It’s the mirror image/reverse of the pregnancy fitness timeline.
First, you’re going to recover from birth (stop bleeding) in approximately 6 weeks for a normal delivery and 6-8 weeks with a C-section. Get to know your baby. Sleep at every opportunity you possibly can. Eat well. (see “Post Pregnancy Fitness – Part 2”)
Next 3 months: walk, postnatal yoga, swim.
Next ‘trimester': add hiking, easy biking.
Final 3 months: gradually work up to your pre-pregnancy activity level. Target around baby’s first birthday to resume your pre-pregnancy exercise activities and intensity.
Why so long? Because the pelvic floor, uterus and abdominal muscles have been stretched and it takes that long to shrink back to their normal working length before we start bouncing around with exercise. If exercise is started too soon or done too much, problems can happen like prolapses and diastasis recti, basically where the organs get pushed outside the abdominal cavity because the muscles can’t deal with that much pressure yet. It may take years for the prolapse to show up. However, the right exercises, at the right time during the recovery can be very helpful. Also, we heal when we sleep. Since we are not getting our regular sleep when we have a newborn, healing time takes longer. A skilled physical therapist in postpartum recovery can guide you safely through this by first checking for diastasis and making sure your pelvis and spine are properly aligned before teaching the best exercises for you.
“But my friend started exercising really soon after her baby and she looks great.” So did mine. She started running when still breast feeding and, although she looked great, she told me she got new STRETCH MARKS UNDER HER BREASTS. No thanks! Breasts are also larger/heavier than usual if you’re nursing so stick to low impact exercise.
Each miraculous body is different. Some of us take longer to heal, allow that to be OK with yourself, your body’s been through a lot. Give yourself permission to take more time to heal from a C-section, episiotomy, epidural (yep) and anything else. I can’t think of any other major abdominal surgery where afterwards (if you choose to breastfeed) your body needs to make the sole food source for another human being. Even if it’s been 6-8 weeks and just bringing in the mail makes you bleed a little, your body is not ready for exercise. Let your body heal.