While there should never be any pressure for new mums to “bounce back” to their “pre-baby bodies”, doing regular, doctor-approved exercise after childbirth has a range of health benefits. And aside from physical health, getting active can also help with psychological wellbeing and social interaction in those challenging first few weeks (and months).
Chloe Lorback, 28 by Sam Wood’s resident Pregnancy Expert & Physiotherapist, shares the best exercises you can do at six, eight and twelve weeks postpartum.
Six weeks postnatal
Ok, so you’ve survived the first six weeks! Around about now, you’ll head back to your doctor to check that everything is healing well, and all being well, you’ll get the all clear to get back into some gentle exercise.
Low impact exercise is the best option at this time, to allow your body to continue to gently heal, and ease back into it. Your goal should be to get moving, gently and safely. This is a time for gently working muscles that may have been stretched and weakened during pregnancy. The focus now is on gently working your pelvic floor muscles and tummy muscles.
Walking with the pram is great, so your baby comes with you, and gentle workouts at home like the 28 by Sam Wood postnatal program are ideal, so you can fit them in whenever it suits you best. Babies are unpredictable, so it often makes it tricky to get along to a class or the gym at a set time. And babies seem to need feeding ALL THE TIME is the early days, making it tricky to get out.
Remember if you have any pain, or a feeling of heaviness in the vagina or bottom, or any other concerns, stop exercising and check in with your doctor.
Top 5 exercises at 6 weeks postnatal
Walking for 30 minutes daily
Pelvic floor exercises – Aim for 5 x 5 second holds, 3 times a day. I used to do my squeezes every time I fed my baby, that way I just got into the habit of doing them, otherwise it’s too easy to forget!
Deep tummy muscle activation – Pull your lower tummy in, engaging your deep tummy muscles, and keep them pulled in for 3 breaths. Then release. Do 5 repetitions. Do these after doing your pelvic floor exercises, to help your abdominal muscles safely tighten up and strengthen.
Squats – Bust out 20 great squats when you are changing your baby’s nappy. This helps to get your legs and glutes fired up. You need strong legs to manage all the lifting that you’ll be doing. Having strong legs means you’re less likely to overuse or strain your back. My babies loved being cuddled while I did squats, they loved the up and down bouncy feeling and it often sent them off to sleep. Multitasking!
Wall or bench push ups – Pump out 15 bench push ups after you brush your teeth, so you’ll be getting it done without thinking.
Top 5 exercises at 8 weeks postnatal
You can gradually start to increase your cardio from now, maintaining low impact moves to avoid too much pressure on your recovering pelvic floor and tummy muscles.
Walking – Up the intensity by going a little faster, or add in some hills. This will get your heart rate up and get the endorphins flowing.
Cat / Cow stretch – On all fours, round through your shoulders and tuck your chin to your chest, tuck your tailbone under and stretch your spine. Then slowly reverse, looking up and gently arching your back. Do this 4 or 5 times, or more if it’s feeling good!
Calf raises – Rise up onto the balls of your toes, squeezing your calf muscles, and slowly lower. Do this 15 times, twice a day. This is great for helping your circulation, and for strengthening all the muscles around your ankles and feet.
Superman – A great core exercise. In hands and knees position, gently pull your lower tummy muscles in, and reach opposite arm and leg away, while keeping your back still. Aim for 10 on each side. And keep breathing freely throughout.
Chest stretch – Stand up tall and reach your hands behind your back, interlace your fingers and stretch your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and keep breathing. Do it after every feed. It feels great!
Top 5 exercises at 12 weeks postnatal
Twelve weeks is a significant turning point in your recovery. Often you start to feel stronger now, and you are getting into some kind of rhythm / routine with your baby, so you can plan your day a little more.
Walk / jog – Around now you can start to add in some higher intensity exercise (if you feel like it!) Start gradually, adding in short bursts of jogging every few minutes on your walk, or crank up the intensity
Modified plank – A great exercise to strengthen your core. Starting on your hands and knees, come down onto your elbows and keep your elbows on the floor, as you step your legs out to straight. Hold for 5 seconds, then rest your knees back on the floor.
Lunges – Progress from your squats, and mix it up with some lunges. I like to do a lunge walk down my hallway, alternating legs each side, so you end up doing about 10 on each leg. Hold your baby for added resistance!
Side plank – Lying on your side, push up onto your elbow and knees, activating your side waist muscles, your obliques. Hold for 10 seconds, and slowly lower. Keep breathing, and then repeat on the opposite side.
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