Your body after delivery
Your body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy and after delivery, and it takes time for your body to recover and readjust. It's normal to want to get your body back, but it's also important to be patient since the amount of time it takes will be different for every person.
No matter how you choose to give birth, either at home or in a hospital, with an epidural or naturally, your body does a tremendous amount of work. It’s important to know that recovering from delivery takes more than just a few days. On average, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for your body to heal and recover after delivery.
In the weeks following delivery, take cues from your body by focusing on sleeping and eating well. Rest is an important element of recovery and will help your body heal itself. Trying to force your body to exercise or get in shape quickly after birth can do more harm than good.
During this time, you may experience several common symptoms as your body adjusts, including:
- Abdominal pains, commonly called “afterpains,” as your uterus shrinks down in size
- Hormonal changes resulting in hair loss or sweating
- Tender breasts and nipples caused by breastfeeding
- Mood swings that are often referred to as “baby blues”
- Vaginal bleeding and discharge as your body gets rid of the extra blood and tissue needed to grow your baby
- Swelling and water retention, called postpartum edema
Getting back into exercise
Aside from resting, the two main ways to get your body back after pregnancy are exercise and nutrition. Know that exercising after pregnancy won’t immediately be the same as before since you’ll have to build up to a moderate or high intensity exercise.
Most doctors agree that women who gave birth vaginally without complications can begin exercising a few days after delivery if they feel ready for it. Women who experienced complications or had a c-section should talk with their doctor before exercising, but may be able to start exercising within four to six weeks.
Stationary exercises like pelvic floor exercises or abdominal exercises can be a good way to get started and regain your strength. Incorporating walks into your routine as soon as you feel ready is another helpful way to get your body back.
Pelvic floor exercises. Strengthening your pelvic floor can help you fight off incontinence or any muscle prolapse you may have experienced after birth. Pelvic floor exercises are discrete and can be done while lying down or standing:
- Squeeze your bottom and draw it in like you're trying to hold in gas.
- Squeeze the muscles around your vagina and bladder as if you’re trying to control your urine.
- Try holding some long squeezes up to 10 seconds max, then relax again.
- Try some short squeezes by continuing to draw in the muscles and relax until you feel tired.
Abdominal exercises. Building your core strength helps increase your stamina in other types of exercises, but know that it will take time to get back to pre-pregnancy core exercises like sit-ups or planks. For lower intensity abdominal exercise, try belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing. This breathing technique engages your core and has added benefits of neutralizing blood pressure and lowering your heart rate. To practice belly breathing:
- In bed (or on another flat surface), lie on your back with your knees bent. Use a pillow or two under your head or legs if that is more comfortable.
- Put one hand on your stomach, just below your rib cage and near the belly button, and the other on your upper chest.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. Try to feel the breath go all the way down to your belly. You should feel the hand on your belly rise, but the one on your chest should stay still.
- Tighten your core and exhale, letting your abdominal muscles cave in as you breathe out.
Walking. If you feel up to it, try going out for a walk. You can do this with your baby if you like by pushing them in a stroller or baby carrier. As you start to feel stronger, start to pick up the pace each day and make your walks a little longer. Eventually, you want to aim at getting in a 30-minute walk each day.
Postpartum weight loss
Exercise alone isn’t enough to get your body back to where it was. To make the most of your effort, and to get your energy back, proper nutrition is also essential to reclaiming your body and meeting any weight loss goals.
When it comes to weight loss after pregnancy, you can expect to lose between 6 to 12 pounds during birth, depending on how much your baby weighs. After that, the rest of your baby weight will come off more slowly, up to several months after delivery. Most women gain between 25 and 35 pounds during their pregnancy, so it’s normal that your body will need some time to shed that weight.
Breastfeeding. In addition to all of the benefits that breastfeeding can give your baby, it may also help you with weight loss after pregnancy. When combined with a healthy diet, breastfeeding can be a great way to burn off calories. It’s important to remember that you need to have enough calories to make breastmilk, so trying to maintain a big calorie deficit will not be sustainable. Instead, you should enjoy healthy snacks each day to provide you with the energy you need.
Nutrition. Your nutrition and diet during this time are important since you’re fueling both your body and your baby’s if you’re breastfeeding. Be sure to include plant-based foods, like fruits and veggies, with every meal, in addition to lean proteins. Include whole grains, like brown pasta and rice, that are full of energy and are heart-healthy. Limit your intake of sweet and salty snacks and be mindful of your portions.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
familydoctor.org: "Recovering from Delivery (Postpartum Recovery)."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Learning diaphragmatic breathing."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "What Really Helps You Bounce Back After Pregnancy."
Mayo Clinic: "Getting in shape after having a baby," "Weight loss after pregnancy: Reclaiming your body."
nct: "Postnatal exercise: how soon can I start again after a baby?"
NHS: "Your post-pregnancy body."
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