9 - 12 Months Postpartum

Recovery Progress
9 Months Out of 18 Down! 50%

Overview

Welcome to the last 3 months of your first postpartum year! By 9 months postpartum, you’ve likely been through countless peaks and valleys, but you made it. By this stage of recovery, your body is getting closer to being fully healed from pregnancy and childbirth. It can take over 12 months to fully recover, however, and things may not look or feel exactly how you remember. That is okay, and even to be expected. 

At this point, you may have noticed that babies thrive on routine. While it’s still good to have some spontaneity in your life, you’ve likely noticed that things run a little smoother when your baby is on a predictable eat, play, sleep schedule. Just like baby, your body and mind may work a little better when it has a routine too. As you’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for your baby (and continue to learn this), this is a good time to build a solid routine for yourself when it comes to eating habits, exercise, and self care. 

This is a good time to find and solidify wellness habits that will carry you through the rest of your first year and beyond. As you figure out what works for you, it’s important to find ways to maintain your overall health and well-being. And if you are planning another pregnancy and birth, this is a good time to start learning how to use movement to ease birth this time around.

We’ll focus on ways to help build and solidify your routine as we walk you through your last 3 months of your postpartum journey (or at least the first year of it!).

Note: This page contains affiliate links or codes. This means that if you buy something using the links or codes below, we may receive compensation. Learn more in our Disclaimer.

Core

When it comes to the core, it is still normal to not feel like you’re entirely back to where you were pre-pregnancy. Getting back to pre-pregnancy weight is a goal for many. While it isn’t the most important thing to focus on during recovery, returning to pre-pregnancy weight can help prevent and limit certain chronic health issues such as obesity and diabetes. Many women who gained the recommended weight during pregnancy are often still 2-5 pounds above the weight they were at pre-pregnancy, according to Bodily.

In addition to returning to a pre-pregnancy weight, regaining core strength should be one area to focus on. Improving and increasing core strength can help limit things like back pain, pelvic pain, and help with return to exercise as well as pelvic floor function.

While we’ve talked about it before, 30% of women still report diastasis recti at one year after birth(Sperstad et al 2016). This number is likely higher because it’s often underdiagnosed and is hard to research. The best things you can do to improve diastasis recti are focusing on posture and alignment as you move through your day, avoid holding your breath with heavy activity, and focusing on increasing core strength with targeted exercises. 

How do you know if a core exercise is too much for you at 9 months postpartum?

Remember, that when you are performing core exercises, it’s important that you are able to do the exercises without any of the following signs or symptoms.

  • Doming or coning in the  middle of your abdomen
  • Noticing a separation of the muscles in the middle of your abdomen
  • Having to hold your breath to complete the exercise
  • Being unable to complete the exercise with good form
  • Any pain 
  • Leakage of any kind
  • Pressure or heaviness feeling in the pelvic area or core

If you do experience any of these, you may need to modify the exercise or find something that is not as challenging while you build strength. 

See below for some specific core exercises for 9-12 months postpartum.

Pelvic Floor

Your body is now coming full circle at 9 months postpartum, and that includes your pelvic floor. It’s likely that your period will return during this timeframe if it hasn’t already. It’s normal for your period to be irregular as it returns, but if you are finding that you’re having excessive bleeding, cramping, or PMS symptoms that are interfering with normal daily activities, it’s important to talk to your doctor. 

While it takes time for pelvic floor strength to return, it’s not normal to still be struggling with incontinence at this point. If you are dealing with anything such as incontinence or prolapse symptoms, seek care from a pelvic floor therapist. For more information about pelvic floor dysfunction postpartum, see our information from 6-9 months. These are all common but not necessarily “normal” issues that many women deal with. 

For many during this phase of recovery, you may be trying to return to more activity or exercise. If so, there are some things you can do to make sure your pelvic floor is ready for more intense activity. 

And for those thinking about having another child, you can learn more on how to use movement to ease birth this time around.

Pelvic Floor and High Impact Exercise

If you’re not experiencing any or many bothersome symptoms, you may still be unsure how to return to your normal level of exercise without causing any problems for your pelvic floor at 9 months postpartum. If you want to know whether your pelvic floor is ready for more intensity when it comes to things like running, jumping, or high impact exercise, there are some things you can do to “test” it.

The following are some things a physical therapist would typically look at to help determine if you’re ready for higher level exercise. In order to consider yourself “passing” these tests, each exercise should be completed without any pain, heaviness, leakage, or dragging sensation in the pelvic or abdominal area.

Are you ready to jump, bounce, and run at 9 months postpartum?

The following are recommended by Groom et al:

  • Walking 30 minutes
  • Single leg balance 10 seconds
  • Single leg squat 10 repetitions on each side
  • Jog on the spot for 1 minute
  • Forward jumps/ bounds 10 repetitions
  • Hop in place 10 repetitions
  • Single leg “running man”

(Groom et al, 2019)

If you’re able to complete the above activities without issue, this is a good indication that your pelvic floor is ready for running or high impact exercise. 

If you’re unable to complete these activities without symptoms like pain, heaviness, leakage, or dragging by 9-12 months postpartum, it would be helpful to seek care from a pelvic floor therapist so they can help get you to that point. 

Adjusting to Motherhood

At 9 months postpartum, you are rounding the corner on making it through the first year with your babe. Congratulations are in order mama. This is a great time to reflect on the past year – how have you grown as a mom? What routines do you want to continue? What routines do you look forward to changing in the future?

Looking Ahead: Building a Life You Enjoy!

As moms, we often put our families first, sometimes to the point that we unintentionally neglect our own needs. This cycle was personally unsustainable for me (Alex), and when I finally decided that taking care of myself would ultimately benefit my family, my marriage, and bring me more joy, I had no idea where to start or what I even wanted!

This month we will talk about how to make positive changes to help you grow not only as a mom, but as a whole person! It’s hard to believe now, but one day your babe(s) will grow up and you will have more time for your own pursuits – I want you to enjoy the life you are creating not only for your children, but for yourself!

As you read on, understand that I am not a mental health professional writing this, I am writing this as a mom who understands the importance of mental wellbeing as a mom, as an individual, and as a professional who has worked closely with psychologists and coaches as a health professional. None of this is intended as a replacement for mental health services*, but I do hope that this section gives you at least 1 actionable way you can start prioritizing your mental wellbeing after 9 months postpartum!

Prioritizing Your Emotional Health is Beneficial Even When You Aren’t at Your Breaking Point!

Every month I (Alex) like to remind you that if you aren’t feeling like yourself, it may be time to seek help. This month, I’m going to tell you why prioritizing your mental wellbeing is beneficial even if you are not at your breaking point – how it might be beneficial even if you are just looking for support in building the life you love!

My motherhood journey has not exactly gone as planned. It began with a loss that was the first of many losses for me. When I went back to work after my daughter was born, I struggled with going back to work, had difficulty asking my husband for help, and I was learning to live with symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse. During the pandemic, after another loss, I chose to work with a perinatal mental health specialist and eventually a career coach that helped me change my life for the better. 

Here are the most valuable lessons I have learned on my personal and professional journey to building a life I genuinely enjoy:

  • How to Find Time for You
    • Now that your baby is likely sleeping on a more consistent schedule, you can carve out some time for yourself. If that is currently difficult for you, many of the strategies we have talked about in past months can still be used to carve out time for yourself. You can revisit those resources at the links below:
  • Finding Yourself Again (or maybe for the first time)
    • If you’ve carved out time for yourself but don’t know what to do with that time, this is a great next step. Here are a few ways to reconnect with yourself:
      • Journal
      • Books
        • Mindset by Carol Dweck
        • The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
      • Fast-track Your Progress with a Coach or Therapist
        • In my experience, coaches and therapists can help you meet your personal goals in a few ways, they can help you:
          • look at your life from a different perspective
          • learn new coping mechanisms and strategies that you may not be aware of
          • Create a clearer path from where you are to where you want to be
        • So who should you work with when?
          • If you have a pre-existing or possible mental health condition, I highly recommend starting with a therapist.
          • If your goals are focused on wellness – your struggles don’t impair your day-to-day life and your goals are focused on improving your life vs. treating a mental health condition – find a therapist or coach that you connect with and has experience helping others work toward similar goals.
  • The Key to Juggling Motherhood
    • Get to know what balls you can drop and when to pick them back up. I used to think there was a secret to doing it all, but there isn’t because NO ONE can juggle it all. That mom that you think is doing better than you has stuff that she struggles with too (even if she is really good at hiding it). The only way you get better at juggling is juggling. You will drop a lot of balls along the way and you will also learn a lot as you keep juggling.
      • Here’s a real life example from my (Alex’s) life: I was not a great communicator when I became a mom. I thought my husband should read my mind, see what needed to be done for the family, see when I was struggling, and help me without me having to ask. At the same time, when my husband did help, I was often overly critical of how he did things. After a few years, experiencing tragedy together, and going to therapy myself, I really started interacting with my husband differently – I started communicating my needs earlier, we started doing Weekly Family Check-ins to proactively divide the load, and I had to trust him and allow him to do things his own way (even if it meant letting him learn things on his own sometimes). It was extremely awkward for me at first. Did I make mistakes along the way? Absolutely and I’ve learned that that is just a part of growing! It was so hard and so worth it.

So, if you are ready to commit to making some positive changes in your life, I’m here to say that I know it is hard and it is absolutely worth it because you are worth it! And you do not need to know your destination (spoiler alert: it will likely change over time), sometimes you just need to start with knowing what you don’t want and grow from there!

Common Struggles

By 9 months postpartum, every journey likely looks different. How things look can vary depending on things like whether or not you have older children, health issues, socioeconomic status, emotional support, etc. While we’ve broken up our resources into various months, it’s still very possible that struggles from previous months are present even by this stage. You may see some overlap not only in our content but in your own experience as well. That’s because as you get further into your postpartum journey, you’ll notice that many things don’t magically go away or get better at specific time points. Therefore, while you may recognize some similarities in the common struggles sections from month to month, know that is because these are things we’ve found to be troublesome for moms at various stages.

Weaning (& Lactation Support)

If you chose to breastfeed, it’s possible that you are thinking about weaning at this point. While this is different for everyone, weaning can impact you physically and mentally. As you wean baby, your own calorie needs will adjust. While breastfeeding, the CDC recommends up to 400 extra calories per day. However, to avoid excess calories and potential weight gain, this will need to be adjusted as you wean baby. For more on the topic of postpartum weight loss, see last month’s guide.

Additionally, weaning your baby from breastfeeding can cause hormonal fluctuations that could impact things like your menstrual cycle.

Intercourse/ Sex Drive

This is one you may recognize from previous time periods. Unfortunately, it continues to be a problematic area for many at 9 months postpartum even as they near one year postpartum. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist if you are not seeing improvements with suggestions we’ve given and this is a priority for you. With that being said, it’s important to remember that it’s also OK if this is not yet a priority for you.

There are many factors that can affect not only how intercourse feels postpartum but also sex drive postpartum. When it comes to changes in a person’s sex life after baby, things like desire, arousal, lubrication, and comfort all play a role. All of these things are essential for normal sexual function, but unsurprisingly, all of these things are affected by things like poor sleep, stress, and hormones. All of which go hand-in-hand with a new baby!

There is some research looking at whether or not having a vaginal delivery or cesarean section can affect sex life after baby. According to Eid et al, a vaginal delivery is associated with lower levels of desire, arousal, and lubrication. On the other hand, a C-section is associated mostly with lower desire. 

According to research done by Fuchs et al, most women report showing less interest in sex because of tiredness, breast hypersensitivity, and conflicts between partners. Additionally, they found that a woman’s sense of attractiveness varies greatly before, during, and after pregnancy, and this can also affect sex life. 

While it may seem like there are many factors working against new moms when it comes to their sex lives, if it’s something that is important to you, know that there are things you can do to help this area. While the solution depends on the specific issue that may be interfering with your sex life (i.e. hormones, fatigue, etc.), there are some things you can do.

To read more on this topic, see our 6 – 9 Month Postpartum Guide or for more on pain, see our 3 – 6 Month Postpartum Guide.

Tips:

  • Communicate with your partner. While some things should seem obvious (hello waking up every 2-3 hours to feed a 12 week old causing you to be bone tired!),it’s important to talk to your partner about where you’re at because unfortunately, they cannot read our minds. 
  • Along with communication, talk to your partner about what you need. If you get to the end of every day completely burnt out, that is okay. So try to come up with a plan to give you some alone time. 
  • Take time for yourself. It can be as easy as sitting in a quiet space for 30 minutes. But try to set aside at least one or a couple of times per day where you have a few minutes of peace and quiet. This can help lower stress levels and help the muscles relax. 
  • Get active. Physical activity helps to boost mood and, in turn, could help with your sex life. Walking is a great place to start, but when you’re ready try an activity that really gets your heart rate up and may even leave you a little breathless.
  • Try different positions. If you’re specifically dealing with pain or discomfort, try a variety of positions as well as plenty of lubricant to help with comfort.
  • Consider talking to your doctor. It is possible that your low libido may be due to hormonal changes. If that’s the case, there may be things your doctor can do to help.
  • For more great ideas and thoughts from new moms on how to navigate postpartum sex, check out this article.

Illness

This is one I felt that I had to include (Kristina). I’m not sure if there is any research backing this specific struggle up at this time point. However, I’ve been through it myself and anecdotally have found I’m not alone. 

By illness, I mean your baby getting sick, and then you getting sick, and then your whole household getting sick. This struggle is compounded when you have other work and life responsibilities as well as other kiddos too. It’s inevitable that a new baby will get sick- they put everything and anything in their mouths. Even if, gasp!, there are a ton of germs on that thing. They just do not seem to care about the potential ailments they may contract. While actually caring for a sick kiddo is it’s own struggle, it can be a struggle in your postpartum recovery as you continue to prioritize your own health and possibly getting back to work. 

Sick babies make it hard to practice healthy habits, especially if your sleep is disrupted. However, it’s important to stick to some semblance of a routine to help minimize your risk of getting sick (as much as that may or may not be possible) and allow you to care for your family. Here are some suggestions for when you have a sick baby:

  1. Forget about all the extra stuff you were going to do like organize the pantry, make 5 phone calls address all the Christmas cards, bathe and groom your dog (you know, any of those random extra things that just are not a priority).
  2. Don’t worry about elaborate dinners. Canned chicken noodle soup? Great! Scrambled eggs and toast? Perfect!
  3. Stay hydrated- this just always helps, almost anything
  4. Invest in a great humidifier (assuming it’s one of the 100 times you’ll deal with a respiratory illness this year)
  5. Breathe- you’re not going to get everything done and you can’t get everything done. Just take it one inhale and one exhale at a time.

9 Months Postpartum Exercises (9-12 Months)

You made it the home stretch! It’s likely that your workout routine still feels a bit foreign. While your body is mostly healed at this point from childbirth, it’s normal and common to still deal with some challenging areas at 9 months postpartum. It’s likely that core strength is still not back to normal. This is especially the case if you are dealing with diastasis recti. Other areas that may be weak and make things more challenging include glut weakness and pelvic floor weakness. Weakness in these areas can make it feel harder to advance your workout routine.

If you experience any of the following symptoms at this point, it’s important to see a pelvic health provider before returning to running:

  • Heaviness/ dragging in the pelvic area
  • Leaking urine or not being able to control bowel movements
  • Doming or gap in the abdomen
  • Pelvic or lower back pain

When it comes to actually creating a workout plan, it can be really nice and one less mental load to have something already laid out for you. Personally (Kristina here), even though I am a physical therapist, I have zero capacity to plan my own workouts at the end of the day. Add on being postpartum, and the energy just wasn’t there. We highly recommend a program like Expecting and Empowered that takes you through the postpartum phase and beyond with workouts tailored and modified for the phase of recovery that you are in. If you use our code PRT, you can receive a $20 discount on an annual subscription or $5 on a monthly subscription.

To get you started, we’ve included some exercises that we feel are specifically helpful during this phase of recovery. To start, pick one to two exercise from each group for a well-rounded workout routine. You can add on as you feel comfortable or if there are specific areas you feel need more attention than others.

Flexibility/ Relaxation

Thoracic Rotation Stretch

Downward Facing Dog

Chest Opening Stretches

Core

Russian Twist

Side Planks with optional Hip Abduction

Scissor Kicks

Sidelying V-Ups

Pelvic Floor

Side-lying leg lifts with Kegel

Dead Bugs with Kegel

Hip Abduction with Kegel

Double Leg Hops with Kegel

General Strengthening (Lower + Upper Body)

Jump Squats (can modify to heel raises)

Dumbbell Snatch

Lateral Lunges

Bent Over Rows

Dumbbell Squat Press

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CREDITS

Photo

Sources

Groom, T., Donnelly, G., & Brockwell, E. (2019, March). Returning to running postnatal – guidelines for medical, health and fitness professionals managing this population. Absolute.Physio. Retrieved August 27, 2022, from https://absolute.physio/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/returning-to-running-postnatal-guidelines.pdf

Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, Ellström-Engh M, Bø K. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. Br J Sports Med. 2016;50(17):1092-1096. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096065

Sultan P, Jensen SE, Taylor J, El-Sayed Y, Carmichael S, Cella D, Angst MS, Gaudilliere B, Lyell DJ, Carvalho B. Proposed domains for assessing postpartum recovery: a concept elicitation study. BJOG. 2022 Jan;129(1):9-20. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.16937. Epub 2021 Oct 14. PMID: 34536324; PMCID: PMC9090309.

Br J Sports Med. 2016 Sep; 50(17): 1092–1096. Published online 2016 Jun 20. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096065

*Note: We provide information on postpartum recovery not healthcare advice. We encourage you to discuss any content with your healthcare provider – we value their role in your recovery and this site is not a replacement for healthcare services like obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives, primary care providers, physical and occupational therapists, and mental health providers. See our Terms & Disclaimer and our Resources for more information.