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Getting back into shape after baby

The author and her running partner
The author and her running partner
S. Johnson

After spending nine months gaining weight, getting back into shape after pregnancy and delivery is on the mind of many new moms. 

The recommendation for postpartum exercise used to be to wait 6 weeks before beginning any kind of physical activity.  New guidelines say if you exercised during pregnancy and had an uncomplicated delivery, you can start exercising slowly right away if you feel ready (and after consulting with your healthcare provider).  

In addition to weight loss, postpartum exercise sessions can improve your mood, boost energy levels, relieve stress and strengthen abdominal muscles.  When beginning exercise after immediately after childbirth, it is important to listen to your body and stop if you feel pain.  Also remember to keep yourself hydrated, particularly if you are nursing.  

Some examples of physical activity that are a good jumping off point for new moms are:

  • Walking outside.  Pushing a stroller burns extra calories
  • A stroller-strides class (offered in Ann Arbor)
  • Swimming laps in a local pool
  • Pilates or yoga

It's important to remember to build back slowly.  As you gain fitness back, you can slowly  start increasing the duration and intensity until you reach your pre-pregnancy routine, as long as you are not having pain. 

Many new moms also wonder if their abdominal muscles will ever improve.  Thankfully, with a little effort and a routine that builds back slowly, you can indeed return your abdominal muscles to some semblance of their prior shape. 

Before beginning, check to see if you suffer from diastasis (which is a spreading of the midline of the abdominal wall).  This can be done while laying on your back with your knees bent.  Place three fingers on the midline of the abdominal wall and then lift the head up.  A separation of greater than three fingers indicates diastasis.  If diastasis is present, it will just take a little longer for the abs to heal and close back up and exercises must be taken at a slower pace.

Within 24-48 hours after a vaginal delivery, the following abdominal exercises can be started (courtesy of Babyfit):

  • Diaphragmatic breathing with abdominal tightening.  Lay on your back and take a deep breath.  Flatten your stomach back towards your spine on inhalation and tighten your abs as you exhale. 
  • Kegels (to strengthen pelvic floor  muscles)
  • Pelvic tilt.  This is downe while lying on your back with your knees bent.  Tilt your pelvis backward as you tighten your abs and exhale. Try to bring your belly button to your spine as you push your low back into the floor beneath you. Hold for 5 seconds, inhale, and relax.
  • Work on your posture.  By actively checking posture throughout the day and focusing on keeping the abs pulled back towards your spine and keeping your chin up, you are actually strengthening the abdominal muscles.

A few days following delivery, the following abdominal exercises can be done:

  • Bridges.  Lying on your back with knees bent, contract your abdominal, buttock, and pelvic floor muscles, and raise hips up off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds and relax down slowly. 
  • Heel slides.  Lying on your back, tighten your abdominal muscles and do the aformentioned pelvic tilt. Slowly slide out one leg at a time while maintaining the pelvic tilt.  As fitness returns, progress to sliding both legs out together as long as you can maintain pelvic tilt and not allow the back to arch. Always bring the legs back one at a time.

If you suffer from diastasis, it is important to not move on from these exercises until you feel the diastasis closing (by continually doing the three-finger check).  This can take upwards of 6 months for some new moms. 

Once you no longer feel a large gap (one finger or less), the following exercises can be done: 

  • Leg lowering.  Lying on your back and bend the knees.  Do the pelvic tilt and lift one leg up. Straighten out the leg, maintaining pelvic tilt as you lower the leg back down.  Your abdomen should flatten with exhalation (and pulling back towards the spine), not bulging. 

Once cleared by a physician to return to normal exercise (generally at the 6 week postpartum check), you can slowly begin your previous abdominal exercise routine (or start a new one if you have never exercised those abs before!).   Keep in mind that change won't happen immediately but with continued effort, the abdominals can eventually resemble their prior form.

The important thing to remember in postpartum fitness is to never push if you feel pain, listen to your body and your physician, be patient, and stick with it!

Are you a mom of multiples looking to return to fitness?  Check out the article here.

Liked this article?  Check out my other Ann Arbor Family Fitness articles here.


  • Natalie 5 years ago

    This is really informative, thanks Stephanie! I didn't know how long to wait for the abs, but looks like you can start up right away! I waited a week then did 1 mile last time!

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