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What are the Different Types of Postnatal Exercise?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 17, 2024
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Postnatal exercise, or postpartum exercise, is exercise that begins after a woman has given birth to her baby. Postnatal exercise is typically gentle exercise, which can help a new mother slowly get back to her pre-pregnancy level of fitness. There are many different types of exercise that can be done after giving birth, based on each woman's preferences; some popular ones include walking, yoga, Pilates, and swimming, just to name a few.

Before beginning any postnatal exercise, it is important to receive clearance from a doctor. Women who have had a vaginal birth may be able to begin exercising sooner than women who have had a C-section; doctors generally recommend waiting six weeks, or until one is fully healed. If a woman experiences vaginal discharge that is red or pink while exercising after giving birth, she should stop exercising and visit a doctor if necessary.

Relatively soon after giving birth, it may be a good idea to begin doing kegel exercises. Kegels are excellent postnatal exercise because they begin to strengthen the pelvic floor again. In addition, the type of exercise done after giving birth is related to the level of physical fitness while pregnant; if a woman stayed in fairly good shape while pregnant, it may be easier to begin exercising again. Women who had easier labor and delivery may also have an easier time exercising than women who had difficult labors or complications.

One of the best types of postnatal exercise is a class designed for the purpose. There are many different postpartum exercise classes in workouts such as yoga, Pilates, aerobics, aqua aerobics, or even classes that encourage participation from both the mother and the baby. Instructors who teach these types of postnatal classes are well trained in working with the needs of new mothers, and are often able to modify exercises to make them easier.

In addition to postnatal exercise classes at fitness centers, there are many different postnatal exercise DVDs and books that can provide instruction on exercising after giving birth. Of course, it is also possible to develop one's own exercise plan, such as with daily walking and gentle strength training and stretching. Even though one may desire to lose the extra baby weight quickly, keep in mind that it is important to listen to the body and stop if anything feels painful or too challenging, and to give the body the time it needs to recover after giving birth.

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Discussion Comments
By ElizaBennett — On Jan 17, 2012

@dfoster85 - I remember doing the same thing after my c-section! It hurt so much to get out of bed but I knew that I needed to.

The challenge is figuring out exactly what level is right for you. Part of me wanted to stay in bed. That wouldn't have been good for me, but neither would pushing too hard. I guess if you've had a c-section, it's normal for your incision to hurt, but you shouldn't be exhausting the rest of yourself! Maybe the right amount of activity is the amount that makes you feel more, rather than less, alert and energized.

However you deliver, it's important that your postnatal workout start you off slowly. If you start trying to do fifty crunches six weeks to the day after you deliver, you'll regret it! I suggest spending the first couple weeks back to exercise just walking, stretching, and doing some special postnatal exercise moves from a good DVD or book. Once you feel more like yourself, you can gradually resume your old level of activity. (And *yes,* you can absolutely exercise while breastfeeding!)

By dfoster85 — On Jan 17, 2012

It's true that you might need to wait six or eight weeks before beginning a real postnatal exercise program, but that doesn't mean you should spend that time lying on your couch. Gentle activity will help your circulation and speed healing.

I had a C-section after a long labor. They got me out of bed within eight or nine hours of my surgery! The next day, my feet were incredibly swollen. (I had to wear my slippers home from the hospital.) I was advised to move around some even while I was still in the hospital. I remember pushing my new baby in that little plastic bassinet - they don't allow anyone to carry the babies apparently - while walking a loop around the maternity ward.

Ask your caregiver if you can start gentle exercise, like yoga moves, sooner than six weeks if you want to. I had a great video that had some activities specially designed for before six weeks.

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