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Postpartum Fitness

Mommy and me classes, at-home workouts, and gyms with childcare: our favorite ways to get your body back after baby.

A couple months after my first baby was born, I decided it was time to get back into shape.

My 30-day Bikram Yoga Groupon was kind on my wallet, but a bitch to my ego. The giant mirror glaring back at my big ass, boobs, and belly didn’t help either. Scrawny vegan women (and men) calmly mastered the 26 grueling postures designed to tone, strengthen, and bring divine serenity.

Me? I just felt pissed off and ready to pass out.

I wasn’t a stranger to this 100-degree workout (I’d dabbled in it years ago and actually liked it), but my two-month postpartum, sleep-deprived body hated it now. There wasn’t a leaky-boob stained t-shirt in the house — this wasn’t my tribe.

And I never went back.

It took me another month (or so) to recover and fumble into my first Mommy and Me Yoga class where I finally found my peeps — and my sanity. It was the right fit, the right time, and guess what? Eventually, I found some semblance of my former waistline, which, outside of sleeping through the night, is the holy grail of motherhood.

postpartum fitness -- mommy and me yoga
Photo courtesy of Yoga Jai Ma in San Diego, CA

You see, half the battle of losing the weight is finding a workout that doesn’t suck the life out of you. In short, you have to find your new groove.

Time, money, nursing, sleep deprivation, and fussy babies will all play a role in working out as a new mom. So, if that literally means “tiny steps” (i.e., walking) or waiting until your lady parts stop hurting so darn much…then take all the time you need. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your skinny jeans aren’t going anywhere without spit up on them anyway.

Vanity aside, research shows that exercise helps reduce the risk of postpartum depression – and that was good enough reason for me (hello, Irish genes). And here’s more bright and shiny news: breastfeeding alone burns 600-800 calories a day. Thanks, Mother Nature, for that little gimme.

So, does this mean you can just kick back and watch the weight drop off? Uhhh, not exactly…we live in reality and not the land of impossible dream bodies of Hollywood new moms. Seriously, Gwyneth, stop it…you’re really not helping the situation.

After giving birth, your body is working hard to repair itself. Going on a strict diet isn’t healthy, but cutting out empty calories like soda and french fries is just what the doctor ordered (fries are vegetables, right?).

A well-balanced diet will give you more energy to deal with the lack of sleep, brainpower, and, well, solitude in your new life. We all knew that when we signed the dotted line of motherhood.


Seriously, though, new motherhood can be incredibly isolating. So I highly recommend finding an exercise class, gym, or a workout buddy who forces you out of the house (or away from your desk during lunchtime).

Fortunately, there’s a growing trend of “Mommy-and-Me” classes and gyms with good (clean, safe, fun) on-site childcare.

Ok, so where do we start? Pull on those sexy maternity sweatpants and dusty sneakers — it’s time to get out the door!

Postpartum Fitness

Just Walk

According to postpartum fitness expert, Renee M. Jeffreys, M.S., “Most women’s bodies aren’t ready for serious exercise until six weeks after giving birth — longer if they’ve had a Cesarean section.”

“Start by walking around the block,” Jeffreys says. “If it feels good and doesn’t cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther the next day.”

postpartum fitness -- just walk

The great thing about walking is that you and baby can both get out of the house, allowing you to explore new territory together. And hey, you may even bump into some fellow new moms you can introduce yourself to, or at least swap stories to determine who’s more sleep deprived. (You.)

If you can, walk to the store and bring your stroller to carry some groceries home. Hey – feeling useful again does something good for the inner-you, too. You might even be inspired to go home and cook something yummy (okay, let’s not get TOO carried away).

Walk up the stairs. Walk in nature. Grab an umbrella, bundle up, and walk in the rain. Put one foot in front of the other…and just go.

If you’re a runner, this is a great way to ease back into it. Much to your dismay, you may need to wear a panty liner if your bladder is a little leaky, which is oh-so-common (less common for C-Section moms). In fact, most women experience some incontinence after a vaginal delivery, especially if you had a big baby. This is due to damage to your pelvic floor muscles and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it does warrant its own newsletter.

Related: Our favorite jogging strollers

The Buddy System

As much as you love the sound of your baby’s coos, she can’t give you take-out food tips or catch you up on the latest Game of Thrones episode (which you now find too gory to watch). Find a mom buddy (or buddies) to walk, hike, dance, stretch, and (hopefully) laugh the weight off with you (and the baby you’re wearing or pushing). DIT (doing it together) can be more fun than DIY (doing it yourself).

Being accountable to someone else’s schedule and time might force you to actually do the work. It’s easy for me to blow off myself (and my workout), but less so when someone else is depending on me. Remember also that moms can be the biggest flakes in the world (not on purpose, I swear!), so be understanding when that happens too.

postpartum fitness -- making friends
Photo courtesy of Fit4MOM

If you don’t have a buddy — go find someone. Ask another mom in your neighborhood or check out a group on Meetup.com or through a local mom’s group. You’re not alone in needing to stay motivated. It takes a village to raise a family, and you might need one to get back in shape too.

Fitness DVDs and Online Workouts

If you’re a loner (or you just prefer to exercise alone) — be a buddy to yourself first. Find a way to work out that fits, challenges, and elevates you.

I’m not sure why I haven’t had much luck with fitness DVDs or online exercise classes. Maybe it’s too easy for me to cheat and head to the fridge instead (or that pile of laundry, bills, or non-nappy baby). That said, there are plenty of moms who swear by them.

Some even incorporate their wee ones into their routines (baby = barbell?).

Fitness videos can be an affordable way to kick your butt and take the weight off in the comfort of your own home, all while not requiring back-up childcare (who knew it would be so hard to get away?) or a ton of planning and scheduling. There is also an incredible amount of workouts available online now, too.

postpartum fitness -- exercising at home

Here are a few at-home courses recommended by our readers:

Note: If you have an abdominal separation, or diastasis recti, as a result of pregnancy and birth, please read up on the exercises that are no-nos (namely crunches and such).

  1. Barre3 ($29/month) — Barre is a very popular workout that combines Pilates, ballet, and yoga. You can purchase an online subscription and do it at home. The barre method is a great low-impact way of improving your strength and doesn’t take up a lot of space.
  2. Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred ($8)— This program guides you through three 20-minute workouts featuring cardio, strength, and abs. Do this workout every day for 30 days and watch your body change. I’ve seen even the wimpiest of women turn into workout machines with Shred.
  3. BabyWeightTV ($13/month) — BabyWeightTV offers more than 100 health, wellness, and fitness videos for mommies. A new class is introduced every week to keep the workouts fresh. You can do cardio, focus on your core to strengthen the muscles impacted by your pregnancy and delivery, and of course, there’s yoga.
  4. Lindsay Brin’s Postnatal Boot Camp with Moms Into Fitness ($20) — In one DVD, you’ll have access to two hours of a warm up, ab workouts, cardio workouts, and a cool-down sesh. Challenging and fun stuff. And only about $9 for the DVD.
  5. Fitness Blender ($0!) — This husband/wife training team has more than 500 workout videos available to stream for free. You can search by length (classes range from 5-90 min), type of exercise, body area focus, equipment, etc. The videos are excellent no-frills routines, and if you need more direction in terms of selecting workouts, you have the option to purchase regimens that prescribe workouts for you. Highly recommended!
  6. Nike Training Club ($0) — This (free!) app has hundreds of different workouts ranging from yoga and boxing to HIIT and heavy lifting. You can select workouts on your own or sign up for different training plans that specify workouts for you. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  7. Tone It Up ($7/month) — These BFF trainers have built a little fitness empire based in SoCal. Their exercises and videos are really great (if you can stomach the chipper, can-do narration that comes with it).  Access to their newest videos requires a monthly paid subscription (via their app, for $7/month), but they have a TON of old and new videos available for free on their YouTube channel.
  8. POPSUGAR Fitness ($0) — With an almost-overwhelming selection of classes ranging in length from a few minutes to longer-than-anyone-has-time-for, and exercise types spanning from ballet and barre to kickboxing, dance cardio, and HIIT/strength training, POPSUGAR’s fitness classes, many of which are led by peppy celebrity fitness instructors, are a fantastic option for busy moms. Plus, who doesn’t love options like the “lazy girl workout,” the “baby bulge be-gone workout,” or the “quiet at-home workout”?
  9. BodyFit by Amy ($0) — This mama of 2 and personal trainer offers free workout videos with a nice mix of cardio, weights, toning, etc. She has prenatal- and postnatal-specific classes, ALWAYS offers low-impact versions of every exercise, and also provides a free workout calendar if you sign up for her email at the beginning of the month. These classes are really nice because you can tailor them to where you at — you can make them as gentle or as intense as you want — and they are super reasonable time-wise.

Prove me wrong, ladies…I’m rooting you all on!

The Sweet Spot: Mommy and Me Classes

Created by and for moms, Fit4MOM is a group of local clubs and classes that incorporates toning, strengthening, power walking — and strollers! Who knows, you might walk away with a tighter tush and new friends to boot.

The Fit4Mom Stroller Strides fitness program, their most popular course, consists of hour-long workouts complete with songs and activities to keep your babes entertained too. Instructors provide interactive, diverse classes, and every location offers a free playgroup. *You will need a proper jogging stroller.

Postpartum Fitness Fit4Mom
Stroller Strides photo courtesy of Fit4MOM

The Fit4Mom Body Back workout strives to help you get your old body back (assuming you had a desirable one to begin with, ha!) – whether it was three months or 20 years after your last baby. Each class features high intensity workouts in an empowering climate (it’s a killer, but in a good way). You can do it in conjunction with the “Mama Wants Her Body Back” meal plan — and you’ll have a complete exercise regimen to help you reach your fitness goals.

Note: Body Back classes are not “baby and me” which is why they are offered before and after hours…so (hopefully) you won’t have to worry about finding someone to watch your kid(s).

postpartum fitness -- body back
Body Back class photo courtesy of Fit4MOM

Mommy Yogi

After my first child, I gravitated toward the mellow, stretchy, spiritual, baby-focused kind of yoga classes, where there are often one or two baby wranglers there to gently rock your little one, allowing you a moment alone to move.

postpartum fitness -- mommy and me yoga
Photo courtesy of Yoga Jai Ma in San Diego, CA

There’s nothing sweeter than staring down at your newborn whilst holding your best downward dog. Best of all, you’re in really good company with a room full of women equally as enamored (and a little terrified) of their exquisite creatures. For some, it becomes more about the bonding than the workout, which can be an unexpected yet pleasant surprise.

Photo courtesy of Yoga Jai Ma in San Diego, CA

For baby #2 — I found another kind of postnatal teacher who skipped the baby massage time and such, but reminded us how good it felt to sweat. And yes, I did start to see changes in my body and my mind.

Note that yoga classes are also widely available as podcasts and on YouTube now, many of which are free to download. It can take a little time to find an instructor or a station you like, but if you can tap into your inner zen at home, this is another flexible, affordable option. (One of Brit’s favorites is Fightmaster Yoga.)

Diastasis Recti

I was fortunate to have a knowledgeable yoga instructor who checked me for diastasis recti, commonly known as abdominal separation. A diastasis is defined as a separation of the rectus abdominis muscle into right and left halves.

I was fine with baby #1, then baby #2 decided to leave me with “mummy tummy,” as it’s not-so-affectionately called. You can get a diastasis from your first pregnancy, but it’s far more common with second and subsequent ones. It’s also quite common, just FYI — about a third of women experience it.

postpartum fitness -- diastasis rectii

An umbilical hernia is a more severe form of diastasis and should also be treated with great care.

If you have a diastasis, modifications are required for your workout, lest you make the problem worse. You can learn how to check yourself for diastasis here.

With a diastasis, abdominal crunches are a no-no, as is being on all fours or any other position that puts forward or downward pressure on your rectus abdominis, where the delicate connective tissue has already been torn or damaged.

Again, you can diagnose yourself, but check with your doctor before taking on any core work.

Very recently, a joint pilot study conducted by an OB-GYN and a yoga instructor (!) found that 10 minutes a day of a specific exercise regimen designed to eliminate diastasis worked for all the women involved. Everyone — 100%! You can read about the research — and the exercise — here.

Gyms with Childcare

My experience: in San Francisco (and perhaps other expensive cities), such a thing is really hard to find.

Get a little outside of The City and (sometimes) it’s gyms-with-childcare galore! I cannot tell you how awesome it is to have a gym where you can take your baby, drop her off, and hop away for some alone time.

A confession? One time, I dropped the kids off, got a coffee, and maybe (just maybe), I sat in the locker room and caught up on Facebook and emails (i.e., no exercise took place). Certainly no shame in that either!

When looking for gyms with childcare, start your search with family-friendly organizations such as YMCAs and JCCs. In fact, I’ve never been to a Y that doesn’t have great childcare, even the little “YMCA Expresses” usually have one too. Finding a great family gym will also serve you well into the future since they usually host kids’ sports and other fun family events.

postpartum fitness --childcare at the YMCA

*Just a note that while JCCs and YMCAs (and such) are Judeo-Christian centered programs, all are welcome there, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof). IOW – don’t feel like you have to subscribe to religion in order to join.

Most gyms will take babies starting at 6 weeks old and will charge you a nominal fee, anywhere from $2-$4 an hour (presumably subsidized by the gym) — others may incorporate childcare into your family membership.

You may feel a little angsty about leaving your baby with a stranger (i.e., the gym childcare staff), especially if it’s the first time. Totally normal.

The sooner you can get over this, the better —

(Sometimes, you just need to hear that from someone.)

I was hesitant, too, to leave my firstborn at the gym nursery. And for my second? I was counting down the days until he turned 6 weeks old. Yup! It gets easier.

Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen to your baby, but it’s normal to have first-time jitters.

Also? The sooner you get your baby used to a particular childcare setting, the better. Do it before your baby turns eight months old or so, because that’s when bad separation anxiety sets in – and it will be 10x harder to leave them. Two or three months is a great time to start; earlier is fine also, assuming everyone is healthy and up for the mission at hand.

In conclusion [ahem], it can be hard to get back into an exercise routine after being mowed down by childbirth, but doing so will help you feel like your old self again. Although your body may never be exactly the same, you will be surprised how quickly you find your new self.

Working out will give you confidence, great endorphins, and who knows? You may even meet a new mommy-friend or form a playgroup along the way.

Written by Karen Agresti

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See also: Best Baby Hiking Carriers

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