What to Know About Postpartum Exercise

By Nicole Radziszewski |

Fourth Trimester: 12 Weeks Postpartum

Respect your body’s recovery time, see a women’s-health physical therapist, and gently ease back into a fitness routine.

In 2018 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) revised its recommendations for postpartum care, reinforcing the importance of the so-called fourth trimester.

ACOG now recommends that all women see their ob-gyn or midwife within three weeks after the baby’s birth, receive ongoing care as needed, and follow up with another visit within 12 weeks. This can help identify and address recovery issues.

Childbirth, whether by vaginal delivery or C-section, presents a major challenge for the body: The pelvic floor and abdominal wall may be stretched, weakened, or damaged, and the pelvis may fracture or become misaligned.

With this in mind, weight loss or “getting your body back” ought to be the last thought on your mind. Movement can be a powerful healing tool during the fourth trimester — if you consider it just that.

“The point of postpartum exercising is taking care of yourself — physically, mentally, and emotionally,” says Mundell. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I able to do activities of daily life in a way that my body is able to support?’ That is the most appropriate mindset during the fourth trimester.”

Taking the first postpartum week to completely rest allows your body to undergo its natural healing process. “It’s important to prioritize sleep, make sure you’re eating enough and staying properly hydrated, and not trying to push through,” explains Winters.

Depending on your type of delivery, you can then try gentle movements and breath work to help yourself reconnect with your core muscles, says Plasencia, who recommends seeing a pelvic-floor specialist or women’s-health PT before ramping up workouts. “If you can see a PT early on, you can get back on track so much faster.”

In addition, a PT can examine bones, joints, and muscles around your pelvis and address imbalances. If you’ve had a C-section, your PT might do scar-tissue mobilization after six weeks to prevent adhesions.

If you’re cleared for strength training during the weeks after delivery, focus on rehab, with an emphasis on reconnecting to the core during movement and restoring alignment. No single exercise will heal diastasis recti, mend pelvic-floor muscles, or restore core strength. Results come from consistently applying good strategy, gradually increasing load, and willingly adjusting your regimen if concerns arise.

“You’re not picking up where you left off third trimester or before pregnancy,” says Battles. “Remind yourself that this is all temporary and that you have the rest of your life to get back into fitness.”

Exercises to Try

Heel Slides: This exercise helps you reconnect to your deep core muscles and strengthen your posterior chain.

  1. Perform six reps, then switch sides.

Glute Bridge With Ball Squeeze: This move will strengthen your glutes and hips, including your side-butt, which will protect your pelvis and lower back. It can also help strengthen your pelvic-floor muscles as you heal postpartum.

  1. Perform 10 to 12 reps.

Pec-and-Shoulder Release: This stretch helps release the tension in the front of the body that many new moms have due to holding a baby for so many hours of the day. .

  1. Stay there for at least one minute and allow gravity to release the tension in your upper body.

This originally appeared as “Fit for Two” in the April 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

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