Traditionally in the United States, women have been cleared for exercise at their 6-week postpartum visit with the doctor. In fact, there is no particular reason why 6 weeks is the benchmark, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) actually recommends postpartum workouts as soon as a few days after giving birth for some women.
How soon can you workout postpartum?
“A few days postpartum!?!” Yes, you read that right. Here’s exactly what their recommendation says:
If you had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery, you should be able to start exercising again soon after the baby is born. Usually, it is safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth—or as soon as you feel ready. If you had a cesarean birth or other complications, ask your health care professional when it is safe to begin exercising again.
Obviously, that excludes births with complications like c-section or serious tearing. If you fall into this category or you’re not sure, here’s an exact script you can use with your doctor before being discharged from the hospital or via phone message or call:
“I read ACOG’s recommendation that women with uncomplicated vaginal deliveries could begin exercising as early as a few days postpartum. Based on my birth, do you feel it’s safe for me to begin gentle pelvic floor and ab strengthening exercises, stretching, and walking? As I feel up to it, is it safe for me to advance to full-body strength-training?”
Assuming you’ve been cleared for exercise, check out this comprehensive guide to postpartum workouts.
So, where did 6 weeks come from?
In short, the insurance companies.
ACOG actually recommends that women have ongoing appointments at custom checkpoints based on the individual woman with a minimum of a check-up before 3 weeks and again before 12. They say that postpartum care should also be discussed in prenatal appointments before baby arrives and should include conversations about birth spacing, birth control, exercise, and transitioning back to seeing your regular doctor again.
However, as most moms can attest, this isn’t what happens. In fact, ACOG provides insurance coding information (dated from the same year) for providers and lists only one follow-up for vaginal births and two for cesarean births. Additional visits are considered “problem visits” and coded differently for insurance purposes. As you can imagine, implementing a different visit schedule would be a logistical challenge for doctor’s offices, and so, doesn’t happen often.
Finally, ACOG also reports that only about 60 percent of women attend a postpartum visit, and, “In a national survey, less than one half of women attending a postpartum visit reported that they received enough information at the visit about postpartum depression, birth spacing, healthy eating, the importance of exercise, or changes in their sexual response and emotions.”
How much and what type of postpartum workout should I do?
The official recommendation for postpartum women is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. You could split that up into 5 days of 30 minutes each, 3 days of 50 minutes each or whatever works for you. Of that time, 2 days per week should be strength-training – even gentle body weight exercise like postnatal yoga counts. Obviously, though, that can still feel like a lot! Check out this post for a full guide to ramping back up to regular exercise.
What If I Had a C-Section?
If you had a c-section you should discuss postpartum workout plans (and scar massage!) at your hospital discharge, if possible. You can use this modified script below:
“I read ACOG’s recommendation that women with uncomplicated vaginal deliveries could begin exercising as early as a few days postpartum. Having had a C-section, when do you feel it’s safe for me to begin gentle pelvic floor and ab strengthening exercises, stretching, and walking?”
If it’s too late for that, you can try a phone call or just wait until your first postpartum visit and discuss then. As every woman is going to heal at a different pace, your doctor may want to see your incision before telling you to start exercising.
Ready to Get Started?
When you’re ready to get started, check out this full guide on postpartum exercise, or schedule a free wellness consultation.