Getting Back in Shape

Physical activity helps you return to your pre-pregnancy shape and weight. After birth, your pelvic floor and abdomen (stomach area) need special attention. The following exercises tone and strengthen these areas.

Activity After Delivery

You can usually start these exercises within a few hours after a vaginal birth. If you had a cesarean birth, you should start more slowly. Ask your doctor when it's safe for you to start exercising.

Walking

Most doctors recommend that you get out of bed and walk within a few hours after giving birth, even after a cesarean birth. Walking helps circulation and improves bladder and bowel function. This helps prevent bladder infections and constipation. Walking also strengthens the abdominal muscles.

Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises help your pelvic floor muscles regain muscle tone and shape, prevent leaking of urine when coughing, laughing, or sneezing, and lessen hemorrhoid problems.

Abdominal Exercises

At first, repeat each exercise only a few times. You shouldn't feel tired afterward. If you feel tired, you're doing too much. Start out slowly following these steps:

  • Start each exercise with your lower back pressed firmly against the floor. You shouldn't be able to slide your fingers between your back and the floor.
  • Pull your abdominal muscles in. You can do this by pulling your belly button in toward your backbone. Keep the muscles pulled in during the exercise. Remember to keep breathing.
  • Breathe out as you do the movement. Breathe in as you relax between each movement. Each movement should be made slowly and smoothly.

More Exercises After Delivery

The following exercises are listed from the easiest to the hardest. You can do the first three — deep breathing, head lifts, and pelvic tilt — right after delivery.

Deep Breathing

You can do this while standing, sitting, or lying on your back. Have your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.

  • Place your hands on your abdomen and take a deep breath through your nose.
  • Breathe out very slowly through your mouth, pulling your abdomen in towards your back, until you feel you've completely emptied your lungs.
  • Repeat 5 times. Try to work up to 10 times by the end of the first week.

Head Lifts

This exercise helps prepare your abdomen for more strenuous exercises.

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and arms crossed over your chest or at your sides.
  • Breathe in.
  • Slowly breathe out and raise your head until you can see your knees. Hold for a count of 3.
  • Slowly lower your head.
  • Repeat 5 times, every 4 hours, increasing to 30 head lifts a day by the end of the first week.

Pelvic Tilt

Start by doing this exercise lying on your back with your knees bent.

  • Lie on your back on a firm surface, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Tighten your buttocks and slowly flatten the small of your back. With your hands on your hips, you should feel your pelvis tilt.
  • Hold for a slow count of 3 and then relax.
  • Slowly increase the hold to 5 seconds. Try to do this exercise 8 to 10 times a day by the tenth day.

Exercises to Start at Home

Wait until 10 days after delivery before you start the curl-ups and knees-to-chest exercises.

Knees-to-Chest

  • Lie on your back, knees bent and feet off the floor.
  • Tilt your pelvis to make sure your lower back is flat. You can help the tilt by placing your hands or fists palms down, under both sides of buttocks.
  • Breathe in.
  • Slowly breathe out as you slowly bring your knees as close to your chest as possible.
  • Slowly breathe out and return to starting position.
  • Repeat 3 times the first day. Slowly increase to 10 times a day.

Straight Curl-Ups

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about 12 inches apart. Reach your arms toward knees.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Slowly breathe out while flattening the small of your back (pelvic tilt) and curling your head and shoulders slowly forward towards your knees. Reach as far as you comfortably can.
  • Hold this position for a slow count of 5, then slowly roll down to your starting position. Relax the pelvic tilt.
  • Start with 4 to 6 repetitions the first day, gradually increasing to 8 to 12.

Diagonal Curl-Ups

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about 12 inches apart. Reach your arms toward knees.
  • Breathe out and slowly curl up, reaching your right hand to the outside of your left knee.
  • Slowly return to starting position as you breathe in.
  • Repeat, reaching your left hand toward outside of your right knee.
  • Start with 4 to 6 repetitions the first day. Slowly increase until you can do 8 to 12.
  • For a more difficult exercise, lift your knee to your opposite elbow, hands clasped behind head.

From the "Birth Day News" series.


Clinical review by Jane Dimer, MD
Group Health
Reviewed 03/01/2014
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