“No exercise for six weeks,” were my doctor’s stern words when she agreed to release me from the hospital less than 48 hours after my son’s birth by emergency C-section. Still groggy from anesthesia, I remember saying, “OK, OK, just let me out of here.”
As the days wore on and my stitches healed, however, I got restless — and our dogs began demanding their daily outing. So, about a week after coming home from the hospital, I started walking a couple of blocks at a time. By the time week six approached, I was ready for step aerobics, and before too long I could run and ride my bike again, too. But this may not be the case for everyone.
When can I exercise?
“If you have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you could be back to your prepregnancy routine, including running, cycling or low-impact aerobics, within a couple of weeks,” says Mona Shangold, M.D., director of the Center for Women’s Health and Sports Gynecology in Philadelphia. “But you should never do anything that causes pain,” she adds, “because that’s the obvious sign that your body isn’t finished healing.”
Women who have an episiotomy or C-section usually have to wait longer—up to six weeks—until the soreness of stitches and surgery disappears (although the gung-ho Shangold says she was exercising within a week of her own C-section). Don’t dive right into a pool, though: Shangold recommends that women wait at least three weeks (or until all bleeding has stopped) before swimming, because of infection risks. Before diving into any strenuous postpartum exercise, always consult your doctor.
Fitting in Fitness
But the question many new moms have about exercise isn’t What should I do? but When can I do it? Between frequent baby feedings and never-ending laundry, it’s not easy. The trick is to fit in a workout whenever you can, even if that’s just five minutes here and 10 minutes there.
Fortunately, every bit of activity counts. Preliminary results from Project Active, an ongoing study at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, suggest that people who practice “lifestyle” fitness can lose as much weight as those who do structured 20- to 60-minute aerobic sessions three to five times a week. That includes walking from the far end of a parking lot to a store, vacuuming the entire house nonstop, pulling weeds and even walking around while you talk on the phone. Also, never underestimate the power of a good stroller walk or a dance session with baby.