Your Pregnancy Matters

10 exercises you can do with your new baby

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Ease into strengthening exercises after giving birth to build a solid foundation for more intense workouts.

Getting back into shape after having a baby is a process. Your body is recovering, and you are getting used to a new routine.

Most women who had non-complicated pregnancies and deliveries can resume some workouts within two to four weeks of giving birth. And you don't have to take time away from the baby to exercise. There are many resistance-training exercises you can do that include your new baby.

My colleague, Taylor Price, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., C.A.P.P., is a pelvic floor physical therapist. She specializes in treating patients who have urinary or bowel dysfunction, pelvic pain, and pregnancy or postpartum related symptoms. The pelvic floor muscles support the uterus, bladder, and rectum. When the muscles contract, they help us to stay continent and they should relax to allow us to urinate and defecate.

Optimizing the pelvic floor muscles postpartum helps reduce the risk of urinary or fecal leakage, painful intercourse, and constipation As a part of this, she also uses breathing exercises and abdominal/pelvic floor muscle activation to reduce the risk of pelvic organ prolapse – when the uterus and bladder droop into the vagina.

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Taylor Price is a pelvic floor physical therapist at UT Southwestern.

Resistance training can help prepare your body for more intense workouts as you recover from childbirth. Working with a pelvic floor physical therapist during pregnancy and after delivery can give you a leg up on returning to exercise.

Taylor has collated a list of 10 exercises you can do with your baby to start easing back into working out at home. These exercises fall in line with 2019 postpartum exercise guidelines endorsed by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports and Exercise Medicine.

In an upcoming article, we'll talk about ramping up to cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which is not recommended until at least 12 weeks after delivery.

As you ease back into exercise, go at your own pace and remember to breathe – holding your breath can increase the risk of injury. If any of the exercises are too difficult to do with your baby, start with just you. Above all else, listen to your body. If you feel very tired, have any pain during the workout, experience increased pelvic pressure, or have urinary leakage, stop and call your Ob/Gyn.

Related reading: 5 exercises and techniques to train for childbirth

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Upper body (safe 2-4 weeks after delivery)

Babies love being lifted and seeing you from a different angle. So, make that part of your workout. Progress from doing 10 repetitions of these moves, then 30 reps, then 50. Make sure your baby's head and neck are stable if you include your baby in lifting exercises.

1. Standing overhead press

How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, bending the knees slightly. Hold the baby with both hands so his or her face is even with yours. Slowly lift the baby straight up – don't do this right after a feeding! Slowly lower the baby down.

Muscles you'll tone: Pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps (back of the arms), and trapezius (upper back).

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2. Baby bench press

How to: Lie on your back on the floor. Hold the baby above you, face to face. Slowly lift your arms up, then slowly lower the baby down.

Muscles you'll tone: Pectorals, deltoids, triceps.

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3. Quadruped arm lifts

How to: Get on your hands and knees, with baby lying underneath or in front of you. Tighten your abdominal muscles (but leave your back in neutral) – imagine pulling your bellybutton to your spine. Slowly raise one arm to point out to the side of you. Slowly lower your arm. Repeat on the other side.

Muscles you'll tone: Erector spinae muscles (along the spine), deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids (upper back).

Core (2-6 weeks after delivery)

Gentle core exercises are safe for most patients. If you had a C-section or complicated vaginal delivery, talk with your Ob/Gyn before doing these exercises.

4. Knee drops

How to: Lie on your back on the floor with baby on your tummy. Engage your core – imagine you are pulling your belly button toward the floor to meet your spine, but don’t move your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor hips-width apart. Slowly let one knee drop to the side. Bring that knee back to center. Repeat on the other side. When you feel stronger, try lowering both knees at the same time.

Muscles you'll tone: Obliques (the sides of your abdomen), hip flexors, pelvic floor.

5. Toe taps

(6-8 weeks after delivery)

How to: Lie on your back on the floor with baby on your tummy. Engage your core. Bend your knees and raise your feet so your calves are parallel with the floor. Lower one leg and gently tap the floor with your toes. Bring the leg back up. Repeat on the other side. When you feel stronger, try lowering both legs at the same time.

Muscles you'll tone: Abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, pelvic floor.

6. Planks

(6-8 weeks after delivery)

How to: Get on your hands and knees. Place baby slightly in front of you so you can see each other. There are three variations:

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  1. Engage your core and hold it tight for 30 seconds, working up to a minute.
  2. When number one becomes too easy, drop into a modified pushup position (on your forearms and knees). Engage the core for 30 seconds, working up to a minute.
  3. When that becomes too easy, move into a standard push-up position (on your palms and toes). Engage the core for 30 seconds, working up to a minute.

Planks require a lot of stability. Ease into them, even if you were active before pregnancy, to avoid pulling a muscle or falling.

Muscles you'll tone: Abdominals, erector spinae, transverse abdominus (lower back muscles).

Lower body (4-6 weeks after delivery)

These exercises will help strengthen your body enough to start doing more intensive cardio and weight workouts 12 weeks or later after delivery. Make sure your baby's head and neck are stable if you include your baby in lifting exercises.

7. Clamshells

How to: Lie on your side with your knees bent and together. Baby can lie next to you. Keeping your feet together, slowly lift your top knee towards the ceiling, but not as far as you can. Roll over to your other side and repeat.

Muscles you'll tone: Hip external rotators, glutes

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8. Side kicks

How to: Lie on your side with your legs extended and together. Baby can lie next to you. Slowly raise your top leg approximately 1-2 feet off the floor without bending at your trunk. Roll over to your other side and repeat.

Muscles you'll tone: Hip abductors, obliques, glutes.

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9. Lunges

(6-8 weeks after delivery)

How to: Hold the baby close to your chest. Step forward a stride's length with one foot. Bend both knees to lower your back knee to the just above the ground (or as low as you can get). Repeat with the other leg.

When this gets too easy, modify the exercise by holding the baby away from your body. You can even add a gentle waist twist once you feel strong enough.

Muscles you'll tone: Glutes, abdominals, quads, hamstrings, calves.

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10. Squats

How to: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Your toes can point forward or slightly out. Hold the baby close to your chest. Slowly bend the knees and push your bottom out, as if you are going to sit on a chair. When your bottom is 25 percent of the way down, return to standing. You can eventually go down further, but work up to it.

When this gets too easy, modify the exercise by holding the baby away from your body. Safety first! Every modification will change your center of balance. You might want to squat down into an actual chair the first few times to make sure you have your balance.

Muscles you'll tone: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, pelvic floor, hip flexors, calves.

A few things to remember

  • If you feel pain, have pelvic heaviness or pressure, or leak urine during or after exercise, you may be pushing yourself too hard.
  • Make sure to breathe. Holding your breath can cause spikes and drops in blood pressure and increases your risk of injury.
  • Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet to support muscle development.

Most importantly, try not to compare your current strength to your pre-pregnancy body. Making and delivering a human being is not easy – even elite athletes don't bounce back to their normal activities without a little patience and work.

If you are ready to ease back into exercise, visit with your Ob/Gyn or a pelvic floor physical therapist. These experts can help you rebuild a solid foundation to safely return to the more intensive exercises you love.

To request an appointment, call 214-645-8300 or you can request an appointment online.