It’s important to remember that even though you may be feeling great, there are risks to overexerting yourself after giving birth. Also, the type and intensity of exercises you can do after vaginal delivery are largely dependent on your activity level during pregnancy.
Luckily, there are many safe postpartum exercises that you can start doing almost immediately after a normal vaginal delivery. Remember to contact your doctor about the best strategy that fits for you.
Pelvic floor exercises after birth are especially important, and you can start doing them right away. Only a few days after giving birth, you can resume doing Kegel exercise, which will help to strengthen the muscles that support your bladder, bowel, and uterus.
Another safe exercise after vaginal delivery is light walking. As soon as you are able to, get up and walk around. Work to slowly and steadily build up strength and stamina the weeks following delivery. Walking is not only beneficial for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. It’s a good way to prevent postpartum depression, and it’ll get you to venture outside of the house (and maybe even meet some friends!).
Light stretches are also okay after giving birth — just don’t do anything that causes pain or pulling, and if you do feel these things, stop immediately.
Other than pelvic floor exercises, walking, and stretching, you should wait at least until bleeding has stopped before resuming strength training or other, more vigorous exercises. Wait about four weeks before jumping into postpartum ab exercises.
First of all, go easy on yourself. Your body did an incredible thing! In the beginning, it’s a good idea to set expectations low, because you may not get back to your pre-pregnancy fitness regimen 6 weeks or even 6 months after giving birth.
The purpose of postnatal exercise is first and foremost to feel good, both mentally and physically. Once your body has healed and you’ve started to get the hang of having this new person around in your life, you can begin to work on exercises to reduce abdominal fat after delivery.
The best way to reduce that belly after delivery is with a combination of cardio and strength training. The following are some of the best exercises after delivery for a flat stomach.
Exercises that cause your belly to bulge out, such as crunches, sit-ups, and front planks, should be avoided for at least the first six weeks or until your postnatal checkup. The reason is a common condition called diastasis recti that some women experience due to pregnancy. The two vertical muscles that run down your core are stretched apart, causing a gap of 2.7 cm or more in the rectus abdominis muscle.
Diastasis recti is not dangerous, but it can be exacerbated with certain postpartum ab exercises. To avoid causing any damage to weak pelvic floor muscles or further separating stomach muscles, stay away from the exercises mentioned above until you have been checked by your doctor after vaginal delivery.
Here are 5 safe postpartum exercises that you can do to lose baby fat and tighten stomach muscles after delivery.
This exercise can be done in almost any position — lying down, sitting, or standing — but should first be practiced lying down in a supine position until you have the hang of it.
Start by taking a deep breath in. Let your belly expand. As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button toward your spine. Keep your spine neutral and avoid tucking your hips. Imagine that you’re pulling your whole belly in toward your belly button and back toward your spine. Release and you inhale and allow your belly to expand again. Repeat 10 times three times a day. Once you have learned how to engage these deep core muscles — the transverse abdominis muscles — you can hold the position through a few breaths and do this exercise in any position.
Transverse abdominis exercises after pregnancy are important because they focus on a group of muscles that are critical when trying to tighten your stomach after pregnancy.
Like the exercise above, the pelvic tilt is a subtle but effective exercise to reduce belly after delivery. It’s also one of the safest exercises to do after vaginal delivery.
Lie on your back on a mat with your lying on knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet firmly planted on the floor. Tilt your hips toward your upper body and engage your core as you raise your butt about an inch off the floor. You should be closing the gap between the curve of your lower back and the floor. Hold the position for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
The front plank may not be the ideal exercise after pregnancy to reduce stomach bulge. In fact, in some cases, it will cause the exact opposite to happen. The side plank, however, is a perfectly safe postpartum exercise. In fact, it is one of the best transverse abdominis exercises after pregnancy.
Start with a modified side plank and work your way up from there.
Modified side plank. Lie on your side on a mat with your feet stacked one on top of the other. Bend your knees so that your legs form a 90-degree angle. Place your elbow on the mat directly under your shoulder and lift your hips so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then release. Repeat 3 times. Work your way up until you can hold the position for 60 seconds.
Side plank. Lie on your side on a mat with your feet stacked one on top of the other, legs straight. Put your elbow on the mat directly below your shoulder and lift your hips off the mat so that your body forms a straight line from your feet all the way through your legs, torso, and up to your shoulders. Keep your neck straight as well. Hold for as long as you can and work your way up to 60 seconds.
Side plank with leg lift. Once you’ve mastered the side plank, throw in an extra challenge by doing leg lifts. Once you’re in the side plank position, lift your top leg up in the air as high as you can without letting your hips sink. Keep lifting and releasing until you have completed the side plank. Repeat on the other side.
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The bridge is an ideal exercise after vaginal delivery because it helps you to focus on your core, pelvic floor muscles, and gluteus muscles.
- Start by lying on your back on an exercise mat, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet planted firmly on the floor.
- Push through your heels, raise your hips off the floor, squeezing your gluteus muscles and engaging your pelvic floor muscles.
- Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for a few seconds, then release.
Repeat 10-15 times, then rest for one minute and perform another set of 10-15.
Squats with arm raises work your entire body including legs, hips, glutes, core, and arms. Not only are you increasing your strength and hip flexibility, but this postnatal exercise with baby is a great way to bond while keeping your little one entertained.
- Hold your baby out in front of you with both hands.
- Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, your toes slightly turned out.
- Breathe in and bend at the hip, pushing your butt back as your knees begin to bend.
- Keep your back straight and spine neutral as you squat down as if you’re about to sit on a low chair. At the same time, lift your baby up.
- Engage your core and pelvic floor muscles as you return to a standing position.
Repeat 10 times.
The five exercises above are safe for women who have had C-section deliveries only after at least 6 weeks post delivery, and after they have cleared by their doctors to exercise.
Recovery after birth is a longer process for women who have had c-section deliveries. If you have delivered via C-section, make sure to take things very slowly, and avoid putting too much pressure on abdominal muscles after pregnancy. Certainly, stay away from any exercises that cause the stomach to dome out or that pull at your C-section scar.
You may be able to get back to the gym after giving birth a lot more quickly than you’d expect. Start out slowly and be cautious when increasing the time or intensity of a workout. For best results, combine cardio and strength training, including the exercises listed above.
Don’t forget about those Kegel exercises after delivery! They’ll help you to quickly gain back control and offer support to your bladder, bowels, and uterus, which have undoubtedly been through a lot this past year.
Exercise is incredibly beneficial to your mental and physical health, so get up and get moving, with or without baby in hand.
Reviewed by Tahir Mahmood, Chair of Standards of Care European Board and College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.