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Work it Out: How Much and What Type of Exercise After Baby Arrives?

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

You’ve got an infant and it seems like you’re in constant motion, but are you really exercising? Here’s how to get back in the post-pregnancy workout habit, or start a new one, after the baby arrives.

When to Start Exercising After Giving Birth

As long as you had a healthy pregnancy and delivery, you can probably begin walking for exercise a few weeks fairly soon after your baby is born. If you had a cesarean section, you’ll need to wait longer to be active so that you can recover from the surgery.

Check with your health-care provider about how much physical activity is good for you. Working out too hard right away may sap the energy you need to take care of your family. Breastfeeding women must eat enough calories and drink adequate fluid to fuel their exercise.

How Much Exercise You Need

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG), adults, including postpartum women, need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking.

Healthy women who already do vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, can continue with their workouts after delivery. Chances are, however, you’ll need to start out slowly before getting back to your pre-pregnancy exercise routine.

Consider Exercise Intensity

Experts recommend moderate-intensity exercise and vigorous-intensity exercise that increase your heart rate and help you reap the benefits of physical activity, including improving your mood during the postpartum period, helping with weight loss, and keeping your heart and lungs healthy.

Any movement is good, but it’s interesting to note that that vigorous activity provides nearly the same health benefits in half the time. That means running for 30 minutes is just about equal to walking briskly for 60 minutes – good news for people with little time to exercise.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.

Here are some examples of activities of moderate-intensity exercises:

  • Brisk walking (3 miles an hour; 20 minutes a mile)
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bike slower than 10 miles an hour (6 minutes a mile)
  • Playing doubles tennis

During vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate goes up quite a bit.

Here are some examples of vigorous-intensity activities:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Riding a bike faster than 10 miles an hour (6 minutes a mile)
  • Playing singles tennis
  • Aerobic dancing

Include Strength Training Exercise

The PAG also recommend strengthening your muscles at least 2 days a week with resistance training.

There are many ways to strengthen muscles, at home and elsewhere, including:

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Push-ups and sit ups
  • Heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling)
  • Yoga

Fitting in the Exercise You Need

As a busy mom, you may think it’s impossible to include the suggested amount of exercise in your busy schedule, and some weeks, it will be. Start slowly to get back into the habit of working out or to start fresh.

It’s best to spread exercise throughout the week. Aim for 30 minutes a day five days a week of moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise. There’s need to get all 30 minutes at once. For example, break it up into smaller chunks during the day, such as 3 10-minute blocks or 2 15-minute blocks.

If you can’t get to the gym, keep a set of weights and resistance bands, and DVDs or shows available to follow along with to get the strength training you need twice a week. You’ll get that post baby body back in no time.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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