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Having a baby leads to all kinds of body changes, and not all of them leave you feeling too crash hot about yourself. Things are soft that weren’t soft before, your core strength has packed up and left and sometimes you might even look in the mirror and not recognise the person looking back.
It’s easy to get caught up in post-baby body image issues, and while your body has just done this incredible thing by growing and birthing a baby, you also want your body to be strong and healthy again.
Launching yourself into a hardcore exercise plan is definitely not the way to go. Your body is raging with hormones such as relaxin which helps ‘relax’ your ligaments, perfect for birth, but can lead to serious injuries if you push yourself too hard. Which is why it’s important that when you start to exercise after pregnancy, you take things slowly.
First and foremost, listen to your body. If things are aching when you move or resulting in sharp pains, stop! If you start to really think about how you feel when you move and are in tune with your body, you’ll know if you’re pushing it too far.
Secondly, and just as importantly, be sure to get clearance to exercise from your health provider. This may be your doctor, obstetrician or midwife. Have them check you for diastasis recti, the separation of the abdominal muscles, as this will affect the kinds of exercise you can do. And let them know what your exercise intentions are so they know what type of exercise regime you’re wanting to do.
Once you’ve got your clearance to exercise, and when you’re feeling ready, you can ease yourself back into moving your body more and regaining your strength. While you’re not going to be able to power out a HIIT session, there are exercises you can do that will help you to get your strength back.
Walking is one of the best things you can do to exercise after pregnancy as it is gentle, involves whole body movement and moderately increases your heart rate. It also gives you an opportunity to get out of the house and get some fresh air without the pressure of dealing with other people as well.
Get yourself a super cute baby wrap carrier like this one and take your new babe for a walk with you! Not only is it great exercise for you, but you’ll have that close carry with your new baby which is great for bonding (and has a whole heap of other benefits too.
Yoga can be a beautiful, gentle way to ease yourself back into exercise after pregnancy. Keep in mind, you won’t be doing headstands or inversions for some time yet, but if you take things slowly, and listen to your body, your inner Yogi will shine through and have you feeling even more radiant.
If you decide to head to a yoga class, be sure to let the instructor know how far postpartum you are so they can assist you in modifying movements and help you stabilize your core, which is going to be a little weak after giving birth.
Core Strengthening Exercises
As we’ve mentioned, your core strength is going to need some work after you give birth. Your body has just gone through some seriously major changes over the last 9 months and will take some time to recover. You can help this process by working on your core strength.
There are specific exercises you can do that will help with diastasis recti and will gentle build your core muscles back up. These are the exercises I used and you’ll find that most physiotherapists will suggest these or a slight variation of them.
It’s always a good idea to be assessed by a physiotherapist to ensure the exercises you are doing aren’t causing any more damage. They can also walk you through how to perform exercises so you engage your core and get the most benefit out of the work you are doing. They may also suggest wearing a postnatal recovery belt like this one to help stabilise your core muscles.
If you’re not feeling like you’re ready to do any set exercise yet, that’s totally okay. Listening to your body is the key here. You could always start with gentle movements that get you up and moving your body again. Things like swaying with your baby as you rock them (put on some nice soothing music), light stretches of your muscles (being mindful of not pushing too far) and simply getting up and moving around are all things that will help you start to feel better again.
Things To Remember When Starting To Exercise After Pregnancy
While it’s exciting when you get the all clear to return to exercise and you’re probably super keen to get your ‘prepregnancy body’ back, there are a few things you need to remember during this time.
Be Kind To Yourself
One of the biggest difficulties I faced post-pregnancy was that I felt like I didn’t even recognise my body anymore. Things were bigger, softer, lumpier, leakier and more stretched than before. I didn’t look like myself and I didn’t feel like myself. It would have been easy to slip into a really negative mindset.
It’s so important for you to be kind to yourself and to be realistic. You’re not going to ‘bounce back’ in a week. I always like the idea of it taking 9 months to grow a baby and therefore 9 months to recover – but honestly, go at your own pace. Whether it’s 12 weeks or 12 months, it doesn’t matter.
Acknowledge The Strength Your Body Has
Instead of focusing on how much your body has changed and what you can’t do anymore, acknowledge the strength your body does have. Remind yourself that you literally grew and gave birth to a human. Your body is designed to care for this baby, in every way possible. That requires incredible strength, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.
You are freaking incredible!
Your Mindset Is Your Secret Weapon
Can you see a trend here yet? Your mindset is one of the most important tools you have. You have the ability to build yourself up or completely tear yourself down. It’s so, so easy to fall into a negative mindset, focusing on all the things that are different about your body.
If you find yourself doing this stop, look at yourself in the mirror and start telling yourself all the amazing things you’ve done. Seriously, do it. You’ll be amazed at how powerful it is.
And remember, exercising is a celebration of what your body can do, not punishing your body for what it is.
Abs Are Made In The Kitchen
No matter how much you exercise, you’re not going to be at your best and you’re not going to feel the greatest if you don’t eat properly too. If you’re keen to lose the extra weight after having a baby, then pay attention to what it is you’re eating.
This is so difficult to do in your post birth phase. Hormones are raging, cravings are all over the place and if you’re breastfeeding you might find that you’re so darn hungry all the time (due to the extra calories required and therefore burned when making milk).
Keep in mind, this isn’t the time for massive calorie deficits. Your body needs to be nourished. It’s just about rethinking the food you use to energise your body. Instead of going for the chocolate bar, have a healthier snack like granola or fruit. Small changes can make a big difference.
Rest Is Just As Important As Exercise
It’s only natural that you’re going to be fairly exhausted after having a baby. Not only in the recovery from pregnancy and birth, but also due to the different schedule, lack of sleep and emotional rollercoaster that’s going on (and huge surges of bliss hormones like oxytocin and serotonin).
It is so important for you to rest whenever you can. You might be keen and excited to use your time to exercise, but be sure to balance that out with rest too. This is when your body is able to repair itself.
Hydration is the single most overlooked key to losing weight and staying healthy. A lot of people pass off hydration because they find when they start drinking more water they become bloated. This is a sign of dehydration and will pass if you continue to drink adequate fluids. You might also find you need to pee more, but that too will pass.
Keeping hydrated is also essential for your milk production. If you don’t have enough fluids in, you’re going to find your fluids out will decrease. You may also find you get headaches, muscle cramps and you’re feeling more exhausted (well, more exhausted than usual with a newborn).
Keep a large water bottle nearby and add lemon or frozen fruit to your water if you need to add some flavour.
Whatever type of exercise you choose to do after pregnancy, just remember there’s no rush, go at your own pace and listen to your body. You’ve got this.