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Returning to exercise

Deirdre Daly gives tips on how to return to exercise after giving birth in this video.
Some women may face challenges when returning to exercise after giving birth. It may be that you struggled with fitness or even weight issues before you got pregnant or had health problems during your pregnancy, like diabetes, pelvic girdle pain, or high blood pressure. Now the baby’s here. You may feel exhausted. You might be juggling the demands of the new baby, running a house, minding other children. You may have pain or discomfort following the birth. For example, some women may have problems controlling when they pass urine or even stools. Some may have backache or pelvic girdle pain. And some may even have experienced separation of the tummy muscles. When’s the right time to restart or even start exercising after giving birth?
There isn’t an awful lot of published evidence on the topic. Generally, women’s health physiotherapists would say, the first six weeks are all about healing. And the second six weeks are about strengthening and returning to your pre-pregnancy fitness levels. For example, if you’re in full health, had a normal vaginal birth, you can start your pelvic floor exercises immediately. And you can be walking within the first two weeks. After about eight weeks, you could start returning to swimming if your vaginal bleeding has stopped. You can return to running about 12 weeks but really not before then. And you may need to delay this even further if you’ve any pain or health problems.
So what’s right for you, and what are the things you need to think about? How did you give birth? The first question to think about is how you gave birth. If you had a vaginal birth, did you have a tear or a cut to your perineum, the area between the opening to the vagina and the back passage? If so, that needs time to heal. Did you have a caesarean section? That’s major surgery. You’ll have an abdominal wound, a tummy wound. That needs time to heal. And your body will have to recover from the surgery. On top of this, you need to think about any complications that you might have experienced– wound infection, wound that’s slow to heal.
And in that case, you should really consult a health professional before returning to exercise. What type of exercise did you do before pregnancy? The first thing to think about is you. Exercise is essential for all of us. It helps keeps us healthy and strong. It’s good for our mental health and well-being. And it has a powerful effect on how we feel about ourselves and about our bodies. It’s also a great way to socialise and have fun with friends. If you didn’t do much exercise before you were pregnant, are you finding it difficult to start introducing exercise into your routine? The big question for you is, how can you get started? How can you make time for you?
And how can you stay motivated to keep exercising as part of a healthy life? First, start small and build up gradually. When you’re pregnant, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which softens the ligaments, thus the tissues between the bones in your body and in your pelvis and to help prepare your body for birth. This allows these tissues to stretch more so than they do in non-pregnant women. But it also means that they can be overstretched and get injured during high impact exercise like running. Your pelvic floor muscles are also affected during pregnancy because of relaxing. And they can be weakened and become prone to injury during exercise.
To prevent injury, start with a daily walk or a 10-minute exercise video in your living room. The more often you do exercise, the easier it will become. And you’ll be able to move from gentle to moderate exercises. Second, find time for you. Think about who can help and support you. Exercising regularly requires time and a really good routine. Do you have any family or friends around you who can support you by minding your baby? Are there any gyms near you that offer child minding facilities or baby and mother classes? Have you any friends who’ve had a young baby recently and they could join you in exercising? Lastly– and this is the challenging one– find your motivation.
We’re all familiar with the really good intentions fizzling out by February. To avoid this, let’s start by focusing on why. Why do you really want to maintain a regular exercise routine? Is it to lose weight, build up muscle tone? Do you want to feel healthy, sharp, strong? Maybe exercise gives you a positive rush and helps you to manage your daily stresses. Whatever your reason, research suggests that the stronger your personal why when you take on a new activity, the more likely you are to stick with it. If you are really physically active before you gave birth, then you’ll probably be familiar with exercising regularly and have developed routines.
And you’ll probably be eager to return to exercising as soon as possible. So here are some of the challenges you may face. Finding time for you. All new mothers have many time-consuming responsibilities that make it difficult to find time to exercise. But your physical and mental health is really important. As we mentioned earlier, get friends or family to help and even find ways to exercise with your child. Start gently. It can be frustrating not being able to do some of the more vigorous exercises that you’ve done before pregnancy. And you may be tempted to jump back into a more demanding routine. But it’s really important for you to be gentle with yourself as you return to exercise.
So remember the effect of the relaxin hormone means that you are more at risk of injury. So take your time. Build up to your previous levels slowly. And get to know what your body can handle as you return to exercise.

In this section, we will be exploring what women should think about before returning to exercise after having a baby. We will listen to mothers’ experiences of returning to exercise, and you will have a timeline to plan your return to exercise.

Take a look at the See Also section below for more resources on returning to exercise postpartum.

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Women’s Health After Motherhood

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