Returning to exercise after baby: creating a strong postpartum body

Kimmy Smith

Kimmy Smith

Founder of The Empowered Motherhood Project. Kimmy is a mum of three girls and aims to inspire mums to achieve postnatal weight loss and fitness in a safe and positive way through exercise and positive thinking through The Empowered Motherhood Project.
Updated on Apr 16, 2024 · 6 mins read
Returning to exercise after baby: creating a strong postpartum body

Your little bundle of joy has arrived. Goodbye heartburn, full-body bloating and alllll of the cravings. Hello to putting on your own shoes, lying on your stomach and the endorphin hit of a great workout. But where do you start with postnatal exercise? It can be really confusing to know what exercise is safe after birth. It’s important to know that there is no ideal timeline or golden rule that applies to all women. We’ve partnered with Triumph and mapped out all the best ways you can return to exercise safely and confidently after giving birth.

Early postnatal rehab

Let’s start by busting the myth that you need to wait for your six-week check-up to start moving your body. Motherhood is an extremely physical job and one that we need to be prepared for. While the ‘fourth trimester’ is a time to rest, heal and repair – it’s also a time where you can start to heal and strengthen your pelvic floor and the deepest layers of your abdominal muscle.

In the early postnatal period your pelvic floor muscles, abdominal muscles, connective tissue, ligaments, nerves and organs (bladder, bowel and uterus) are trying to heal and establish equilibrium.

As a result, your body needs adequate rest to regenerate and rejuvenate. Sleep is King. Or better yet – Queen. The goal of early postnatal exercise is to support this natural healing process, while also helping you to return to exercise safely and prepare for the very physical act of mothering.

Make your pelvic floor a priority!

Practising pelvic floor contractions in the early days helps to re-connect neural pathways and reduce swelling and inflammation.

During pregnancy, the muscles of the pelvic floor thin out and stretch. Whether you gave birth vaginally or via Caesarean, in the early postpartum period, your pelvic floor muscles may be weak and sluggish. A weak and stretched pelvic floor may lead to complications such as urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.

As soon as you are able to post-birth, begin with gentle pelvic floor exercises while lying on your back (this helps to take away the force of gravity). At first, this may simply be trying to connect to your pelvic floor. As your body heals, concentrate on doing longer holds, quick pulses on and off and some power contractions.


Restore your core

You grew a whole human in your belly so it’s no surprise that there’s been a few changes.

You have probably heard of the term ‘stomach separation’ or ‘rectus diastasis’. During pregnancy, the linea alba (the band of fibrous connective tissue that runs from your breastbone to your pubic bone) undergoes a huge amount of stretch. As your belly grows, your abdominal muscles move further and further apart. This increased distance between your abdominal muscles and the thinning and stretching of the linea alba is what is often referred to as stomach separation.

There are three main ways we help women to heal abdominal separation and create a strong core.

1. Improve your breathing mechanics 

The diaphragm is directly connected to the core through a complex system of fascia and connective tissue. The way that you breathe affects how your core functions. So step one is learning to breathe well.

2. Work on your posture 

Your core works optimally when your spine is in neutral. As mums, we have the tendency to slump all day long which only promotes bad posture. Exercises to support a strong and healthy posture are a big part of a good early postnatal recovery program.

3. Connect to your transversus abdominis

The transversus abdominis (TVA) is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle and wraps like a corset from the spine all the way to the front of the belly. The role of the TA is to stabilise the low back and pelvis before you move. Because this muscle is stretched and weakened during pregnancy, we often lose this anticipatory function. Early postnatal core exercises are all about training the TA in isolation in order to re-connect to your TA and re-train the anticipatory contraction of this muscle.

It’s important to keep progressing your core exercises from simple toe taps to strong, functional and dynamic core exercises. This is the missing step in most core programs and is vital if you want to return to running or any other high-intensity exercise.

Strong as a mother

Being a mum is a physical job. Lifting a baby capsule can be a very awkward movement. From around six weeks postnatal, you can begin to incorporate full-body strength workouts that help you to build strength safely and in a way that will prepare you for life as a mother.

A good guide in those early postpartum days is to lift a weight that is around the same weight as your baby. As your strength increases, you can begin to increase the weight you are lifting and the number of reps you are doing.

No matter how fit you were before you gave birth, build up your fitness and strength slowly. Doing this will help your body adjust gradually and also help build endurance through your pelvic floor and core.

Exercise and breastfeeding 

Breastfeeding, especially in the early days, is HARD on your body and it can lead to a tight chest and shoulders and a sore back. There are a few key tips that will help to improve your breastfeeding journey.

Invest in a quality sports bra. If you are breastfeeding, it is likely that your breasts will feel heavy (maybe even lopsided!) and that your old bras just don’t offer enough support. Investing in a quality sports bra for exercising is essential. Look out for supportive wire-free styles with flexible straps.

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Timing is everything. If you can, try to time your workouts for straight after a feed. This way, your breasts will feel lighter and your baby will hopefully be more content.

Performing thoracic mobility stretches through your chest and upper back will help you move well and reduce upper back pain from feeding.

Returning to running and HIIT

Ah that first postnatal run. It can feel heavy, awkward and slow. It can also feel like freedom!

If your goal is to return to running or another high intensity exercise, then it is important that you wait until your body is ready.

In the Empowered Motherhood Program, the very earliest we recommend returning to running is three months postnatal. Our Return to Running Checklist will help you to identify whether your pelvic floor and body is ‘run-ready.’

If you are running, aim to start with five-ten minutes of running for your first run. Build by 10% each week, until you have reached your target run length or distance.

After each run, notice how your body responds. How do you feel physically and mentally throughout the rest of the day? If you notice you are leaking more or are experiencing lower back pain, you may have gone too hard too early. The aim is to create a program that is sustainable for you long-term, so try to resist the temptation to rush back in!

This is a paid partnership between Kiindred x Triumph.

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