Postnatal fitness: when can you start exercise after birth?

Learn about postnatal exercise including when you can start exercise after pregnancy with examples of safe, low impact ways of maintaining fitness after giving birth.

It might be the last thing on your mind but starting or re-starting exercise after the birth of your baby can help your body recover after giving birth, keep you fit and also help you to relax by giving you some time to yourself.

How long after giving birth can I start to exercise?

Unless you exercised regularly before the birth of your baby, it's generally advisable to wait for your six-week postnatal check-up before you start to exercise again. If you had a caesarean birth you will probably have to wait a little longer (perhaps eight to 10 weeks) for your body to recover before you start doing exercise.

Tips on starting exercise postnatally

The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise offers the following tips to new mums:

  • Invest in a new sports bra as your breasts will need support when exercising. Along with reducing the risk of stretch marks, a well fitted bra will also help with upper body posture and back pain. A bra that is too tight may also cause mastitis, a condition that causes your breasts to become inflamed.
  • Be sure to get your feet properly measured, as they may have increased in size during pregnancy. A good fitting pair of trainers will provide greater ankle stability.
  • If you're breastfeeding, feed before exercising.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise.
  • Don’t exercise on an empty stomach.
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily activities as much as possible (see low impact exercise below).
  • Swap your exercise session for a rest if you're feeling particularly tired.
  • Stop immediately if you feel any pain or change exercise if you feel uncomfortable.

Whenever you feel ready to start exercise, it can also be helpful to speak with your health visitor or GP.

Low impact exercise

Low impact exercise comes in many shapes and forms and you can start exercise, such as walking and cycling whenever you feel ready. When your postnatal bleeding (lochia) has stopped, swimming can also be a good option.

Other low impact exercise can include:

  • Pushing your pram briskly - remembering to keep your back straight.
  • Squatting (knees bent and back straight) rather than stooping to pick things up from the floor will help to strengthen your thigh muscles.

High impact and high intensity exercise after birth

No matter how fit you were before your pregnancy, try and avoid attempting high impact exercise until at least three months after the birth of your child. After giving birth your back and core abdominal muscles are likely to be weaker than before pregnancy whilst your ligaments and joints will be less firm, increasing the risk of your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis and spine buckling under impact. Added to which your pelvic floor will also have been weakened by the weight of your baby so if you run or jump, pressure is exerted on these muscles which may cause stress incontinence.

If you find that you are having incontinence problems, ask your GP for a referral to an obstetric physiotherapist.

Be realistic

Try not to feel pressured into doing too much too soon when it comes to exercise after having your baby. If you overdo it, you're likely to feel run-down and take longer to recover from workout sessions.

Every mum's recovery will be different so avoid comparing yourself to others. It can take up to 12 months to return to the shape you were before pregnancy so set yourself realistic goals, listen to your body and take each day as it comes.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. 

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

You might also like to try one of our Relax & Stretch with Baby classes, which are friendly yoga inspired sessions for mums and their babies. The classes are a great way to get back into exercise after the birth of your baby. 

NHS Birth to Five guide offers information on Health and Fitness for new parents

Organisations such as The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise and the YMCA can help you find organised exercise classes in your area. Many gyms and leisure centres offer classes for new mothers, and either allow you to bring your baby along, or offer a crèche facilities.