One of the biggest myths about postpartum recovery and postpartum return to exercise is that you cannot or should not do anything before being cleared by your provider at your six-week checkup.
This is false.
Doing nothing for six weeks, then jumping right back into your “normal” exercise routine is not an appropriate (and definitely not the safest!) way to get back into exercise after having a baby.
The great news is there’s a lot you can do before being medically cleared that is safe, effective and beneficial for your body’s recovery!
Intentional movement – not necessarily a “workout” in normal terms – is going to be key in the first few weeks, and I want to help guide you through each piece of the puzzle. These movements will help you feel more functional, feel more energized, experience less aches and pains, and feel more like yourself during a time where you feel anything but yourself.
A side note: the following is generalized guidance. Every woman’s postpartum experience and recovery timeline is different, so always do what is best for you!
So with that, here are the six different postpartum recovery components to include in your first six weeks:
Up front, rest may not technically seem like an “exercise” to do postpartum, but it is one of the most crucial pieces in setting you up for a strong, smooth recovery! In the first 1-2 weeks especially, rest should be your top priority. Rest means:
- Sleeping whenever possible and not feeling guilty or stressed about leaving tasks undone
- Laying or sitting down when you’re not sleeping
- Delegating every task possible (cleaning, laundry, cooking, paying bills, shopping, etc.) to whoever your support person/people are
- Mentally resting by doing whatever it is that allows you to relax. Shutting off emails, meditating, watching a mindless show, reading a book, whatever it is that relaxes you – do it!
Pretty much, rest comes down to only doing the things that you can do: like sleeping, laying, eating, showering, etc. Every other task should be delegated so you can make rest your priority.
Ideally, rest should account for 23.5+ hours of your day in the first 6 weeks postpartum, with the other 15-30 minutes or so allocated to the following 5 components to your strongest recovery.
Walking is crucial in regaining your body’s natural functionality! It helps improve blood flow, decrease clotting, loosen up tight joints and muscles, and helps build back core stability and function.
I recommend starting with daily short 5-minute walks starting in either week 1 or 2, then adding 5 minutes to your walk each week until you feel comfortable walking for a full 30 minutes without symptoms, fatigue or pain.
As you walk, it’s important to keep posture and breathing top of mind for even greater benefits. Keep that rib cage stacked on top of the hips to reduce rib flare, spread those toes, keep the shoulders pulled back and down, look forward with a neutral spine, and walk through the hips on each stride. Take deep, big breaths, letting that belly inflate on each inhale, and deflate on each exhale. This will help us reestablish tension and connection with our core, even when we’re doing something as simple as walking!
The breath described in the walking routine is something called diaphragmatic breathing. You may also hear this called belly breathing, 360 breath, the connection breath, or some other variation.
Regardless of the name, it all has the same purpose: to help us restore and recover our deep core and pelvic floor muscles. Here’s how it works:
- On the inhale, your belly inflates as you relax your core and pelvic floor
- On the exhale, your belly deflates as your core engages and pelvic floor lifts
We focus on breath to help manage pressure within our core system (which includes both the deep core and pelvic floor).
Since our core and pelvic floor weaken from being stretched throughout our pregnancy, we work with the natural pressure of our breath to restore their natural function, which is to stabilize our bodies for movement.
Light mobility and stretching
Our bodies can get so tight and strained from daily motherhood tasks like breastfeeding, sitting, and carrying our babies, and on top of that we aren’t moving around like we used to. This can cause aches and pains in areas like our upper neck, back, hips and more. Adding in 10-15 minutes of intentional stretching and mobility in these areas can help ease these pains and make us feel more like ourselves.
Some of my favorite stretch and mobility movements for the first six weeks postpartum include cat cows, wide forward folds, child’s pose, 90/90 hip rotations, neck rolls, and side bends.
The best part about stretch and mobility moves like these is you can do them on the ground with your newborn laying by you, so they don’t take much effort or time out of your day! I recommend finding 5 to 10 different movements that target areas causing you discomfort and do each one for at least a minute.
Deep core and pelvic floor movements
Around the same time you add in mobility and stretching (which may be around weeks 1-3), it will also be beneficial to add in deep core and pelvic floor specific movements to aid in your recovery!
In simple terms, deep core and pelvic floor movements are when you match the diaphragmatic breath to intentional movement. You’ll want to start simple, then increase difficulty as you get comfortable synching the breath, core and pelvic floor together.
A good place to start is with movements like the pelvic tilt, heel slides, knee twists and glute bridges. Then as you’re able to synch the breath and move comfortably, we’ll start building on difficulty by increasing range of motion, moving limbs away from our center, performing moves in different positions, etc. These can be moves like laying marches, bird dogs, dead bugs, glute pumps and fire hydrants.
The core and pelvic floor went through so much throughout the course of your pregnancy and birth, so it is important to prioritize slow, progressive and intentional deep core and pelvic floor movements during this recovery phase!
Body weight functional movements
After you’ve nailed down the connection breath, gotten comfortable with your short walks, and feel good with your stretching, mobility, deep core and pelvic floor movements, it’s time to start adding in body weight functional movements!
Depending on your recovery circumstances, around that 3-6 week mark is when these may feel appropriate to add to your routine! These include movements like body squats, good mornings, short step ups, light DB shoulder presses and others that mimic everyday tasks.
The key here is to realize that these are movement patterns you’ve already been doing on a daily basis: hinging over to get your baby out of bed (like a deadlift), sitting down and standing up from a chair (like a squat), step ups (like walking up stairs).
All we’re doing now is paying more focused attention to the form, breath and structure during each rep! This should still not feel like a workout, but moreso your reintroduction to basic movement.
Take your time during each rep, take rest as needed and really work on matching your breath to each rep to help manage pressure in the pelvic floor and deep core.
Have your strongest postpartum recovery with FIGR:Postpartum
In my FIGR:Postpartum subscription, you’ll get this entire structured recovery process programmed for you!
You’ll get daily programming specific to postpartum that starts at week 1 and stays with you all the way through year 1. In the first 6 weeks of programming, you’ll get my exact walking progression, live recordings with all the breath work, mobility, pelvic floor, deep core and stretches you’ll need.
Additionally, the program will guide you back into body weight, banded and light weight movements, then progress you all the way back to full weights and intensity in the gym.
Feeling like yourself again will help you be the best mother you can be. There’s no role more important than that.