Women often are eager to shed extra weight after pregnancy, but the first workouts should be gentle and follow medical advice, doctors say.

"It's important that the focus of the first two weeks be taking care of the new baby and getting sufficient rest," said Dr. Jeffrey Henke, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Newport News, Va.

Here are tips:

Know the benefits. Exercising soon after childbirth is primarily good for mental health -- possibly guarding against postpartum depression -- not for shedding baby weight. So do what feels good, not anything exhausting. Note: Walking after a Caesarean also reduces the risk of rare but dangerous blood clots in the legs.

Listen to your body. If you're feeling well, a low-intensity workout such as a 30-minute walk is fine within days of a vaginal or Caesarean delivery. But don't try to push through pain caused by tears or scars from childbirth.

Don't worry about goals. You might get discouraged if you don't hit a certain length or pace right away.

Gradually build intensity. About two or three weeks after delivery, workouts that are safe for late in pregnancy generally are fine again: moderate aerobics, light resistance exercises, modified pushups or whatever else your doctor endorses.

Follow post-Caesarean rules. For the first six weeks or until cleared by your doctor, avoid exercises that put direct strain on your incision. That includes situps, stair-steppers or lifting weights heavier than 25 pounds. Some doctors recommend lifting nothing heavier than your baby.

Work around breastfeeding. Nursing mothers need more fluids to prevent dehydration, so drink plenty of water before, during and after workouts. To avoid breast discomfort, try to nurse or pump shortly before exercising -- and invest in a good sports bra.