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Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world's #1 in orthopedics.

Exercise After Pregnancy: How to Regain Your Fitness

Is it possible to return to your pre-pregnancy form after giving birth? Marci Goolsby, a primary sports medicine physician in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS, has guidance for new moms.

Advice to improve your movement, fitness, and overall health from the world's #1 in orthopedics.

Exercising after having a baby can do wonders for mothers’ physical and mental well-being. It can help decrease depression, improve energy and strength and give you a healthy outlet and time on your own, says Marci Goolsby, MD, a primary sports medicine physician in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS.

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What’s more, women who are used to performing at a high level are often able to return to that level after giving birth. “Women don’t have to back down from their athletic careers when having children,” says Dr. Goolsby. “The list is long of women who have accomplished their goal of returning to high-level competition after having children.” Several recent high-profile athletes have done so.

If you’re expecting, there may be some changes you need to make to your exercise routine before, during and after your pregnancy, says Dr. Goolsby. “Many changes happen to the body during this time. There are pelvic changes, your center of gravity changes and ligaments relax during pregnancy.”

One common mistake she sees many women make is not respecting and accommodating the changes their body undergoes, often continuing to work out in the same way or at the same intensity. “Getting back into exercise after having a baby is very individualized — I cannot stress this enough,” says Dr. Goolsby. “Women have different degrees of pain, injury, sleep deprivation, depression and motivation. I try to never judge my patients for their desire — or lack thereof — to get back to their regular exercise routine. I see it as my job to get them back to where they want to be in the safest manner possible.”

Keep in mind the following tips Dr. Goolsby recommends for getting back into exercise after giving birth:

  1. First, let your body heal. Respect the fact that being pregnant and delivering a baby requires a period of recovery. Now, that doesn’t mean that returning to exercise within the first few weeks is dangerous, however, it is important to listen to your body to avoid any possible injuries.
  2. Start off light and ease into it. Test the waters with new activities before jumping in with both feet.
  3. If it hurts, don’t do it. (This doesn’t mean general muscle soreness after a workout, which is fine.) For example, if one body part is hurting and the pain doesn’t subside with rest, try something else instead. This philosophy holds true postpartum and in general.
  4. Stay motivated. Do your best to make exercise a priority. You may have to schedule it in and work things out with your partner and/or support system so you can make this commitment to yourself.
  5. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to hydrate and ensure you’re eating enough, especially healthy fats, protein and calcium. Remember that your body needs adequate fuel, and its demands will increase with nursing.
  6. Incorporate good core strengthening. If you have diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles), avoid classic sit-up type maneuvers and instead try an exercise like planks.
  7. Don’t forget about that pelvic floor! Make sure to incorporate good old-fashioned Kegels into your routine.
  8. Avoid the pitfall of exercising solely for the purpose of weight loss. Your body will get back to some degree on its own clock. People lose weight and regain strength at different speeds.
  9. Consider working out with friends. There are plenty of great groups out there to help new moms get back into exercise. These programs can make the adjustment more fun and engaging. You may even be allowed to take the baby along with you to the class!
  10. If desired, hire a professional. There are physical therapists and trainers who specialize in pregnancy and postpartum exercise. For some, this may be the preferred option.

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