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Safe return to exercise after pregnancy

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Regular exercise after you've had a baby will help you lose weight and strengthen and tone your muscles.
  • Exercise is also good for your mental wellbeing.
  • It's best to wait 4 to 6 months before returning to your previous level of physical activity.

What are the benefits of exercise after pregnancy?

Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve your mood. Even if you're tired and not feeling motivated, there's plenty you can do to get your body moving. But no 2 pregnancies are the same. How soon you're ready to start exercising depends on your individual circumstances. You should always check with a health professional first.

Regular exercise after you've had a baby will:

  • strengthen and tone your muscles
  • help you recover from labour if you gave birth vaginally
  • raise your energy levels so you feel less tired
  • help you to lose weight and become fitter

Exercise is good for your mental wellbeing. It can relieve stress and help prevent postnatal depression. You are also more likely to get outside and meet people.

But don't worry about not getting enough exercise. Caring for a newborn can be hard work. So, you might not have the energy or time to work out as much as you'd like. Do the best you can – even 10 minutes is better than nothing.

How has my body changed after pregnancy?

When you feel ready to exercise, it's very important to not overdo it. Your body has been through some big changes. You will need time to recover, even if you're feeling great after having your baby.

Labour and birth can weaken your pelvic muscles. Some people can have problems with bladder control so avoid heavy exercise. Gentle exercise is best.

Pregnancy hormones affect your joints and ligaments. This affect can continue for up to 6 months after the birth. This can put you at greater risk of injury.

Your abdominal muscles may have separated during the pregnancy. They usually go back to normal after the birth, but sometimes they can stay separated. You will need to do exercises to strengthen these muscles to avoid back pain and injury.

The pelvic floor can be weakened after pregnancy, especially if you:

Your pelvic floor includes the muscles and ligaments that support your:

  • bladder
  • uterus
  • bowel

Regular exercises will help to strengthen your pelvic floor. But you should take care not to do more damage by exercising too vigorously too soon.

Be careful of using heavy weights or doing high-impact exercise. These can increase your chance of prolapse. This is when an organ, such as the uterus (womb), drops down from its normal position.

When can I start exercising after pregnancy?

How quickly you return to exercise depends on:

  • how fit you were before you had your baby
  • what happened during your labour

It's best not to return to your previous level of physical activity until 4 to 6 months after the birth.

After vaginal and caesarean births, avoid swimming until:

Wait until your 6-week postnatal check-up with your doctor or obstetrician before:

Returning to exercise after a vaginal birth

You can start doing gentle pelvic floor and abdominal exercises one to 2 days after the birth. If you feel any pain, stop.

When you feel like it, start with a gentle walk, perhaps while pushing the pram. Then, at your own pace, gradually increase the time and pace of your walks. Build up to a 30-minute walk every day if you can.

Returning to exercise after caesarean

A caesarean is a major operation and it will take you at least 6 weeks to heal. However, you can still do pelvic floor exercises from around 3 days after the birth. You can start to exercise your abdominal muscles as soon as you feel able to. Avoid sit ups, crunches, or abdominal curls. These can put pressure on your scar.

Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for 6 weeks after birth. Tighten your tummy and keep your back straight if you need to lift something around the house.

Until around 12 weeks (3 months) after birth, you will still be healing inside. It is OK to start walking, do low-impact aerobics or cycle. Stop if there is any:

  • discomfort
  • pain
  • pulling sensation on your scar

If you experience any of this, wait a few more weeks before exercising again.

What low-risk exercises can I do after pregnancy?

The following exercises are suitable in the days after you have your baby. Try to do them once or twice a day.

Abdominal exercises or abdominal bracing

Choose one of these positions:

  • sitting
  • standing
  • lying on your side
  • lying on your back
  • kneeling on all fours

Pull in your lower tummy towards your spine. Hold for 5 seconds and breathe normally. Relax, and repeat 5 to 10 times. You can practice this throughout the day, such as when you are:

  • picking up your baby
  • getting in and out of bed
  • standing up and sitting down

Pelvic floor exercises

  • Sit and lean slightly forward with a straight back.
  • Squeeze and lift the muscles around your vagina. This should feel like you are trying to stop a wee. Hold as you count to 5, then relax.
  • If you can't hold for 5 seconds, that is okay. Simply hold for as long as you can. You can increase the hold time as it becomes easier.
  • Repeat this about 10 to 15 times.

Other exercises

Other exercises that are safe after pregnancy include:

  • walking
  • swimming and aqua aerobics (once the bleeding has stopped)
  • yoga
  • Pilates
  • low-impact aerobics
  • light weight training
  • cycling

You can incorporate exercise into your day, such as:

  • when you meet up with friends
  • while you're doing other tasks

For example, you can:

  • do pelvic floor exercises while you're breastfeeding or driving
  • walk with your baby in the pram rather than driving
  • do your abdominal exercises on the floor next to your baby

For at least 3 months, try to avoid:

  • heavy weights
  • sit ups
  • high-intensity aerobic activity such as running and tennis

When should I be concerned about exercising?

Before starting any high-impact exercises, cough or jump when you have a full bladder. If you don't leak urine, you're probably ready to exercise.

If you're still leaking urine, this means that your pelvic floor needs more recovery time. Talk to your doctor or a physiotherapist. They can give you advice to help strengthen your pelvic floor.

You can find a physio near you using the Service Finder.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

You may have a prolapse if you:

  • have trouble emptying your bowel or bladder
  • feel a sense of pressure in your vagina
  • notice a bulge or swelling in your vagina

Prolapse is not a concern to your health, but it can be uncomfortable. If your symptoms are bothering you, you should see your doctor. They can help organise treatment, which can include:

  • making lifestyle changes
  • doing physiotherapy
  • having a pessary (a silicone device) placed into your vagina to support your prolapsed organs
  • surgery to repair your pelvic floor

Where can I find more information?

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022


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