Working Out after Baby's Arrival

By: Pamela Brill

Just because you're a new mom doesn't mean every aspect of your life has to change irrevocably. On the contrary, one of the healthiest ways to maintain your sense of self is to establish a daily exercise routine, which helps release mood-boosting endorphins and keeps your body physically fit. Experts agree that with the proper know-how and a little motivation, moms can set the tone for a lifelong healthy habit.

Let's Get It Started

While some women may not be eager to go running after being up for a late-night feeding, fitness experts note that most women can safely resume exercising within 6 weeks of giving birth. "The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women start working out as soon as physically and medically safe," says Farel Hruska, national fitness director for Stroller Strides ( . However, it's important to begin gradually and keep a lookout for any warning signs, such as an increase in bleeding. "That is a sign that she came back too fast or too soon," she cautions.

How quickly a woman returns to exercising depends on several factors, according to Nicole Ott, a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition coach ( . These include her exercise program during pregnancy, the intensity and duration of labor and delivery, and whether or not medical intervention, such as surgery or stitches, was necessary. "Every woman's body is different in response to pregnancy, labor and delivery and the physical and mental changes that follow," she says. "The best advice is to talk to your healthcare provider about possible physical limitations."

It's C-omplicated

For those women who have had a Caesarean (or C-) section, special precautions need to be addressed. "Recovery time has to be taken into consideration—more so than in comparison to a vaginal delivery—to allow for the proper healing of surgical wounds," notes Ott.

Hruska agrees about taking it slow. "The bottom line is that a woman's pain will need to be her guide," she says. "If it hurts her incision, she needs to stop doing what hurts. Overexertion could delay wound closure or even re-open the wound." With a physician's clearance, Hruska suggests adding some gentle reconditioning to one's routine—for instance, stabilization exercise instead of crunches.

Newbies Wanted

Those women who didn't exercise regularly before childbirth shouldn't be daunted by the prospect of establishing a regular routine. Experts encourage new mothers to engage in whatever activity suits their interests and level of activity. Ott advises a gradual introduction to exercise. "A good rule of thumb is to aim for a moderate one-hour workout three times per week when first getting started," she offers, noting that a workout should incorporate all aspects of fitness: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, balance and flexibility. "Over time, the intensity devoted to exercise can be increased for better results," Ott says.

For those looking for an alternative to the gym, Hruska advises stroller walking. "It can be done with a variety of intensities and doesn't require any specialized equipment," she says. "It also gets them out and about meeting other moms, which is a life-saver."

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Just because moms have adopted a can-do attitude and have set aside time to exercise doesn't guarantee will return to their pre-pregnancy shape right away. "A lot of moms simply put too much pressure on themselves," observes Ott. "There are so many physical, hormonal and emotional changes that happen during pregnancy; it takes several months for everything to balance back."

Hruska agrees. "Some moms jump into a program and, after a month or so, feel discouraged. The reality is if they are persistent, they may look and feel even better before having a baby."