Getting Fit After Pregnancy: [A Step By Step Guide]

Are you looking to get fit after pregnancy?

You’re in the right place.

Today, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about getting fit after pregnancy.

After reading this post, you’ll learn

  • What you need to do to start improving your fitness postpartum, 
  • How to start exercising in the postpartum period, and
  • How to diet

Okay, I’m ready. Are you?

getting-fit-after-pregnancy

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Why You Should Get Fit After Delivering A Baby

Your body has made some amazing changes over the past 9 months. 

You gained anywhere from 10-50+ lbs, your blood volume grew by 30%, and your hormones have gone through dramatic changes.

Meanwhile,

  • Your abdominal muscles have become stretched and weak
  • Your butt muscles have become inactivated, leading to the condition known as mom butt and
  • Your joints are looser and not as robust as pre-pregnancy

Unfortunately, these things don’t fix themselves.  You have to actively work to get your body back!

That’s why you should strive to get fit after delivering. 

You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your baby.  

Become the best version of yourself so that you can give the best to your family.

When Should You Begin To Focus On Your Fitness?

So when should you begin your fitness plan?

To be honest, the best time to begin is while you are still pregnant. It is perfectly okay to exercise during pregnancy, as long as you are doing exercises that are modified for you.

You obviously want to avoid any exercise that forces you to:

  • Lie on your back or
  • Lie on your stomach

With that said, there are several other exercises that you can do during your pregnancy… Even in the second and third trimesters.

Try to stay as active as you can during your pregnancy.  It doesn’t have to be anything big. 

30 minutes a day is more than enough. You can break this up into a 15 walk, followed by 15 minutes of safe pregnancy exercises.

This will significantly speed up the time to help you get back in shape after you deliver.

walking-to-get-fit-postpartum

What If I Didn’t Exercise Before Giving Birth?

That’s okay. The postpartum period is a great time to start. 

In fitness, something is always better than nothing.

You do not need to have any baseline level of fitness to get started. In fact, complete beginners have the biggest opportunity to see massive changes.

So get excited!

Can You Actually Get In Better Shape After Pregnancy?

Yes! You can definitely get in better shape after pregnancy.  Your body is amazing at adapting to the things you do on a day-to-day basis.

As long as you follow the fitness guidelines in this post, you should have a better, stronger, healthier, leaner postpartum body.

One that allows you to do whatever activities you enjoy doing, whenever you want. Remember, better does not necessarily mean skinnier. 

Don’t dwell on your bodyweight!

Focus more on what your body is capable of!

How Long Does It Take For Your Stomach To Shrink After Giving Birth?

In general, it can take 4-6 weeks for your stomach to shrink after giving birth.

Your uterus, which is normally the size of a small deck of cards grows to the size of a watermelon.  

That growth doesn’t happen overnight, as you are well aware. It also doesn’t go away overnight either.  Your uterus will need a few weeks before it can shrink back down to its normal size. 

But you don’t have to wait 6 weeks to start getting back in shape. 

More on that later.

How Long Does It Take To Get In Shape After Pregnancy?

So how long does it take to get in shaper after you deliver?

It depends.

Some women can get in great shape in 12 weeks.  Some women can get in great shape in 16-20 weeks.

Depending on the type of delivery you had, it can take 4-8 weeks just to heal from the delivery itself.

That’s why we usually recommend that you take it easy the first couple of weeks postpartum.

But if you were active before giving birth, this time can be cut significantly.

As I said before, for most women, it is ok to remain active even in the second and third trimesters (just be sure to check with your doctor).

Can I Get Back In Shape After A C-Section?

Yes, you can get back in shape after a C-section. The only difference is that you will need a little more time to recover. That’s because we cut through many layers of tissue during a c-section.

But there are a few things you can do to jumpstart your postpartum fitness journey.  In fact, we often recommend that you begin doing a couple of different exercises the day after you deliver.

Which exercises am I talking about?

Here are the step-by-step instructions on getting fit after pregnancy.

Step 1: Walking

Walking is one of the, if not, best form of exercise in the entire world. Walking is really important in the postpartum for a few reasons

  • Blood and fluid pools in your lower legs postpartum- walking helps redistribute that fluid
  • Walking improves total body circulation, decreasing the risk of blood clots
  • Walking strengthens your muscles and joints 
  • Walking burns calories
walking-postpartum-stay-fit

When Should You Start Walking?

You should begin walking while you are still in the hospital after your delivery. If you had a vaginal delivery, you could even begin walking the day you deliver.  

If you had an epidural, it will need to be taken out before you can begin walking.

If you had an extensive c-section or some postpartum complication, ask your doctor first. In general, walking is a really low-risk activity, so there are very few situations where you won’t be able to do it.

How Much Walking Should You Do?

In the beginning, you should walk as much as you can physically tolerate. 

A good rule of thumb is to do a couple of laps around the hospital’s postpartum unit, 2-3 times per day. 

Do it after each meal, with your baby, while he/she is in the bassinet.

With that said do not exhaust yourself.  If you are getting fatigued from all the walking, dial it back.

How To Walk To Improve Your Postpartum Fitness

Once you leave the hospital, you should start to feel comfortable walking independently.

Try to walk for 20 minutes a day, at least 4 times per week, and then gradually increase.

You can break it up however you’d like. 

  • Two, 10 minute walks, 
  • Three, 7 minute walks, or
  • One, 20 minute walk

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Every week, make some measurable progress to your daily walk.

For example, you can increase the time by 2 total minutes.

Now, you’re walking 22 minutes, 4-5 times per week.

The following week, do 25 minutes.  Then 28 minutes.  Keep going until you are doing a 30-minute walk.

So it might look something like this:

WEEK 120 MINUTE DAILY WALK
WEEK 222 MINUTE DAILY WALK
WEEK 325 MINUTE DAILY WALK
WEEK 428 MINUTE DAILY WALK
WEEK 530 MINUTE DAILY WALK
WEEK 630 MINUTE FAST PACE DAILY WALK

This walking plan should bring you to your 6-week postpartum milestone. 

Once you feel comfortable walking for 30 minutes a day, increase the pace at which you walk.  In other words, cover more distance in the same time frame.

This is the concept of progressive overload.

You do a little more each time, allowing your body time to slowly adapt to higher fitness levels.

Step 2: You Must Prime Your Body For Exercise

Walking will be the first key to your postpartum fitness success. But this is just the first step.  

In order to truly maximize your fitness postpartum, you will need to do additional exercises to strengthen your muscles.

Thankfully, you don’t have to wait 6 weeks to start.

In fact, you can start doing basic pelvic floor and core exercises 1-2 days after you deliver. 

Strengthening The Pelvic Floor

To start, you need to strengthen the supporting muscles of your pelvis before you move on to more challenging exercises.

I go over the exercises you should do in The Best Pelvic Floor Exercises Postpartum.

I recommend that you do pelvic floor exercises early and often to help retrain the muscles that get weak during pregnancy and your delivery.

In general, you should do them every single day, up to 3 times per day.

pelvic-floor-exercises-postpartum

Strengthening The Core

As you start to feel ready, you can also begin incorporating gentle core exercises into your routine. 

This post goes over 4 great beginner core exercises you can do post-delivery.

I recommend that you wait at least 4-6 weeks before trying them. 

If you had a C-section, you may need to wait longer which is perfectly ok! Just continue walking and doing your pelvic floor exercises.

So, your postpartum fitness schedule might look something like this:

WEEK 120 MIN WALK5 MIN PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE
WEEK 222 MIN WALK5 MIN PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE
WEEK 325 MIN WALK5 MIN PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE
WEEK 428 MIN WALK5 MIN PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE5 MIN CORE EXERCISE
WEEK 530 MIN WALK5 MIN PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE5 MIN CORE EXERCISE
WEEK 630 MIN FAST PACE WALK5 MIN PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISE5 MIN CORE EXERCISE

Keep in mind that this is just an example.

You may not be able to follow these guidelines exactly, and THATS OKAY!

Just do your best and be consistent.  Consistency is by far the most important aspect of fitness. 

Never forget that!

Aim to do these workouts 4-5 times per week.

Step 3: Start Adding Other Forms of Exercise Into Your Postpartum Routine

Ok, now you should have a solid walking routine, and you’ve restored some strength to your core and pelvic floor.

Now, it’s time to start adding other forms of exercise to your routine.

But before doing so, make sure that you have clearance from your healthcare provider.  It’s also important that you wait until your 6-week postpartum visit to make sure everything is healing appropriately.

Once you get cleared, just make sure that you follow one rule.

This is the most important rule in postpartum fitness.

DON’T DO TOO MUCH TOO SOON.

You must always listen to your body when resuming exercise activity. 

In this post, I go over the risks of exercising too soon postpartum, and things to look out for.

With that said, if you start low and take it slow, you should be alright.

Here are the different types of workouts you can do.

The Best Types of Post Pregnancy Workouts

Below are the four different types of workouts you can do to get fit postpartum.

In the end, I’ll tell you which one I think is the best.

Running:

Running is a great way to exercise postpartum.  It is one of the best ways to improve your cardiovascular endurance and strengthen your legs. 

If you enjoy running, you can begin a running routine by the 6-week mark. Some women may need 12 weeks, so don’t jump the gun if you don’t feel ready.

Pros:

  • Improves cardiovascular endurance
  • Strengthens your leg muscles
  • Strengthens the bones in the lower body

Cons:

  • Can be repetitive
  • Requires being outdoors, or an indoor treadmill
  • Can be time-intensive

I have an entire post on a running routine you can follow postpartum.

how-to-run-postpartum

Yoga:

Yoga is another popular form of exercise you can do postpartum.  It’s convenient, relaxing, and accessible to everyone. 

If you’re ever feeling stressed or overwhelmed, yoga can help get you grounded again.

Pros:

  • Can be done anywhere
  • Minimal space is needed
  • Improves balance and coordination 
  • Great for stress relief

Cons:

  • Doesn’t burn as many calories as other forms of exercise
  • Inferior to other forms of exercise for muscle development

If you’re interested in trying yoga postpartum, here are four simple yoga poses to get you started.

yoga-postpartum-how-to-get-fit

Swimming:

The third type of exercise is swimming.  Swimming is a great form of exercise but has obvious limitations.

Because you are floating in the water, swimming does not strengthen your bones and joints, which is important to do in the postpartum period.

That’s why swimming shouldn’t be the only type of exercise you do after delivery.

Pros:

  • Improves cardiovascular endurance
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Easy on the joints

Cons:

  • Requires a pool
  • It is a non-weight bearing exercise
  • Inferior to other forms of exercise for muscle development
postpartum-swimming

In this post, I cover everything you need to know about swimming postpartum.

Now, here’s the last form of exercise, which is also my favorite.

Resistance Training:

I believe that almost all postpartum women should participate in resistance training.

Resistance training involves using some sort of external force to develop and strengthen your muscles.  These external forces can be purchased on Amazon and include:

The best part?

You can do it anywhere. 

Resistance training, in my opinion, is the best way to get fit as it can improve all modalities of fitness in one sitting.

Pros:

  • Strengthens and develops muscle tissue
  • Strengthens your bones and joints
  • Can improve cardiovascular endurance if done correctly
  • Can be done with minimal to no equipment

Cons:

  • You need to learn proper technique

Resistance training is the only way to increase your lean muscle mass. This will increase your metabolism, and the number of calories you burn on any given day.

Resistance training is also very time efficient. You can do workouts in as little as 15-30 minutes per day and see great results.

In this post, I go over a great beginner postpartum workout you can do with minimal equipment.

postpartum-resistance-training

Other Forms Of Exercise

These aren’t the only exercises you can do postpartum.

Another popular trend includes interval training fitness classes. These include things like CrossFit, cycling, dancing, and boxing.

I’ll go over these other forms of exercise in a future post.

Okay, that wraps up the exercise section.

Next is one of the biggest steps most women overlook when getting fit after pregnancy.

Step 4: You Will Not Lose Fat Unless You Clean Up Your Diet

You should already know that what you put into your mouth has a big effect on how you look and feel.

This is especially true after you deliver.  It’s common for you to feel hungry all the time after your pregnancy. Even more so if you’re breastfeeding.

Don’t think that you need to starve yourself postpartum to lose weight and get fit. It is important that you eat enough calories per day.

Calories that come from nutrient-rich sources. 

After you deliver, I want you to consume at least 2-3 servings of each of these foods on a daily basis

postpartum-nutrition

Fruits:

Fruits are nature’s dessert.

They can help satisfy your sweet tooth while providing your body with a lot of nutrients you can’t find anywhere else. They are full of fiber, antioxidants, and other vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay energized.

My favorites are apples, blueberries, kiwis, and bananas.

Vegetables:

Vegetables are the healthiest foods on the planet. They are the most calorically dilute foods- meaning you can eat a lot of them while still keeping your caloric intake low.

My favorites are spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and carrots. 

Protein:

Protein is the most important nutrient to help you build muscle and recover from your workouts. It is also great at keeping you full.

My favorite sources of protein are black beans, edamame and quinoa. 

Omega 3 Fats: 

Lastly, omega 3 fats are important nutrients because your body doesn’t make them.  You need to consume them in your diet.  They help fight inflammation, autoimmune diseases, anxiety and depression among many other things.

My favorites are walnuts and chia seeds.

I go over a few other important dietary and lifestyle strategies to help you lose weight and get fit postpartum here.

chia-seeds-nutrient-dense

Step 5: A Quick Word On Breastfeeding

If you can breastfeed, you should. It is nature’s secret weapon to help you lose body fat.

In addition, breastfeeding is a natural way to 

  1. Give your baby all of the wonderful nutrients you are consuming, and
  2. Help your body burn more calories.

With that said, not every woman can nor wants to breastfeed. If you don’t, that’s okay. You can use all of the other strategies I mentioned above to help you get fit!

Step 6: Optimizing Sleep

For the sixth and final step on getting fit after pregnancy, I want to touch on sleep. I have written about sleep and fat loss before.

In short, sleep deprivation is associated with high cortisol levels, weight gain, and water retention. 

Obviously, sleeping in the postpartum period is easier said than done.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sleep at all.

resting-post-delivery

In this post on how to lose belly fat postpartum, I go over a few strategies you can use to try and get more sleep postpartum. Any little bit can help!

Final Words On Getting Fit After Pregnancy

So as you can see, getting fit after pregnancy requires a lot of steps.  

But the good news is, you can take it one step at a time. You don’t have to do everything all at once. Pick and choose the steps that you can apply to your life, and do them often.

Do not forget, consistency is the most important thing in fitness.

Do it not only for yourself but also for your family.

Take care of your body, and watch it take care of you.

What are you struggling with the most postpartum?

What type of exercise are you most excited to start up again postpartum?

Comment below and let me know!

Other Related Articles on Postnatal Exercise


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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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