As long as your smart about it, you can return to the gym after giving birth within weeks.
First of all, I’m not a Obstetrician so my opinion is based on i) research I’ve read and ii) anecdote (what I’ve seen with me own eyes and experiences) and iii) exactly that, opinion. So remember, if you’ve or someone you know have just become a Mum and are wanting to return to the gym just make sure you ask your doctor about first before training, by all means if they say “you can’t train” make sure you kindly challenge them as to why but always ask first. Chances are, if your birth was not complicated you should be able to train within several weeks.
Secondly I’m not a Mum, I’m a Dad so I’ll try and stay in my lane as much as I can…
A return to the gym postpartum can be tricky. Between irregular sleep, feeling like your breastfeeding every 60 seconds, and all the hormones that are moving about the last thing a new mother may want to think about is getting back to the gym.
Add to that, a totally new body. One that is stretched out in some places, engorged in others, and heavier overall and the postpartum fun of bladder leakage, it’s a miracle Mums return to the gym at all.
As with pregnancy, there’s no one-size-fits-all program that will whip a postpartum Mum into shape relinquishing all evidence of the baby that was not that long ago being carried. Every new Mum’s return to fitness is unique.
Here is a rough map of how a woman, in general, can (or even should) return to the world of exercise post-baby. This is not gospel per se and the amounts of time are very dependent but for simplicity returning to training is split up into 3 phases:
- Stage 1 – Movement: light fitness, such as walking around the block.
- Stage 2 – Exercise: more intense fitness, such as cycling or aerobics, to get the heart rate up and the body sweating with some mild weight training.
- Stage 3 – Training: a return to a dedicated strength/fitness program, in this case, a lifting regimen.
Stage 1 – Movement
(the first six weeks)
The magic number for a return to training after having a baby is six-weeks. But really, most women who have uncomplicated labors and vaginal deliveries are physically able to do simple movements (e.g. walking) and easy exercises (e.g. pelvic tilts) prior to the six-week mark.
Instead of rushing back to the old workout routine, doctors suggest women treat the postpartum months as a rehabilitation period. It typically takes the uterus six to eight weeks to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size. Bleeding and discharge also takes between one to two months to subside.
WARNING: If you return to training and are still experiencing discharge to use the level of bleeding as an indicator of whether you are pushing too hard too fast.
Finally, returning to movement can just be a way to take a mental break. It is amazing how much 2-3 laps around the block, getting fresh air and some vitamin D can change your headspace.
Stage 2 – Exercise
(approx 12 weeks postpartum)
Also known as the fourth trimester, the first three months after bub came into the world can be a can be as much miserable as it is a joyous gift. Typically, around 12-14 week mark postpartum, things start to become easier. He/she is sleeping longer, your body is well on its way to healing, and hormones begin to level out. Happy days!
It’s around this time that a woman feels comfortable returning to more vigorous forms of exercise. Pending any lingering complications or major pains, she should be in the clear.
Phase 3 – Training
(approx. 16-20 weeks postpartum)
When you start to lift weights again, do so with caution. Ligaments may still be loose from lingering hormones. The pelvic floor may still need strengthening. And strength may not be on par with an athlete’s expectations.
Take it slow and follow these guidelines:
Your body took time to change in direction, it need time to change back in the other direction. Strength, speed, balance, coordination, accuracy, and agility need to be re-developed over time. The body is designed to heal itself, but this doesn’t happen overnight or even in six weeks.
Ditch the belt! If you need a belt to lift less than your body weight, you most likely need to strengthen your core with other exercises. As you’re re-developing your strength you should be re-developing your core anyways.
Start back as if you’re a beginner!
This is more about mindset as opposed to ability. It is easier to get back into training at a slower (beginner) rate then jumping straight back into training at 90% of your pre-pregnancy 1RM.
Don’t just lift!
Keep getting outside, you and baby! You now have this little thing that depends on you being well and happy. So get out and do this things that happy people do. Make time to walk, run, swim, gym, outdoor bootcamp, learn a martial art, whatever makes you happy.