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Timeline to exercise

This article looks at a women's timeline to exercise postpartum.
A woman in a gym looking at her watch.
© Shutterstock/Yakobchuk Viacheslav

Let’s take a look at a suitable timeframe to return to exercise following childbirth. This is a general guide for women in full health. If you have experienced health issues such as abdominal muscle separation, pelvic floor dysfunction or urinary incontinence, or if you have concerns about your postnatal recovery or symptoms, you should seek help from a women’s health physiotherapist who is specifically trained and skilled in postpartum recovery.

Check with your maternity hospital, gynaecologist or doctor to find out how you can be referred to a women’s health physiotherapist in your locality.

When to exercise

First few days after birth

  • For normal vaginal births, you can start very gentle pelvic floor exercises in the first few days after birth.
  • If you had a caesarean section, wait until your catheter (tube in your bladder after surgery) has been removed before you begin pelvic floor exercises. Remember, a caesarean section is a major surgery and you shouldn’t lift anything heavier than your baby up until 6 weeks after birth.

Safe exercises

Exercises to engage your core (deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor)

  1. Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Gently draw in the lower abdominal muscles as if hugging the baby when pregnant. Hold for up to 10 seconds. Keep breathing during the exercise.
  3. While lying on your back, flatten your lower back against the bed and release. Do these pelvic tilts five times x 5.
  4. While lying on your back, engage lower tummy muscles by gently turning and twisting your knees side to side. Do this five times.

Exercises to avoid

  • Sit-up type movements
  • High impact activities
  • Weight lifting activities

6-8 weeks after birth

  • Wait until after your 6-8 week check-up before returning to light, gentle exercise.
  • Avoid abdominal crunches and curl-ups, if your tummy muscles have separated. Visit a women’s health physiotherapist before starting or re-starting exercise, if you have muscle separation.
  • If you experience any pain, heaviness, dragging or incontinence while doing these low impact exercises, contact your women’s health physiotherapist or physician.

Low impact exercises

  • Long walks
  • Low impact aerobics,
  • Gentle stretching
  • T’ai chi
  • Stationary bike
  • Swimming (when you have had 7 days in a row without vaginal bleeding).

3 months after birth

  • If you have had a caesarean section, and you are considering going back to the gym or exercise class stop exercising if you feel any discomfort, pain or a pulling sensation on your scar, and try again in a couple of weeks.
  • Do not return to high impact sports, such as running, before 3 months postpartum or if you have any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Moderate impact exercises

  • Postnatal Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Power walking
  • Zumba
  • Ballroom dancing

High impact exercises

  • Running
  • Circuit training
  • Rope skipping

6 months after birth

  • While you can return to high impact sports from 3 months postpartum, (provided you do not have any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction) remember that up to 4-6 months postpartum the hormone relaxin may still be present in your body, which increases your risk of injury.
  • Use proper posture and technique while exercising and think about your safety if you enjoy activities where falls or impacts can occur.

  • Hiking
  • Rock climbing
  • Mountain biking
  • High intensity sports, such as weight training, martial arts, rugby.

Exercise timeline

This is a table of different exercises that you can do postpartum. At 0 to 6 weeks you can draw in abdominals, do pelvic tilts, twists, and pelvic floor muscle exercises. At 6 to 8 weeks you can go walking, use a static bike, go swimming, and do Tai Chi. At 3 months you can do yoga, go cycling, go running, and do skipping. At 6 months you can go climbing, do karate, lift weights, and play rugby. Please note that this is a general guideline for women in full health and may not be suitable for women recovering from Caesarean section, abdominal muscle separation, pelvic floor dysfunction or other health problems. Before returning to exercise please consult with your healthcare professional.

Motivate yourself

  • Make a list of your exercise goals and your reasons for exercising. Keep the list of motivations somewhere visible.
  • Set aside time to exercise and set a reminder on your phone.
  • Focus on your short-term goals, such as improving your mood and reducing stress, instead of goals such as weight loss, which may take longer for results.
  • Make exercising fun and pick an exercise you enjoy. Do it with a friend, join a mum and baby exercise class, and listen to music or a podcast while you exercise.
  • If you skip a few days, don’t get discouraged. Just start again, and build yourself up slowly.
  • Think of the benefits that exercise has on your long-term health goals. What do you want your physical health to look like as your children reach adulthood? Can exercise help you with these goals?

Always listen to your body.

If you had any complications during pregnancy or while giving birth, or you have any medical problems, talk to your midwife, doctor or physiotherapist before starting any type of exercise.

© Trinity College Dublin
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Women’s Health After Motherhood

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