Is HIIT Safe to Do Postpartum: After Giving Birth?

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Generally, staying active is more desirable than a sedentary life before, during, and after childbirth. Therefore, it’s wise to consider postpartum exercises. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends making physical activity a part of the postpartum lifestyle for its health benefits and a decreased risk of postpartum depression. But is HIIT safe to do postpartum?

Among the trendy prenatal workouts are pilates, yoga, and even high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Can you do these right after having your baby? In particular, how safe is HIIT, and when should you add it to your postpartum fitness journey?

how to do hiit postpartum safely and when

What Is HIIT?

HIIT programs last about 15-30 minutes, and they’re routines that alternate intense exercise with a recovery period. Therefore, you burn calories in a short time, and your metabolic rate and oxygen consumption may also improve for days after. HIIT workouts are popular because they have many options, from cycling to squat jumps and jogging and they take little time to burn a lot of calories (even post workout).

Additionally, many HIIT workouts require minimal or no equipment, which makes them suitable for home workout routines. Such simple exercises include hand-release and plyometric (plyo) push-ups, tuck-ups, lateral lunges, and plank jacks.

Studies show the possible benefits of HIIT programs for weight loss, people with cardiac disorders, and terminal illnesses such as cancer.

Despite that, there is scarce evidence of its effect on at-risk groups. Consequently, whether an individual is at risk due to a medical condition or recovery like your are in the postpartum period (even beyond the 6-week checkup exercise ok from your doctor), they need close monitoring by a health and fitness professional while participating in HIIT. 

Although there are multiple checklists, such as this one from the American College of Sports Medicine that outline HIIT benefits and high risk groups, they don’t clearly outline the potential problems encountered during and after delivery. 

So what is a mom to do?

First listen to the direction of your doctor. Once given clearance to exercise postpartum, listen to your body. HIIT is great for getting your body back and losing the weight after baby comes, but not right away.

HIIT is something your endurance and recovery postpartum both need to work up to after giving birth.

Tabata as a Potential Postpartum HIIT Workout

During the postpartum period, between six and eight weeks, the wounds or incisions heal, abdominal muscle tension increases, and the uterus shrinks to its pre-pregnancy state.

Tabata is one of the popular HIIT workouts. Its workout periods are shorter than most HIIT workouts and the rest periods are also short. This makes it less intense than traditional HIIT.

In Tabata workouts you exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds between exercises. You can either repeat the same exercise multiple times between intervals or switch between different exercises for a longer recovery period.

For instance, attempt eight rounds of squats, push-ups, reverse lunges, burpees, or crunches, in 20-second sessions with 10 seconds recovery periods. Or attempt one round of each with 4 – 8 total rounds of all exercises.

Conditions That May Complicate How and When You Exercise Postpartum

Some conditions may have you postponing your postnatal fitness routine or doing specific exercises or avoiding specific exercises. We’ll discuss more on damage to the pelvic floor muscles later. The others are:

Diastasis Recti

Some women, about 60%, experience this condition during and after pregnancy, where their rectus abdominis muscles separate after overstretching. These muscles are what many refer to as the six-pack ab muscles. 

They stretch out as your uterus expands, but too much of it makes your belly bulge around the belly button. However, the situation resolves naturally about eight weeks after birth or six months later. 

If you got diastasis recti during pregnancy, it might take longer before you can add abdominal exercises to your postnatal fitness routine. Instead, try deep breathing exercises first.

Related: How to Avoid and Repair Diastasis Recti

Back Pain

Hormones cause many changes to adapt your body for labor. One of the areas they affect is your joints and ligaments. 

Consequently, postpartum back pain is common, and the effect of these hormonal changes may last up to six months after delivery. The workout chosen after childbirth shouldn’t exacerbate such pre-existing problems resulting from pregnancy.

In light of the complications that may arise if you exercise before your body is ready, it’s advisable to stay away from activities that:

  • Strain at-risk body parts like your lower back and neck
  • Affect an open wound, such as aqua exercises
  • Require breath-holding (valsava maneuver)
  • May change your bowel control
  • Require too much of your abdominal muscles

On top of that, since each delivery and healing process differs, it is recommended that if you suffer from any of these complications you follow a postpartum exercise plan created especially for you.

If you don’t have any serious complications, a generalized postnatal fitness plan created to help all moms regain strength postpartum like The Milky Mama’s Postpartum Plan is a great place to start before jumping into a mroe vigorous workout routine like HIIT workouts. That plan is so great because it blends together yoga, Pilates, and a bit of HIIT to slowly strengthen your body correctly after giving birth so that you can progress to more challenging workouts after if you’d like.

Postpartum Exercises You Can Attempt Before HIIT

Postpartum exercises can boost your mood, encourage weight loss, raise your energy level, and strengthen various muscles.

The workouts chosen postpartum should strengthen the main muscle groups, like on your back and abdomen, as you move to more intense workouts later. Ideally, do about 150 minutes of moderate exercises a week broken into however many minutes a day realistically works for your schedule.

If you were active during your pregnancy and had a vaginal birth without complications, presumably, you can resume your routine fast. Start by taking moderate walks of up to 20 minutes, learning how to correctly engage your abdominals again postpartum, and Kegel exercises for about six weeks, then go back to the fitness routine before childbirth.

On the other hand, if you had a C-section, your doctor may tell you to wait for up to six weeks, and the only thing you can lift until then is your baby. So, the most you can do before then is an easy walk, although, within days after the C-section, your doctor may approve deep breathing, shoulder circles, and stretching.

Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises

The pelvic floor muscles endure pressure during childbirth, and severe damage can affect pleasure and bladder control. Kegels are popular exercises for this sensitive area, and they’re simple and easy because you can do them when lying down. 

woman doing pelvic floor exercises postpartum

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels 

To start, squeeze these muscles and hold for two seconds, then release for one second. Do this routine 10 times every morning and evening.

Upper Body Exercises

Two to four weeks after a normal delivery, one of the proposed workouts targets the upper body. You can begin by always lifting your baby with the correct posture. Use your glute muscles to lower and raise your torso (like you would in an RDL) and brace your core prior to picking up your little one. By picking them up correctly from the begining you will train your muscles to do it correctly as they gain weight.

As your baby gets older you can use them as a tiny weight for additional bonding. However if you a recently postpartum, set your baby in a safe place near you like a swing or bouncer and use light weights to train your upper body before progressing to heavier weights as time goes on.

Lower Body Exercises

In the fourth to sixth week postpartum, your workout may target the lower body through clamshells, side kicks, and lunges. This Postpartum Pilates is safe for the 6 week waiting perperiod in most circumstances.

Or you can try these Yoga with Baby moves as well for a low impact full body workout.

Photo by Elina Fairytale from Pexels 

Does Diet Matter During Postnatal Exercise?

Yes, it does. You require a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, fluids, and proteins for your body to recover while still producing enough milk. If you cut down on calories as part of your weight loss strategy, you might not have enough for milk production.

However if you follow the most nourishing diet plan created specifically for breastfeeding moms to lose weight postpartum while increasing their milk supply simultaneously, The Milky Mama’s Postpartum Plan, you don’t have to worry about this. The Milky Mama’s Plan also comes with a 4 week postpartum exercise plan too, so you will increase milk supply, lose the baby weight, nourish your body for recovery, and regain the strength you lost during pregnancy.

You might want to consider protein supplements such as whey protein and Plant-based protein to build muscle and improve recovery after your workouts. But, probably, the first question at the back of your mind is… are they safe for you and your baby?

Unfortunately, though all protein powders are marketed as “health foods” many are filled with artificial ingredients and fillers. However, a protein powder recommended for or even created specifically for breastfeding mothers is recommended to use postpartum. This can help to increase your milk supply, lose the excess baby weight, and help you recover and repair postpartum.

Wrapping Up Is HIIT Safe for a Postpartum Workout

Since you’ll be looking for a postpartum recovery routine that takes care of your mind and body, you might feel the urge to take on a fitness program that elevates your mood and helps you regain your pre-baby body. HIIT seems like a fit as it works. 

Before you settle for that high-intensity workout you’ve wanted to sign up for, consider where you are in your postpartum journey, the kind of delivery you had, and any complications arising from childbirth.

It is best to complete a workout plan specifically designed to help you regain strength postpartum like the Milky Mama’s Postpartum Plan prior to diving into an exercise plan that is just high intensity interval workouts.

Also, let your doctor know your plans, and you’ll get expert advice suited to your postnatal needs.

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