Pregnancy is perhaps the most dramatic change your body will ever go through. You may gain 25 to 35 pounds, much of it in the span of just a few months. The uterus and its lining will enlarge some 500 times its normal size by the end of pregnancy.
Your body also produces hormones that help make the joints, ligaments, tendons and muscle fibers more pliable. The blood vessels expand and the amount of blood pumping through them increases by as much as 50%.
Then, there's a baby. And often, a surprise: Even after the baby is born, women may still look about six months pregnant. For many, the first question is: How do I get my body back?
Mayo Clinic experts tackle some of the most common questions:
What's normal for postpartum weight loss?
While no longer being pregnant can leave new moms feeling antsy to get back to "normal," it's a process. The transition from being pregnant to parent may happen overnight. But it can take weeks or months for the body to recover from pregnancy and childbirth.
Typically about 13 pounds comes off immediately after childbirth, and another 5 to 15 pounds over the first six weeks. It can take six months to a year to lose the rest.
When can I safely exercise again?
If you had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery, the answer may be sooner than you thought. You can start exercising within a few days of delivery if you feel ready, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
That doesn't mean picking up where you left off in your favorite boot camp class, though. Walking is a great start for many women. That could be a 10-minute stroll around the block, with or without your baby. Build up as you feel able, aiming for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
By six weeks postpartum, getting 150 minutes of exercise a week is a good goal, just like for all adults.
Moms who had complications or delivered by C-section may need to take it more slowly. A doctor, midwife or physical therapist can give personalized advice.
What are the best exercises to do?
Whether your goal is to get healthy and lose baby weight or to get back to the strenuous workout routine you did before you were pregnant, retraining the core — which includes the pelvic floor — is the first stop.
But core training may not mean what you think it does. Forget crunches and situps. In fact, it's typically best to avoid these type of moves altogether. After nine months of being stretched out, your abdominal muscles need to relearn how to work properly first.
You can start with Kegel exercises — contracting and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor as soon as you feel able. Simply squeeze as if you're trying to stop the flow of urine, thinking about drawing your pelvic floor up. Hold this for three to five seconds. Then relax.
Once you have Kegels down, try adding belly breathing. Breathe in deeply, letting your belly expand and your pelvic floor relax. Then exhale, drawing your bellybutton in and your pelvic floor up, doing a Kegel.
These exercises are perfect for the early weeks of postpartum since they can be done anytime, anywhere — even while holding or nursing your baby. And while you may not feel a burn, regaining core function is important groundwork. A strong core can do everything from preventing back pain to helping you run (or sneeze) without leaking.
How do I balance exercise with taking care of my baby?
Finding time to exercise is a nearly universal challenge. But it can seem impossible when there's an infant with seemingly constant demands. Some ways to swing it:
- Try a mom and baby class. Mommy-and-me fitness classes offer benefits beyond the workout. You get to be active while spending time with your baby. You'll meet other new parents. And workouts often target specific needs of new moms.
- Trade child care with another parent. It truly takes a village. Taking turns watching a friend's child while they work out and vice versa helps you build your village — and get a workout in.
- Use a jogging stroller. Walking or jogging with a stroller gets you and your baby some fresh air. And it may even get your baby a good nap.
- Ask for help. It may feel like nobody can take care of your baby as well as you can. But letting your partner or another person support you is essential to your well-being.