Postpartum Fitness Guide for New Moms

You just gave birth to this sweet bundle of joy and now you’re circling through feelings of exhaustion, euphoria, frustration, overwhelm—and did we mention exhaustion? You might now be wondering when and if you’ll return to your pre-pregnancy clothes and how long it’ll take you to lose the weight. 

The most important thing you need to focus on other than your baby is healing. Getting your body back to some sense of normalcy will take time. Remember, this baby took over your body for nearly 10 months. You have a new figure that gave birth and chances are, it’ll look different than where you were before—so be prepared to be okay with that. Take time to celebrate this body that grew and gave birth to a human.

When you’re ready to start thinking about reaching your health and fitness goals, fitness expert Sarah Bradford, a pre and postnatal fitness specialist, founder of LUNA Mother Collective, and Fitbit health coach, Miranda Canfield, MS, RDN, CD, have tips on how to get started—once you’ve been cleared to start exercising by your doctor.

Slow and steady will help you reach your goals safely 

Our experts’ suggestion? Take it easy, go slow, and be gentle with yourself when it comes to losing weight after having a baby. While you probably heard that breastfeeding helps moms lose the baby weight, some new moms find it difficult to lose weight while breastfeeding, says Canfield. “There are a lot of factors going on postpartum and lactation hormones are flowing so don’t be hard on yourself if the weight is not coming off easily,” she says. 

We also understand that many factors come into play if your baby is formula-fed, so while you may not be burning the 500 to 700 calories a breastfeeding mama is by feeding her baby, you can still start your weight loss journey and be successful at getting back in shape after giving birth.

Some of the biggest challenges moms face when trying to get back in shape after having kids is often finding time for self-care, as well as the energy, says Bradford. “Trying to work out while children nap sounds like a great idea, but it may also be the only time she gets to sit down all day—and a snooze might be crucial for mom then, too. It can be challenging to get motivated to go to the gym or work out at home.” 

Here are 6 ways to squeeze in a workout.

First, strengthen your core. Be realistic with yourself about how you’re feeling, how much energy you have, and your time limitations. Focus on healing your body as well as how getting back to working out will help your mental health and energy once your body is recovered.

“I think fat loss and weight loss should not be a new mom’s goal when it comes to re-entering exercise after her baby is born,” says Bradford. Don’t jump back into the workouts you did before getting pregnant or the ones you did while pregnant.

Reconnect to your pelvic floor and inner core and allow time to heal, especially if you experienced pelvic floor issues such as incontinence, or diastasis recti are present, Bradford says.

Diastasis recti is the separation of the two sides of the rectus abdominis, the 6-pack muscles. A woman may feel a separation somewhere around her belly button, above her belly button, and/or below it, Bradford says. “This is a normal, natural part of pregnancy that occurs in order to create space for the growing uterus,” she says. “However, it does not always heal back together postpartum and can leave some women with an injury-based diastasis which is the result of excessive and unsupported intra-abdominal pressure.”

Whether you’ve experienced pelvic floor issues or not, jumping back into “traditional” core exercises such as crunches, planks, leg lifts, and mountain climbers before taking the time to rehabilitate your core and pelvic floor postpartum by learning how to properly regulate intra-abdominal pressure may do more harm than good, Bradford warns. “Not taking the time to properly rehabilitate after birth can lead to setbacks down the road. Establishing a strong foundation first will set her up for being able to get back to the workouts and activities she loves sooner,” says Bradford.  

If you’ve had a C-section, it will likely take longer to establish a strong core connection and the healing process will be slower. “If a woman has access to a pelvic floor physical therapist she should see one, even if she doesn’t appear to be symptomatic,” suggests Bradford. “She can learn a lot about her body and the therapist can help her understand when she is truly ready for more vigorous exercise. “

The good news is, most women can begin very gentle rehabilitative pelvic floor and core exercises a day or two post-birth—no sneakers or sports bra required! Lie on your back in bed with the baby, breathing into your diaphragm and gently beginning to lift the pelvic floor as you exhale, releasing it down as you inhale. “Establishing that connection again early can aid in the healing process,” advises Bradford.

When you feel ready, you can incorporate more rehabilitative core and pelvic floor exercises like supine heel marches (lifting one leg up at a time), leg slides, and glute bridges, suggests Bradford.

Ease back into cardio and strength training. Every new mom feels like she doesn’t have time to work out but remember that a few minutes here and there can add up.  Look for ways to sneak it in—like doing some ab exercises next to the baby while he’s doing his tummy time.

One of the best cardio exercises you can start when you feel ready and your doctor clears you is walking. Put the baby in the stroller and get moving a few times a week.

When you’re ready to start strength training, have been cleared by your healthcare provider and stopped bleeding, add resistance training with lighter weights than you were using prior to giving birth, says Bradford.

If you’re eager to get back to your favorite HIIT workouts, wait until your pelvic floor and core have healed, advises Bradford. Breastfeeding moms have a higher level of the hormone, Relaxin, in the body which loosens joints’ connective tissues in preparation for birth. That can make you more susceptible to injury.

Strengthening the deep core, glutes, and legs can help increase stability and reduce the risk of injury, Bradford says.

Cardio is great for burning calories, but it’s not enough to boost your metabolic rate—you’ll need resistance training. (So you can burn more calories while squeezing in a nap!) Try doing two HIIT workouts a week, and alternate with strength training while making sure to also incorporate rest days, advises Bradford.

Be smart about nutrition while safely trying to lose baby weight. Fitness is only one component of reaching your ideal postpartum physique. It’s going to be difficult to reach your health goals if you’re chowing down on chips or candy at night. While it can be challenging to eat healthy when you’re so exhausted and emotionally drained, research says that eating a healthy diet can give you more energy when you’re sleep deprived.  

As you start thinking about your diet, breastfeeding women should keep in mind that suddenly and drastically reducing caloric intake may affect milk supply—so go slowly. Although everyone’s calorie needs are different, it’s said that women shouldn’t let their calories dip below 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day while breastfeeding.  

It’s so important to feed your body enough calories and nutrients to aid in your recovery and to establish milk supply if you choose to breastfeed, says Canfield.

While formula-feeding moms may not have the same concerns about milk supply or increased calorie needs, you are still recovering from pregnancy and birth and healthy foods help heal. “Every new mom should focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables and meals and snacks with protein, whole grains, and fiber to stay full for longer,” she suggests. Eliminate junk food and empty carbs that can lead to an energy crash.

One of the most important components to keep in mind while breastfeeding is hydration. “It’s critical for milk supply so drink lots of fluids and avoid sugar-sweetened beverages,” says Canfield. Buy a big refillable water bottle with an easy flip top and straw to sip on throughout the day—you’ll be doing everything one-handed these days!

“If you find that you are hungry when you wake up in the night to feed, keep some snacks at your bedside that ideally have a combination of fiber and protein to keep it filling,” Canfield suggests.

Nuts are a good option since they’re shelf-stable and contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats. If you’re going to the kitchen, you might want to have whole grain crackers and peanut butter, a piece of fruit and peanut or almond butter, a low-sugar protein bar, or Greek yogurt topped with fruit or granola.

Our number-one tip for your summer body goals? Celebrate and appreciate your new body. “Rather than worrying about trying to fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes and creating unrealistic expectations for yourself postpartum, treat yourself to a new outfit that fits your current body and that you can feel confident in,” suggests Bradford. “Generally speaking, the average time it takes for women to shed the pregnancy weight is about a year, so please be patient with yourself. When you start to feel discouraged, look at your baby and remind yourself of what an incredible thing your body has done!”

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