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New moms often worry about getting their “pre-baby body” back. There are no sure-fire ways to get back to your pre-pregnancy fitness level, but there are some strategies that can help.

Focus on overall health

Pregnancy changes women’s bodies. There’s no question about that. And though most women can get their bodies back to the fitness level they were at before pregnancy, making choices that focus on overall health are most important. To obtain an optimal level of fitness, you’ll need to care for your mind and your body, inside and out.

When you’re ready to start getting back into a healthy routine, think about all aspects of health. Make sure you make good diet choices, get as much sleep as you can (which we know can be difficult – especially in the first few weeks), and exercise only as much as you can comfortably do without bleeding or pain. And make sure you always check with your doctor to find out if you have movement and exercise limitations. Doing too much too early can cause serious problems.

Start slow

The best time to start exercising again will depend on factors like your pre-pregnancy fitness level, whether you had a C-section or a vaginal birth and how your body is healing. Most health care providers recommend that women wait until their six week check-up before doing any strenuous activity, but you may be able to start some forms of exercise sooner. Waiting is important because it can take time before a woman’s joints, including her hips and knees, return to normal and intense exercise can cause injuries. 

When you do start exercising, begin with gentle stretching, slow walking, purposeful abdominal contractions or Kegel exercises. Listen to your body. If something hurts, don’t do it. And if you start to have vaginal bleeding, get some rest and wait a day or two before starting again.

Don’t forget cardio

Workouts that involve some type of cardio can help you burn calories and get your body back into shape. Once you have permission from your doctor to exercise, start with a 30-minute walk every day. If the weather permits, go for a walk outside. Bring your baby with you if you want to and make it a habit. If you don’t want to go outside or you can’t get away from the house, try an exercise video. You may enjoy yoga or Pilates or other types of low-impact aerobics. Once you’re comfortable with your exercise routine, you may want to up the pace a little bit and go for more intense workouts. You may also want to incorporate strength training to help you rebuild muscle and improve muscle tone. Just make sure your doctor approves all exercise plans before you begin.

Work your abdominals

Your abdominal muscles have been through a lot over the past nine months, and it will take time to get them back into shape. Once your doctor clears you for abdominal exercise, you can start doing sit-ups, crunches, planks and other exercises that focus on your abdominal muscles and core strength. Strengthening your core can also help back pain – now and in the future. If you had a C-section, you will need to wait at least eight weeks to start abdominal work.

Make your baby part of the routine

If you can find ways to make your baby part of your fitness routine, you’ll eliminate a common excuse new moms make for not exercising – the baby took all of my time. Try exercising with a front pack carrier, a stroller or a bicycle trailer made just for babies.

Make it social

If you can find time for an exercise class, consider joining one. Or find a group of new moms to exercise with. You may be able to find classes that allow you to bring your baby with you, which can also be great. Getting out and getting physical can have multiple benefits. You can treat your body to some exercise and treat yourself to some much deserved you time.

Remember the benefits 

Exercise has many benefits. It can help you regain the muscle tone you lost during pregnancy and lose the extra weight. It can make you feel good, and may also help you fight off baby blues and postpartum depression by releasing endorphins that will naturally make you feel happier. It can reduce stress and help you sleep better (when you do get a chance to sleep). When you exercise regularly, you reduce your risk for many diseases, and you strengthen your muscles and bones, which can keep osteoporosis and other age-related problems at bay.

Breastfeed for optimal results

Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to burn calories after pregnancy. As you breastfeed, your body will naturally burn calories to make more breast milk every time you nurse. And there is evidence that breastfeeding can help reduce fatty deposits in your hips better than any type of exercise can.