It ‘takes three years’ to get back to pre-pregnancy fitness after giving birth – this is why that’s OK

‘You only really get one shot at post-natal recovery.’ (Picture: Getty/

For 75% of mums – even those who were very fit before getting pregnant – it takes three years to return to pre-pregnancy fitness levels, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by Martin Army Community Hospital in Georgia, found that of the 460 women they tested – all of whom were soldiers – only 30% had returned to pre-pregnancy fitness levels one year after giving birth.

All of the women in the study had a high level of fitness when they fell pregnant, and continued a moderated fitness regime during pregnancy.

The mums particularly struggled with sit-ups after giving birth – likely due to the fact that abdominal muscles are weaker following pregnancy.

There is a huge amount of societal pressure for mums to ‘snap back’ after pregnancy, to start exercising quickly, and return to their previous levels of fitness as soon as possible.

This kind of pressure is, in part, driven by celebrities who seem to be back to ‘normal’ incredibly quickly after having a baby, and how they are celebrated for this in the press and on social media.

But worrying about getting fit quickly after giving birth is the last thing a new mum needs.

Pre- and post-natal fitness expert Hollie Grant – creator of The Bump Plan – says it’s important to try to avoid comparison during this time.

‘People will often see in magazines, newspapers or films, women who have “snapped back” really quickly and it’s so tempting to compare yourself,’ Hollie tells

‘Try not to compare, and bear in mind that these celebrities will have childcare, which not all of us have. They will also have personal trainers who are living with them or travel with them, who are able to train them everyday, which obviously help motivation. They might have cleaners who clean their house so they don’t have to or chefs.

‘Lots of these celebrities will have more support than most of the rest of us have. For many of them, their job is their body, so there’s a huge amount of pressure that comes with that, which luckily the rest of us don’t have to face.’

Hollie says it’s also important to realise that this isn’t a race.

‘You only really get one shot at post-natal recovery,’ she says. ‘What I tend to find is that women who have rushed back have actually set themselves back much more.

‘There should be a level of core rehab for all post-natal women.’ (Picture: Getty)

‘It’s important to take your time and put in the effort to do the pelvic floor work and make sure you’re breathing properly now that your uterus isn’t up by your diaphragm.

‘You need to be aware of what your core is meant to do, as there’s not only health risks to going back too quickly, but you also might set yourself back and it could be a longer road to recovery.

‘It has taken 10 months to create that baby so you can’t expect to be back to normal after 10 weeks.

So, what does this latest study mean for the average person after giving birth. Is achieving a good level of fitness after having a baby a pipe-dream, or completely unattainable?

Hollie doesn’t think so.

‘This study is extremely interesting,’ she says. She points to the fact that the soldiers resumed their regular training at 12 weeks post-natal, she says there should be a chance to build up to that.

‘While the guidelines about resuming fitness are really basic – six week post-vaginal birth and 12 weeks post-caesarian birth – that doesn’t mean just going back to what you did before,’ she says.

Top tips for post-natal fitness

The guidelines we have are really generalised.

We are told not to return to exercise for six weeks, but there are things you can do beforehand.

It isn’t as simple as ‘don’t do anything and when you hit six or 12 weeks you can go back to CrossFit’.

There are things you can do almost as soon as you’ve had your baby that can help you recover. For example your pelvic floor exercises. Even if you’ve had a caesarian, your pelvic floor has had 10 months of progressive loading. You can start doing pelvic floor exercises one week post baby and that even helps to bring blood back to the area which can help with healing any tears.

You can also start learning how to breathe again, diaphragmatic breathing, and its a muscle so we almost need to relearn how to breathe. For this, we would be thinking about breathing into the whole of the ribcage and making sure we breathe out until there’s nothing left.

Pelvic tilts will mobilise the pelvis and lower back (during pregnancy it can be pulled forwards) so this helps improve mobility there. 

When you are trying to return to post-natal fitness, if you are able to and have the funds, get a mummy MOT – or go and see a women’s health physio who can test to see how your pelvic floor is getting on and test you for DRA (Diastasis). This can give you a bit more of a green light to start doing more abdominal work.

Be aware of any signs of leaking post-natally (urine etc.) when exercising. It is worth speaking to your GP if this is happening and asking if you can be referred to a women’s health physio. 

Hollie Grant, The Bump Plan

‘There should be a level of core rehab for all post-natal women. This is why I’m not surprised that they noticed the sit-ups were the exercises that they struggled the most.

‘Of course, that whole area is stretched during pregnancy and it’s going to take some rehab to get it back to where it was pre-pregnancy.

‘The fact they’re back to regular training at 12 weeks could be a factor in these results as it isn’t clear how much core rehab was done before throwing them back into regular training.

‘You’ve also got to take into account that there are lots of other factors that might slow down their return to fitness post-natally.’

For example, Hollie says, getting much less sleep can have a huge impact.

‘We know that lack of sleep and fitness performance are massively linked, so you can’t expect a new mum to be able to put in as much effort as pre-birth,’ she says. 

‘Also, nutrition-wise, we know that mums don’t have much free time, so they may not be cooking themselves balanced meals or remembering to eat. So their nutrition levels will be much lower than pre-birth.

‘Stress, anxiety and the fact that they’re now parents so it’s harder to find spare time outside of their regular soldier training.’

Asked about the standardised guidelines about exercise after giving birth, Hollie says it’s important for women to listen to their own bodies.

‘There’s a struggle at the moment where women are told to do nothing for 6-12 weeks post baby, and then they think they can just go back to their regular exercise,’ says Hollie.

‘There needs to be something that’s in the interim where there’s a graded return to fitness. You can’t just throw people straight back in at the deep end.’

With her own clients, Hollie says she works to keep women moving during pregnancy, and then works on re-establishing core strength in a safe way, and stretching out the areas most overused when looking after a baby.

‘Regarding the finding about resuming fitness levels three years after the birth, of course!’ she exclaims.

‘When your child is three, you’re getting more sleep, you’ve had much longer for your core to return to normal and you’ve had time to build back up.’

She adds that there are so many individual factors that will effect the speed at which you recover after pregnancy. Also she says your life will never go back to exactly how it was before you were pregnant – but that’s OK.

‘You will always have a small person to think of and you’ll always have to wake up when they wake up,’ she says. ‘You’ll have the anxiety and stress that comes with that, even though it’s lovely. It’s obviously very demanding and you didn’t have that pre-pregnancy.

‘Your body has gone under significant changes. How you gave birth will impact the length of recovery. I had an emergency caesarian so the recovery was much longer.

‘There is no rush and it will vary from person to person. If you do rush it could take much longer.’

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