After giving birth, doctors recommend women take time to recover. In some cases, women who gave birth naturally are up and about, maybe even engaging in light exercise soon after delivery, but a general guideline is to wait at least six weeks before embarking on an exercise plan, especially for women who had a C-section.
I recently taught a postpartum workshop for women whose babies were at least eight weeks old. We focused on core strengthening and worked on shaping different body parts again, as well as strengthening and opening them to reverse the effects that the pregnancy may have had on their bodies, posture and mood.
If you were diagnosed with a condition called diastasis recti (abdominal separation), the focus is on becoming aware of the different layers of ab muscles and healing the muscles from the inside out starting with the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis, as mentioned in this article.
If you haven't been diagnosed with diastasis recti and experienced a normal healing process and have your doctor's green light to exercise again, here are some ideas to get started:
1. The arms
Tone your arms with exercises that involve resistance bands or push ups (on knees or in full plank). You can incorporate small weights and do yoga. In addition to working the arms, make sure to do chest openers and pay attention to alignment in the shoulders to ensure balance in the shoulder girdle and easier distribution of the baby weight. In your daily life, try holding the baby on the weaker side from time to time to avoid hunching and back pain.
2. The legs
They were your weight bearing champions during the pregnancy and now you're likely on your feet even more. Do exercises that focus on increasing the range of motion in the legs and tone areas such as the inner thighs. Barre and ballet classes are great for toning and they are very popular right now. Make sure to keep your pelvis tucked and the hips leveled, especially if you experienced sciatic pain during the pregnancy or have issues with your SI joint. At home, you can always do a few squats while holding the baby and remind yourself of pelvic alignment while you nurse.
3. The hips and glutes
Strong hips are the foundation of balance in the whole body and open hips are the foundation of emotional balance. You can work your glutes doing bridges with variations and make sure to stretch the area you focused on. As someone who tends to hold a lot of negative emotion in the hips, yoga poses that open them up are essential to me. You can do pigeon pose or ankle to knee. You can do the figure 4 stretch lying down or—if you have your balance back—standing, with your ankle crossed over your knee and reaching for the floor.
4. The core and waist
Strengthening these areas is not just to give you your bikini body back and a flat stomach. Working the lower back will reverse the effects that carrying a baby during pregnancy had on your posture. Along with pelvic stabilization exercises you can incorporate planks into your routine or bow and locust pose in yoga to address lower back issues such as sciatica. As part of your core, the pelvic floor can be strengthened with stabilization exercises and of course Kegel exercises. (But you've probably already heard that many times.)
Adjusting to life with a new baby can be difficult and you should listen to your gut to not overdo exercise in the first months after giving birth. Just as before your pregnancy, the best way to be motivated will be to enjoy the exercises, to have a good mind-body connection, and to incorporate relaxation techniques such as meditation, too.