic floors just yet. You’ll know as soon as you’ve healed enough when to give them a go.

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles come under massive strain during pregnancy and when you give birth.

If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, a bit of wee might sneak out when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is known as stress incontinence, and – ask your mates after a gin or three – it’s super common following childbirth (NHS Choices, 2017).

To get your pelvic floor muscles strong again, exercise them lying down, sitting or standing. After a while, you’ll be able to do these exercises anywhere. You’ll soon be doing them on the bus, in a meeting or while waiting in the queue for a coffee (NHS Choices, 2016b).

Here’s how you do them:

  • First, squeeze and draw in your back passage as if you are holding in wind.
  • Squeeze as if you’re stopping a wee.
  • Now relax. This is a short squeeze. Rest for a second, then repeat until you feel the muscles get tired.
  • After a short rest, squeeze again as above. This time, hold the squeeze for as long as you can, but no longer than 10 seconds, then relax.
  • It’s important to keep breathing normally while you do these exercises. Make sure you don’t pull in your stomach or squeeze your buttocks.
  • Aim to build up to 10 repeats of each exercise, four to six times a day.

(NHS Choices, 2016b)

For more information on how to start practising pelvic floor exercises, (Bladder and Bowel Foundation, 2008).

Abdominal muscle separation

The two abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) that run down the middle of the abdomen often separate during pregnancy (NHS Choices, 2016c). How much they separate varies between women.

These muscles separate because of your growing womb pushing them apart. This makes your abdominal muscles longer and weaker (NHS Choices, 2016c).

Here’s how to check the size of your separation, after you’ve had your baby:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and have your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift your shoulders off the floor a bit and look down at your belly.
  • Feel with your fingertips between the edges of the muscles, above and below your belly button. Check the number of fingers you can fit between your separated muscles.
  • Check this regularly to see that the gap is decreasing.
  • If you go to a postnatal pilates or yoga class, trained instructors might also be able to help you check your separation.

(NHS Choices, 2016c)

Once your baby is eight weeks old, your muscles will usually have returned to normal. If the gap is still obvious, you could be risking back problems. So speak to your GP and they can refer you to a physiotherapist (NHS Choices, 2016c).


Swimming is great exercise. It’s low-impact and good for some chill-out time for you too. You’ll need to wait until seven days after your postnatal bleeding (lochia) has stopped to hop (or maybe step tentatively) into the pool.

Six weeks after giving birth

Generally, to get back to proper, high-impact exercise like running or your much-loved zumba class, it’s best to wait until your six-week postnatal check-up (NHS Choices, 2016a).

It will also depend what type of birth you had. For example, if you had a caesarean section, your recovery time might be longer. It might also depend on how much exercise you did before you were pregnant.

Certain types of exercise might be better if you have weak pelvic floor muscles too. If you’ve got any doubts or questions about whether the exercise you’re doing is ok, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP (NHS Choices, 2016a).

But generally, don’t be too nervous about it – it’s great to get back to exercise after having a baby. There are loads of reasons to exercise, including your mental and physical health. So go for it and have fun.

Buggy fit, postnatal yoga and other postnatal exercise classes

Some postnatal classes let you do the exercise class with your baby at your side, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. Especially with a newborn who’ll often snooze through the whole thing.

Some even include your baby and their pram or buggy as part of the workout. Plus they’re often outdoors in local parks, which is a nice bonus.

If you’re going to a class that isn’t a special postnatal class, make sure you tell the instructor that you’ve recently had a baby.

Postnatal exercise tips

Your ligaments and joints are much more supple in the months after you give birth, so just be aware of that. It’s easier than before pregnancy for new mums to injure themselves by stretching or twisting too much (NHS Choices, 2016a).

You’re more likely to get injured because of a group of hormones called relaxin (The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors, 2018). Your body produced relaxin in early pregnancy to make the ligaments in the body more elastic.

The downside of relaxin is that it can cause back problems and injuries. Plus its impact on the joints might linger around for up to five months after you have your baby (The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors, 2018).

If you’re in pain or your postnatal bleeding (lochia) gets heavier or changes colour (becomes pink or red) after activity, you might be doing too much (NHS Choices, 2016a; The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors, 2018).

Other postnatal exercise

If you’re struggling for time to dedicate to specific postnatal exercise, there’s still a lot you can do. Try the following:

  • Have a go at pushing the pram quickly. Try to keep your arms bent and your back straight, ensure the handles are at the right height for you and your elbows are bent at right angles.
  • Play some games with your older children that get you running around.
  • Build exercise into your day, for example you could walk instead of taking the car.
  • Bend your knees rather than your back when you pick things up. This’ll strengthen your thigh muscles and avoid damaging your back.

(NHS Choices, 2016a)

This page was last reviewed in April 2018

Further information

NCT’s helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT’s Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Keeping fit and healthy with a baby

Your pregnancy and baby guide

Exercising after having a baby

When you’re feeling tired, being active may seem like the last thing you want to do.

But regular activity can relax you, keep you fit and help you feel more energetic.

It can also help your body recover after childbirth and may help prevent postnatal depression.

When can I start exercising after birth?

If you had a straightforward birth, you can start gentle exercise as soon as you feel up to it. This could include walking, gentle stretches, pelvic floor and tummy exercises.

It’s usually a good idea to wait until after your 6-week postnatal check before you start any high-impact exercise, such as aerobics or running.

If you exercised regularly before giving birth and you feel fit and well, you may be able to start earlier. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

If you had a more complicated delivery or a caesarean, your recovery time will be longer. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP before starting anything strenuous.

What should I be aware of before exercising?

Your lower back and core abdominal muscles may be weaker than they used to be.

Your ligaments and joints are also more supple and flexible for a few months after birth, so there’s an increased risk of injury if you stretch or twist too much.

Do not rely on your pre-pregnancy sports bra. Your back and cup size are likely to have changed, so get measured for a new one.

How do I know if I’m overdoing exercise after having a baby?

If your postnatal bleeding (lochia) gets heavier or changes colour (becomes pink or red) after activity, you could be overdoing it. You’re also likely to feel very tired.

Listen to your body. Pace yourself and make sure you get plenty of rest too.

Exercise ideas for new mums

  • Do some postnatal exercises. They’ll strengthen your muscles and help get you in shape. See Your post-pregnancy body for ideas, or ask your midwife or health visitor.
  • Join a postnatal exercise class. Lots of postnatal classes let you do the class with your baby at your side. Some include your baby and their pram or buggy as part of the workout. Ask your health visitor if they know of any in your area. If you’re going to a class that is not a special postnatal class, make sure you tell the instructor that you’ve recently had a baby. You could also try this postnatal yoga video.
  • Push the pram or buggy briskly. Remember to keep your arms bent and your back straight. Make sure the handles are at the right height for you – your elbows should be bent at right angles. Walking is great exercise, so try to get out as much as you can.
  • Play energetic games with older children. You can exercise by running around with them.
  • Build activity into your day. Use the stairs instead of the lift or, for short journeys, walk instead of taking the car.
  • Bend your knees when you pick things up off the floor, rather than bending at the waist. If you bend down with bent knees and a straight back, instead of bending over at the waist (straight knees and a bent spine), you’ll strengthen your thigh muscles and avoid damaging your back. Hold heavy objects close to your body.
  • Try swimming. It’s good exercise and also relaxing, but you’ll need to wait until 7 days after your postnatal bleeding has stopped. If you take your baby with you, try to have someone else there to mind the baby so you have a chance to swim.
  • Borrow, buy or watch exercise videos online. This is a good way to work out at home. You could get a friend or your children to join in.

Q: I’m eight months pregnant, still active and want to get my body back in shape as soon as possible after giving birth. If I have a vaginal delivery, can I start exercising right away?

Yes and no. Many new mothers are in a rush to get their pre-baby body back quickly. It’s important to be cleared for exercise by your doctor before starting an exercise program of cardiovascular or aerobic work, strength training and stretching. Your doctor may give this OK around six weeks after your baby’s arrival, when your uterus and joint ligaments have returned to pre-pregnancy size and strength.

There are a few exercises you can do soon after delivery to help prepare your body for working out once you get clearance. Many doctors suggest starting pelvic-floor exercises (often called Kegels) as soon as the first week after delivery. If you had an episiotomy, a surgical cut to enlarge the vagina and aid birth, you may need to wait longer.

During childbirth, your pelvic floor, or Kegel, muscles stretch to make room for the baby’s birth. Returning these muscles to their pre-baby tone will help you do more later and get your body back faster. Your pelvic floor muscles support the organs in your lower abdomen and help core function, spinal health and continence during high-impact activities such as running and jumping.

You can also do isometrics and small-range abdominal contractions to regain muscle strength. These exercises are also useful after cesarean-section deliveries; however, you should wait until your C-section incision heals and you have clearance from your doctor.

1 week after giving birth:

Pelvic Floor Activation
To activate your pelvic floor, imagine you are stopping the flow of urine. Hold muscles for 10 seconds (don’t hold your breath) and slowly release. Do 20 holds 5 times a day. This exercise can be done while sitting or standing—even when nursing!

2 weeks after giving birth:

Transverse Abdominal Exercise (sitting)
Sitting with your back supported, place your hand on your upper and lower abdominals. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with pursed lips a couple of times, breathing slowly and deeply. Breathe out and tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your navel toward your spine. Sit tall; do not allow your shoulders to round forward. Hold for 30 seconds or less. Repeat 10 times.

3 weeks after giving birth:

Transverse Abdominal Exercise (side-lying)
Same technique as above; perform exercise while lying on one side with legs slightly bent and holding a pillow between the knees. Support head with a pillow or a rolled up towel.

Transverse Abdominal Exercise (on all fours)
Same technique as above, on all fours with shoulders lined up over hands and hips over knees. Keep spine still as you pull your navel to your spine.

Pelvic Tilts
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet resting on the floor and holding a pillow or a rolled up towel between the knees. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth several times without changing the natural curve in the back. Breathe slowly and deeply. Then breathe out, tighten abdominal muscles, pulling the navel to the spine. With the navel pulled toward the spine, pull your lower abs in and flatten back by tilting your pelvis. Use your abs; do not push with your legs. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat 10 times.

4 weeks after giving birth:

Leg Slides
Lie on your back and complete a pelvic tilt (see above). Keep abs tight and back lengthened along the ground; inhale and slide one leg out along the floor until fully extended if possible. Do not loosen abs or let your back leave the ground, even if you can’t extend the leg fully. Exhale and slide leg back to start. Repeat 20 times on each leg.

Head Lifts
Lie on your back, knees bent, squeezing a pillow or a rolled up towel between your knees. Pull navel toward spine and complete a pelvic tilt (see above). Wrap hands around upper waist; squeeze hands together as if making a corset around your middle. Slowly lift head off the ground to look at your navel. Keep shoulders on ground. Work up to 2 sets of 10 repetitions.

Continue to do these exercises until your six-week check-up. After your doctor clears you for full activity, use these exercises as a warm-up routine prior to more intense activities.

How Soon Can You Start Exercising After Giving Birth?

Photo: LightField Studios/.com

New moms used to be told to sit tight for six weeks after having a baby, until their doc gave them the green light to exercise. No more. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently declared that “some women are capable of resuming physical activities within days of delivery” and that ob-gyns should, in the case of an “uncomplicated vaginal delivery, counsel patients that they can begin or resume an exercise program as soon as they feel able.”

“We’re not telling women, ‘You better get out there,’ but we’re saying it’s totally fine to do what you feel up to,” says ob-gyn Alison Stuebe, M.D., an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Before, there was a sense of, ‘Go home, and don’t get out of bed.'” Feeling good is the key factor when choosing “fourth trimester” exercise, Dr. Stuebe says. (Related: Fit Moms Share the Relatable and Realistic Ways They Make Time for Workouts)

Ready to get moving, but you don’t know where to start? Try this circuit from Pilates pro Andrea Speir, the creator of the new Fit Pregnancy Plan workout digital series. Start with three days a week and work up to six. “The moves will give you endorphins,” Speir says. “You’ll feel ready to take on the day after, not depleted.” (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Running with a Jogging Stroller, According to Experts)

Image zoom

Illustrations: Alessandra Olanow

Side Plank

Benefit: “Side planks focus on tightening the deep abs without the downward pressure on the belly,” Speir says. (Here’s more on how to master the side plank.)

Try it: Lie on floor on your right side, legs stacked, torso propped on right elbow. Lift hips so body forms a line; reach left arm up. Hold for 30 seconds (shown above). Switch sides; repeat. Work up to 1 minute per side.

Speed Skater

Benefit: “This lateral cardio has less up-down pressure on your pelvic floor than jogging.”

Try it: While standing, take a big step right with right leg and sweep left leg behind you, bringing left arm toward right (shown above). Quickly step left with left leg, bringing right leg behind, right arm across. Alternate for 30 seconds. Rest 10 seconds; repeat. Do 4 intervals. Work up to three 1-minute intervals.


Benefit: “This strengthens your hips and glutes to help support the lower back.”

Try it: Lie on floor on right side, head resting in right hand. Bend knees 90 degrees in front of you and lift both feet together off floor. Open knees to create diamond shape with legs (shown above), then close. Do 20 reps without dropping feet. Do 3 sets.


Benefit: “This classic opens up those tight belly and back muscles.”

Tryit: Begin on floor on all fours. Inhale as you arch your back, and gaze forward. Exhale as you round back and bring head into chest (shown above). Do 10 reps.

  • By Alyssa Sparacino @a_sparacino

11 Postpartum Fitness Tips for New Moms

You already know that exercise during pregnancy is great for your health — but getting active soon after you give birth is just as important. Regularly breaking a sweat boosts your energy levels, helps you to sleep better, relieves stress and even potentially staves off postpartum depression (PPD).

Postpartum workouts

Experts at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — i.e. anything that bumps up your heart rate and makes you break a sweat, like brisk walking or bike riding — every week, along with two days of strength training (which includes yoga, Pilates and lifting weights).

But when is it safe to restart your workout program, and what should it entail? Your very first step before starting any postpartum exercise program should be talking with your practitioner and getting the green light.

Ready to get moving? Here are 11 of your most pressing postpartum exercise questions, answered.

How long after childbirth can I start exercising if I had a vaginal birth? What about a C-section?

Experts say all women can restart Kegel exercises and walk within the first 24 hours of giving birth for 30 minutes daily if they feel up to it — even if you had a C-section or complicated vaginal birth. Several 5-minute jaunts count as much as half an hour straight.

“For a long time, women were advised to only slowly return to their pre-pregnancy physical activity after their deliveries,” says Raul Artal, M.D., FACOG, chairman emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Louis University and the longtime lead author of ACOG’s prenatal exercise guidelines.

In the early 1980s, however, ACOG began encouraging women to exercise, pointing out that being sedentary in pregnancy and beyond can pose risks like blood clots and cardiovascular disease.

More Postpartum Diet and Fitness Tips

Postpartum Health & Care Is It Safe to Drink While Breastfeeding? And More Postpartum Nutrition Questions, Answered Baby Feeding Light to Moderate Drinking While Breastfeeding Is Safe, Study Finds You & Your Health Toning Your Tummy: Four Ways to Tackle Belly Fat After Pregnancy Postpartum Health & Care Is It Safe to Drink While Breastfeeding? And More Postpartum Nutrition Questions, Answered Baby Feeding Light to Moderate Drinking While Breastfeeding Is Safe, Study Finds You & Your Health Toning Your Tummy: Four Ways to Tackle Belly Fat After Pregnancy

When you can return to other exercise, however, depends on your birth experience and whether you’re experiencing any red-flag symptoms (more on that below). Ultimately, there are no hard-and-fast rules; just be sure to get the okay from your doctor and listen to your body, advises Carrie Pagliano, DPT, a physical therapist specializing in women’s health in Arlington, VA.

If you had a vaginal birth without complications, as long as you aren’t experiencing any red-flag symptoms you can begin modified pre-pregnancy exercises almost immediately after birth (of course, this doesn’t mean you have to, just that if you feel ready and your practitioner gave you the green light, it’s safe to do so). Start with your bodyweight or light weights (10 pounds or less), then increase intensity and duration slowly to your comfort level.

If you had a vaginal birth with tearing, it can take two to three weeks for extensive (i.e. third- or fourth-degree) tears to heal. In the meantime, talk to your doctor about walking and upper-body exercises, suggests Artal.

If you had a C-section, you should start walking the day after delivery if possible, or as soon as you feel ready (this will boost your circulation, lower your risk of developing a blood clot and help with gas). However, as far as exercise goes, you’ll most likely want to wait until at least the six-week mark — you did just have major surgery, after all. The most important rule: Talk to your practitioner before you start any workout regime and get his or her okay.

What are the signs that my body isn’t ready to start exercising again?

Watch out for red-flag signs, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vaginal pain
  • Bleeding (i.e., lochia)
  • Other fluid leakage (i.e. urine or feces)
  • Heaviness in your pelvic region or organs coming out of your vagina (which could be a sign of pelvic organ prolapse)

If you experience any of the above symptoms, stick to walking for now and check in your practitioner. “Your primary care doctor, ob-gyn or midwife knows you the best and can give you the right recommendation,” Pagliano says. Lochia should mostly clear up within the first couple of weeks postpartum —making workouts a lot more feasible since you won’t have to wear a bulky pad.

How to Recognize Postpartum Depression

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What are some specific exercises that are safe to try when I first start exercising postpartum?

Once you get the okay from your practitioner to do more than walking workouts, you can begin stretching and strengthening exercises using light weights or your own bodyweight.

Warm up with knee lifts or walking for 10 minutes and cool down for 5 minutes. Start with very basic abdominal or pelvic floor moves, including pelvic tilts, lateral pelvic tilts, ab curls and oblique curls, and build from there.

Pagliano also suggests a mommy-and-me class, with a basic level that helps you to find your muscles again. “Over nine months plus delivery, your muscles have changed location, so you need to find them in your new posture and alignment,” she says.

Are there any exercises I should avoid initially?

With all of the stretching and pulling your abs have been through in the last nine months, you’ll definitely want to be extra cautious with ab work at first. Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with diastasis recti, watch out for what Pagliano calls doming or bulging in the center of your abs.

If you notice either, skip the exercise and check in with your doctor or a physical therapist. And if you notice you’re holding your breath or bearing down, that means you’re straining – which isn’t good for your pelvic floor or abs – so lighten your load or save the exercise for later, when you’ve built up more strength.

When is it okay to start high-intensity workouts, like CrossFit, if I was a regular before birth?

When you’ll be able to begin high-intensity exercise varies a ton, but how active you were before and during pregnancy has a big impact on how much exercise you’ll be able to tolerate after you give birth. If you weren’t a runner, now isn’t the time to start training for a half-marathon.

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But many workout warriors who kept up with exercise during pregnancy and had an uncomplicated vaginal birth are ready to start with a modified Crossfit, running, cycling or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program three to four weeks postpartum.

Even if you were a Crossfit regular before you conceived but stopped during pregnancy, you can often begin scaling back into workouts within a few weeks of birth, says Pagliano. Just err on the side of caution and listen to your body — and definitely stop if you experience pain or bleeding.

Is there anything I should know about exercising if I’m breastfeeding?

First and foremost — and this will likely be painfully obvious — it’s best to breastfeed before you work out. “No one wants to run three miles with full breasts,” says Pagliano.

Another point in favor of a pre-workout feeding sesh: Pagliano says some women notice that their babies have a reaction to their milk right after vigorous exercise due to a slight change in the makeup of their milk (it can temporarily change the levels of lactic acid in your milk).

Artal says, however, that any changes are unlikely to bother your baby. “In the past, there was hesitation because intense physical activities may cause breast milk to be more , or lower in pH…but the quality of your breast milk won’t change much,” says Artal.

Be sure to invest in a supportive sports bra (your chest will thank you). And drink more fluids (an extra glass before and after your sweat sesh should do it).

What if exercise is painful, even though it’s been at least six weeks after I gave birth?

Stop what you’re doing immediately, since pain usually indicates a problem that’s only likely to get worse if you push, and call your doctor, Artal says. Your doc will help you figure out what the problem is, and he or she can also refer you to a physical therapist if necessary.

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“In most states, you can see a physical therapist without a physician’s order, so check the direct access laws in your state,” says Pagliano. A PT can evaluate you and either offer exercises to help you heal and/or reach out to your doctor.

As long as your insurance includes physical therapy, your sessions should be covered. To find a physical therapist near you, visit the Women’s Health section of the American Physical Therapy Association and type in your zip.

What are some signs I might be pushing my body too hard?

In addition to red-flag signs (pain, bleeding, leakage, pelvic heaviness), stop if you feel lightheaded or dizzy. And watch out changes in your milk production: A drop-off can indicate you’re pushing too hard, too fast.

“It’s tricky because you have a new body, so you have to figure out what’s normal and what’s not,” says Pagliano.

Keep in mind that just because urinary leakage is common doesn’t mean it’s “normal” or that it should keep you from enjoying your favorite exercises. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to retrain your perineal floor to stop leakage, especially if you check in with an expert early on.

How will exercising after having a baby be different?

How you’ll feel about working out postpartum is super personal. Every body is different, and how yours will respond to exercise depends on tons of factors, including complications during labor and delivery. So listen to the signals your body is sending, and if you’re super tired, don’t feel well, or are experiencing pain or leakage, talk to your doctor.

It may also help to frame exercise not as a way to fit back into your pre-pregnancy jeans, but to be healthier overall. “That will get you the outcomes you’re looking for,” Pagliano says.

Can exercise prevent postpartum depression or anxiety?

The postpartum period is all about rebalancing potent pregnancy hormones with a new human being to care for and very little sleep. For up to one in five women, that can result in postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is never your fault, and there many complex causes of it, but there is evidence that suggests exercise can help lower postpartum anxiety and depression symptoms in most women.

“Exercise not only supports your muscles and joints, but it does so much for your biochemistry,” Pagliano adds. “It provides a lovely stress outlet for people and is a natural way to help get your system back into balance. It gets you out with other friends with babies and builds a community to support you.”

How long before I’ll be close to my pre-pregnancy fitness levels?

By week six postpartum, almost everyone can return to their normal pre-pregnancy routines, says Artal, although some women find it takes longer. No matter your fitness level — whether you’re a pro athlete or an occasional yogi— be sure to work out only under the guidance of your doctor.

Keep in mind that if you were working out regularly before and during pregnancy, you’ll be back on track faster than if you skipped the gym for the past nine months (or more). “I’ve had patients who are able to exercise and run through pregnancy and pick it back up a couple of weeks later, but I’d say that’s not the norm,” says Pagliano.

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Start slow.
Although your provider may have given you the all-clear, you should start slow and work up to your pre-pregnancy level. Before six weeks, this might include gentle abdominal exercises to wake up the muscles, breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles, postural exercises that re-align the chest over the pelvis and Kegels, Ryan said.

Keep a steady pace.
The intensity of your workout depends on how active you were throughout your pregnancy. Workouts that last 20 to 30 minutes are ideal, but you might start out with a jog and then build up to your pre-pregnancy pace when you feel ready.

Try the jump test.
To make sure your pelvic floor is ready for a workout, Ryan suggests jumping 20 times on a full bladder. If you don’t feel your organs bounce, have discomfort or urine leakage, you’re probably good to go.

Lift lightly.
If you lift weights and your belly bulges, it could separate the abdominal muscles or make an existing diastasis recti worse. Lifting heavy weights could also disrupt a perineum repair or cesarean sutures.

Drink plenty of water.
If you’re breastfeeding, make sure you drink enough water to ward off dehydration and keep up your energy levels.

Get enough sleep.
A good night’s rest is hard to come by when you have an infant, but it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough rest and your workouts aren’t cutting into that time.

Listen to your body.
If your workouts make you feel more exhausted than invigorated or you feel sore, scale back. If you have pain anywhere in your body or pressure in your perineum, call your doctor. Although it’s normal for the bleeding that happens for a few weeks after giving birth to increase when you’re more active, if it’s heavier than a period or you’re changing a pad every hour call your doctor, Kasper said.

Although O’Connell is an extreme athlete, she’s no different than most moms who want to be healthy for themselves and their children. For her, that meant squeezing in a run before her son woke up in the morning, something she said gave her much needed “me time” and also helped her be a better mom.

“To be able to do that and still be a good mom was a huge relief,” she said. “I was elated.”

Exercises after giving birth

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