When Can I Lift Weights Postpartum? [Realistic Expectations]

So, you have a newborn, and you’re ready to get back into your old routine.

Maybe you did Crossfit. Or maybe you were a powerlifter. Or maybe you just want to lift weights for the first time.

So, when can you lift weights postpartum?

Most women should be able to lift weights 6-12 weeks after delivery. This depends on the type of delivery you had, how you healed, and your previous activity levels.

Keep reading to learn more.

lifting-weights-postpartum

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.

Is It Safe To Lift Weights After Giving Birth?

Yes, it’s totally safe to lift weights after giving birth. Lifting weights will help your body regain strength and mobility after your delivery.

You see, a lot of your muscles become loose and weak throughout the pregnancy. Especially the muscles of your core, and your hips.

This is due to a hormone called relaxin.

This hormone causes your bones and ligaments to loosen, which then allows your pelvis to get wider.

Unfortunately, your surrounding muscles get weak as a result. And can you guess which muscle gets the weakest?

Your booty!

Besides looking good, this muscle is so important in helping you maintain a healthy spine.

That’s why all moms should exercise after giving birth.

But…

It’s also very important that you don’t lift weights too soon postpartum. There’s a reason why we tell you to wait.

Next, let’s talk about how long you should wait.

When Can I Lift Weights Postpartum?

In general, many women who have a vaginal delivery can begin to lift weights 6 weeks postpartum. This is assuming you had an uncomplicated delivery, and you healed appropriately.

If you had any postpartum complications such as hemorrhage, infections, or preeclampsia, you may have to wait longer.

If you don’t feel ready to lift weights by the 6-week mark, that’s okay!

Do not feel bad.

And whatever you do, do not rush the process.

I have seen hundreds of women at their 6-week postpartum visit who aren’t ready to get back to their normal routine.

Every mom is different. Seriously. I cannot stress that enough.

If you do feel like you’re ready, just check in with your doctor before you decide to start lifting.

When Can You Start Lifting Weights After A C- Section?

If you had a c-section, you can start lifting weights after 8-12 weeks. That may seem like a long time, but understand that a c-section is major abdominal surgery.

workout-after-a-csection

Some women might be ready sooner, others won’t. This is also assuming that your c-section was uncomplicated.

So why do you have to wait so long?

Well, you have a scar in your lower abdomen that is approximately 10 cm wide! We also have to cut through several layers of tissue just to get the baby out.

Every single one of these layers has to heal before you can do any strenuous activity.

When we see you at the 6-week postpartum visit, we will assess how your body is healing. At that point, we can give you more personalized information.

How Long Does It Take You to Heal Internally From A Cesarean Section?

Everyone is highly individual, but for the most part, your incisions heal by the 6-week mark. However, it is important to understand that healed is different from ready.

Your muscles will still be sore, weak, and deconditioned. That is why we don’t want you to jump right back to the barbell.

You can actually begin exercising a lot sooner than this. In fact, the American College of OBGYN (ACOG), says women can return to exercising a couple of days after delivery.

But keep in mind that they aren’t referring to vigorous weight lifting.

Now let’s go over factors that determine if you need to wait longer or not.

Factors That Dictate How Early You Can Lift Weights

Ok, so how do you know if you can lift weights on the earlier side?

Here are three things you need to take into consideration.

Your Pre-Delivery Activity Levels:

If you lifted weights prior to giving birth, then you won’t need to wait as long. In fact, one of my good friends lifted heavy weights up until she was 39 weeks pregnant.

pregnancy-workout

In these cases, you will probably be able to start lifting weights sooner than 6 weeks if you had a vaginal delivery, and sooner than 8 weeks if you had a C-section.

Always start low, and go slow!

Postpartum Complications:

Sadly, a lot of women experience some type of complication in the postpartum period. These include:

  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • Placenta Accreta
  • Preeclampsia
  • DVT or PE
  • Extensive Vaginal Lacerations
  • Poor wound healing
  • Uterine infection, known as Endometritis
  • Breast infection, known as Mastitis

All of these complications are very serious and require prompt medical treatment.

If you had any of these, you shouldn’t be in a rush to go back to the gym.

Number of Deliveries:

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason with this next point.

No two pregnancies are the same.

pregnancy

Some women find that they recover more easily from their second pregnancy.

Some women don’t.

This is especially true of C-sections. Some women heal beautifully on the inside when they come back for their second c-section. Some women don’t.

I have been a part of many repeat c-sections that require extensive dissection through scar tissue. This may increase the recovery time from the surgery.

So don’t look back to your first pregnancy and expect everything to be the same!

What To Expect The First Week Postpartum

In this next section, let’s talk about what to expect in the early postpartum period. This is kind of like a timeline of what you might expect your return to the gym to look like.

Keep in mind this is just an example. You may be very different from this. If you have any concerns, be sure to speak with your provider.

Soreness

Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section, you can definitely expect to be sore.

A lot of muscles have to stretch to their full capabilities to get a baby out :). This soreness will get better over time.

In order to help it, there’s one thing you must be doing.

You Should Walk

Walking is the most important thing you can do after you deliver.

In fact, we expect to see you up in a chair or walking to the bathroom by yourself on postpartum day 1. (Unless you had one of the complications listed above).

postpartum-walking

Walking will help improve your total body circulation, and begin activating weak muscles of your hips and core.

It will also help prevent the formation of blood clots, aka DVTs.

Start slow, and increase the amount of walking you do each and every day.

I discuss the benefits of walking in the postpartum period in my post: Getting Fit After Pregnancy

Kegel Exercises

Whats an OBGYN’s favorite exercise? It’s the kegel.

It should be yours too. The kegel exercise is a pelvic floor strengthening exercise. To do it, you have to squeeze all of the muscles in your pelvis together as if you were trying to prevent yourself from pooping.

Sorry, that’s a gross image.

But it’s the best way to explain the exercise. Hold that muscle contraction for a few seconds, and then release. You should do this exercise every single day, multiple times per day.

Kegel-pregnancy-exercise

What To Expect Over The Next 2-3 Weeks

Most women go home on postpartum day 2 (from a vaginal delivery), or postpartum day 3 or 4 (from a c-section).

At this point, you should be able to walk some.

Take these next several days to get comfortable walking more and more. If you had a C-section, even sitting up from a lying position will be tough.

Just do your best to get some movement in, every day.

Over the first 2-3 weeks, you can start to include other types of activity into your routine.

Here are some common things you can do.

Gentle Stretching

It is ok to try some gentle stretching during the first couple of weeks postpartum. Do not overexert yourself.

If it hurts, then STOP.

You don’t have to do anything spectacular. Simple 5-10 second holds will be enough in the beginning.

3 Common Stretches

Chest Opener

To perform this stretch, face the corner of a wall and place your elbows on the sides of the wall. Then lean forward with your feet flat on the ground while maintaining a neutral spine.

Here is what it looks like:

chest-opener-stretch

Standing Lunge

To perform this stretch, find a chair or box that is at the level or your knee to mid-thigh. Lift your leg onto the chair or box and lean forward while keeping the back leg straight and maintaining a neutral spine.

Here is what it looks like:

standing-lunge-stretch

Lying Knees To Chest

To perform this exercise, lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Grab the outside of your lower legs and pull them to up towards your chest while keeping your hips wide open.

Here is what it looks like.

lying-knees-to-chest-stretch

Bodyweight Exercises

Another thing you can start doing at this point is bodyweight exercise. (Only if you feel ready for it).

The best way to do this is to start with the squat.

Check out my post on how to squat to learn more.

Another low impact exercise you can do for your upper body is the wall push-up. To perform this exercise, find a corner and perform a push up.

Here’s what it looks like.

wall-push-up

Over the next few weeks, you should continue with these bodyweight exercises to prepare your body again for weights.

Continue to Strengthen the Pelvic Floor

Remember those kegel exercises we just talked about? Keep on doing them.

The muscles of your pelvic floor are super weak during the postpartum period. Continue doing kegels every day, at least 3 times a day.

What To Expect By Your 6 Week Postpartum Visit

Okay, you’ve made it to your postpartum visit.

If you had a vaginal delivery, you might be feeling pretty good by now. If you don’t, that’s still normal. Your doctor will be able to tell you if they see anything medical that needs attention.

If you had a C-section, your scars should be healed at this point. You may still experience soreness in your abdominal region, but this shouldn’t prevent you from moving.

You can probably begin gentle bodyweight exercises at this point if you haven’t already.

If you have already been doing your bodyweight exercises, you may be ready to start lifting some weight.

But as always…

Get Clearance From Your Doctor First

If you didn’t have any significant postpartum complications, and everything checks out: I.e.

  • Your vital signs are normal
  • Your perineum is healed
  • Your physical exam is normal

You will likely get clearance to start lifting weights. You will also be instructed to work your way back up slowly.

If you had a C-section, your doctor will look at the scar and perform a more thorough physical examination. If everything is normal, your doctor may give you clearance for gentle bodyweight exercises. (Assuming you haven’t already started.)

Do Not Expect To Get Right Back Into Your Routine

At this point, it is important to understand that you should take your time.

This isn’t the time to try and set personal bests or go back to heavy deadlifts. You will need to train like a beginner again.

Postpartum-training

Why?

Your muscles are still loose and weak. This is due to the hormone relaxin, which can take a few months to leave your system.

If you go too hard too soon, you can risk straining your muscles bad.

Here are some tips for getting back into it.

Starting To Exercise Again With Weights

Start easy

Use the easiest variation possible. If this means using a machine, then use a machine. If you normally use a barbell, then use dumbbells.

Don’t go back to the gym and immediately do 4 sets of 12 of five different exercises. Instead, do 1-2 sets of 8 repetitions of two to three exercises.

Use the empty barbell

Once you get back to the barbell, start with the empty barbell. You will need to relearn exercises like the squat and the deadlift.

If you are using dumbbells, start with the 10lbs dumbbells.

This is no time to be shameful. Swallow your pride and do it right.

Stay hydrated

This is great advice for everyone. Especially if you are breastfeeding.

Drink at least 1 cup of water with every single meal. Once you get back to a workout routine, drink another 1-2 cups throughout the day.

postpartum-hydration

Staying hydrated will help prevent fatigue from dehydration as well as muscle cramps.

Take 6+ weeks to work up

After you return to the barbell, work your way up slowly. 

Use the concept of progressive overload.

This means adding 5-10lbs to an exercise every week, not 20 lbs.

Or you can do more reps of an exercise. Or more sets. There are many ways to make progress.

JUST TAKE YOUR TIME!

Things To Look Out For

As you are continuing your routine, pay very close attention to how your body is responding.

In these situations, you must use your intuition. Listen to your body as much as possible.

Here are three obvious things to look out for:

Pain

If any exercise hurts, then don’t do it.

There are so many different variations of an exercise that you can do. Find something that doesn’t hurt and do that instead.

Don’t take the risk of injuring yourself.

Heavy Bleeding

I have written about the relationship between exercising in the postpartum period and bleeding.

If you stick to the recommended time frame, it is unlikely that you’ll experience an increase in bleeding.

But if you do, stop lifting weights and talk to your provider.

Worsening Incontinence

I’m sorry to tell you that many women experience urinary incontinence after giving birth. This is because the muscles and the ligaments that support your bladder and urethra are stretched.

This is what we are referring to when we say “weakened pelvic floor muscles.”

postpartum-incontinence

Kegel exercises are the first-line treatment for this type of incontinence. If you notice significant or worsening symptoms, stop lifting weights and see your provider.

What About Core Exercises?

There are many conflicting opinions about doing core exercises in the postpartum period.

It is natural for the muscles of your rectus abdominis to become stretched out, causing a condition known as diastasis recti. Here’s how to check and see if you have it. I have also created an entire post on 100 corrective exercises you could perform to help fix this problem.

Postpartum Weightlifting Program

Are you interested in a postpartum weightlifting program?

In the near future, I will be designing a custom gym workout program for moms looking to get stronger and lose fat.

Sign up to my list to be kept updated.

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What About Cardio Postpartum?

Cardio is a whole other topic that I have covered in: Running Postpartum

In general, you can return to cardio or aerobic-based exercise sooner than weight lifting. It obviously depends on the type of cardio you are doing.

Lower impact exercises can be done in just 1-2 weeks postdelivery.

Final Thoughts

Lifting weights is a beneficial activity that all new mothers should do after delivery.

If you already lifted weights before, start low, and go slow.

Always get clearance from your provider, and listen to the signals coming from your beautiful body.

To learn more about what exercises you can perform in the postpartum period, check out my Guide to Getting Fit after Pregnancy.

I’ll see you next time.

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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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