When you're feeling tired, being active may seem like the last thing you need.
But regular activity can relax you, keep you fit and help you feel more energetic.
It can also help your body recover after childbirth and may help prevent postnatal depression.
When can I start exercising after birth?
If you had a straightforward birth, you can start gentle exercise as soon as you feel up to it. This could include walking, gentle stretches, pelvic floor exercises and deep stomach exercises.
It's usually a good idea to wait until after your 6-week postnatal check before you start any high-impact exercise, such as aerobics or running.
If you exercised regularly before giving birth and you feel fit and well, you may be able to start earlier. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
If you had a caesarean, your recovery time will be longer, so talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP before starting anything too strenuous.
What should I be aware of before exercising?
Your lower back and core abdominal muscles may be weaker than they used to be.
Your ligaments and joints are also more supple and pliable in the months after birth, so it's easier to injure yourself by stretching or twisting too much.
Don't rely on your pre-pregnancy sports bra. Your back and cup size are likely to have changed, so get measured for a new one.
How do I know if I'm overdoing exercise after having a baby?
If your postnatal bleeding (lochia) gets heavier or changes colour (becomes pink or red) after activity, you could be overdoing it. You're also likely to feel very tired.
Listen to your body. Pace yourself and make sure you get plenty of rest, too.
Exercise ideas for new mums
- Do some postnatal exercises. They'll strengthen vital muscles and help get you in shape. See your post-pregnancy body for ideas, or ask your midwife or health visitor.
- Join a postnatal exercise class. Lots of postnatal classes let you do the exercise class with your baby at your side. Some include your baby and their pram or buggy as part of the workout. Ask your health visitor if she knows of any in your area. If you're going to a class that isn't a special postnatal class, make sure you tell the instructor that you've recently had a baby.
- Push the pram or buggy briskly, remembering to keep your arms bent and your back straight. Make sure the handles are at the right height for you – your elbows should be bent at right angles. Walking is great exercise, so try to get out as much as you can.
- Play energetic games with older children. You can exercise by running about with them.
- Build activity into your day. Use the stairs instead of the lift or, for short journeys, walk instead of taking the car.
- Bend down to pick things up, rather than bend over. Picking things up off the floor is something you're likely to be doing a lot. If you bend down (bent knees and straight back) instead of bending over (straight knees and a bent spine), you'll strengthen your thigh muscles and avoid damaging your back. Hold heavy objects close to your body.
- Try swimming. Swimming is good exercise and it's relaxing, too, but you'll need to wait until seven days after your postnatal lochia has stopped. If you take your baby with you, try to have someone else there with you so you get a chance to swim.
- Borrow or buy an exercise DVD. This is a good way to work out at home. You could get a friend or your children to join in.
Look after your mental health
It's important to look after your mental health as well as your physical health. About 1 in 10 women get depressed in the year after having a baby.
Learn about the symptoms of postnatal depression.
Doing some gentle exercise can help to boost your mood. Other things that may help are:
- making time to rest
- not trying to "do it all"
- accepting help with caring for your baby from friends, family or your partner
- going out to meet friends or going to postnatal groups – your midwife or health visitor can tell you what's available in your area
- talking to people about your feelings
If you're worried about how you're feeling, feel like you're struggling to cope, or think you may be depressed, it's important that you talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP – effective help is available.
Healthy eating for new parents
Try to make eating well a priority. It will make you feel better, and healthy eating is important for the whole family. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
If you think you need to lose weight, there's lots of help available, including individual and group support. Your health visitor, midwife or GP should be able to give you more information about options near you.
If you attend a group, be sure to tell them that you have recently had a baby – and let them know if you're breastfeeding – so they can give you the right advice.
Time-saving food tips for new parents
- Try cooking more than you need and freeze a couple of extra portions for another day.
- Tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables are quick to prepare, and they count towards your five portions a day.
- Choose vegetables that can be eaten raw – for example, carrots and celery – and snack on these between meals if you get peckish.
- Steaming is a healthy and quick way to cook vegetables and fish.
If friends or family are keen to help, take up their offer of a healthy home-cooked dinner once in a while.
Breastfeeding and your diet
If you're breastfeeding and you're a healthy weight for your height, you don't need to eat a special diet. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids – including water – and get lots of rest.
If you're breastfeeding and you're overweight, the best way to lose weight healthily is by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and taking regular moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes each day. This won't affect the quality or quantity of your breast milk.
Read more about breastfeeding and diet, including which foods to avoid.
Stop smoking for you and your baby
The best thing you can do for your and your new baby's health is to stop smoking.
Children whose parents smoke are three times more likely to become smokers themselves.
Passive smoking is especially harmful for babies as they have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems. Smoking has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, or cot death).
You're up to four times more likely to stop smoking successfully if you do it with NHS support.
Call Smokeline on 0800 84 84 84 for details of your local NHS stop smoking service. This service is available from 8.00am to 10.00pm, every day.
Get more advice and help with quitting smoking.