Getting Back Into Shape After Pregnancy

When you have a new baby, you have much to celebrate. You also have adjustments to make. Midnight feedings, new routines, and seemingly constant diapering are just a few of the changes that come with motherhood. But long-term weight gain needn't be one of those changes. If you're a military service member, weight reduction becomes not only a goal but a job requirement. With proper diet, adequate exercise, and self-determination, you can restore your body to its pre-pregnancy weight. The following information can help.

A good beginning

There are a number of issues to keep in mind as you think about losing your pregnancy weight:

  • Check with your doctor. Be sure to consult your doctor for information about exactly when to begin postpartum exercise. In general, most women can safely perform a low-impact activity (such as walking) one to two weeks after a vaginal birth - or three to four weeks after a cesarean birth. You should wait at least six weeks after birth before taking part in any high-impact activities.
  • Set realistic goals. While you may feel pressured to lose your pregnancy weight quickly to prepare for your physical fitness test (PFT), be realistic in your goals. Don't think you will drop all of those baby pounds in the first week. Set specific goals (for example, losing a pound or two a week) that you can actually reach over a period of time.
  • Find ways to exercise with your baby. Simply walking while pushing your baby in the stroller is great exercise. Check the local newspapers, as well as recreational and installation fitness facilities, for information on yoga, stroller, and other exercise classes you can share with your baby.
  • Reward yourself. Exercise, weight loss, and taking care of your baby's needs require hard work and deserve reward. Allow yourself the luxury of a manicure, pedicure, or massage for a job well done.

A postpartum exercise program

While you may be overwhelmed by your new responsibilities as your baby's caregiver, it's wise to return to an exercise regimen as soon as safely possible after pregnancy. Physician-approved exercises will help you lose your pregnancy weight, return to your pre-pregnancy shape faster, and increase your energy levels.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that it's okay to gradually resume your pre-pregnancy routine based on your personal physical abilities. However, it's important to check with your doctor for advice that applies to your individual situation. Generally, if you had a normal vaginal delivery and exercised right up to the time of delivery, you can probably safely perform light exercise such as modified sit-ups and stretching within days of giving birth. You should wait at least six weeks to do so if you had a cesarean section, and only with the approval of your doctor.

  • Watch for signs that you're doing too much, too soon, following delivery. A sign that your postpartum exercise program is too intense is that your vaginal flow, called lochia, becomes bright pink or red and flows more heavily. This is a sign to slow down. Alert your doctor if this happens or if your lochia restarts after you thought it had stopped.
  • The keys to weight loss. You can lose your pregnancy weight through cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Stretching will help keep your body limber and help blood circulate through your body. Once approved by your doctor, cardiovascular (such as walking, aerobics, or swimming) and strength training (with weights) exercises can help burn calories and strengthen and tone your muscles.
  • Postpartum weeks one and two. Under a doctor's supervision, many women can begin simple exercises within two weeks after delivery. Avoid performing exercises that directly work your abdominal muscles. Kegel exercises, which help repair and strengthen the pelvic floor, can be an important part of postpartum exercise. Ask your health care provider for instructions on how to do Kegel exercises. Slow walks can help you relieve tension while you get some fresh air. You can do pelvic tilts on your back (again, only with your doctor's approval).
  • Postpartum weeks three and four. Continue with your pelvic tilt and Kegel exercises if your doctor has approved them. If you don't have diastasis recti (separation of the outermost abdominal muscles), and your doctor approves, you can begin to do some crunches. However, you should start very slowly and keep the sets and repetitions to a minimum (one or two sets of ten to fifteen). You can begin to do arm and leg work at this time, but stay away from compound exercises such as squats and lunges. Choose exercises that offer support - preferably seated - to your body.
  • Postpartum weeks five and six. Continue with the previous weeks' exercises and, with your doctor's approval, slowly add back the exercises you did before childbirth. Be sure to listen to your body and stop if you feel discomfort. Also, do light stretches, but be very careful because the hormones in your body make your joints less stable and thus increase the risk of injury.

Restoring posture and abdominal and back strength

During pregnancy, your pelvis tips to the back in response to the growing weight of your baby. This can alter the alignment of your spine and cause postpartum back pain. To alleviate back pain, regain your posture, strengthen your abdominal muscles, and protect your back strength, you should consider the following (again, with your doctor's permission):

  • Do lower back- and abdominal-strengthening exercises. You can strengthen your lower back and abdomen by doing some simple exercises such as the following: kneel on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders, your knees under your hips, and your back straight. Round your spine up toward the ceiling, tuck your tailbone down, and relax your head and shoulders. Hold this position for five seconds, and then return to the starting position. Repeat these steps for four to five repetitions. While in the same position, inhale and pull your abdomen in toward your spine while keeping your back straight. Then release and repeat ten times - building up to two sets of twenty repetitions.
  • Bend at your knees and lift from a crouching position. During the postpartum period be sure to avoid awkward lifting positions that can lead to back complications. To bend properly, hold your chest and head high while bending your knees.
  • Sit up straight when breastfeeding. To avoid back pain from breastfeeding, bring your baby to your breast - rather than strain to bend over your baby. Also, try sitting in an upright chair (with good back support) rather than a soft couch when you're nursing. Another option is to lie down on your side with your baby on her side - facing you.
  • Try yoga. Yoga classes for the new mother focus on postpartum needs such as regaining alignment, toning the pelvic floor, and reestablishing core strength. Some classes even include babies. Check with your installation and community fitness facilities for more information.
  • Treat yourself to a massage. Just about everyone can appreciate the renewing feeling of a back massage - and new moms are no exception. Massages don't have to be expensive - recruit your significant other to give you a romantic back massage.

Postpartum fitness programs for service members

The Army has instituted the Army Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training (PPPT) Program for pregnant and postpartum service members. This program is designed to provide service members with a safe pregnancy and postpartum exercise routine that helps maintain unit readiness and boost morale. Visit the Healthy Living section of the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.

Each service branch has a postpartum fitness program. Check with your unit commander or fitness facility to see what specific postpartum exercise training your installation offers.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider before starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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