How to find time to exercise with a baby
It’s funny to think how routine I was about exercise before becoming a mother. Boxing taught me a discipline that stuck, guilt always outweighed the option of not turning up. Those training sessions were blocked out of my week like a contract I couldn’t break. I didn’t have to think, I just turned up and my coach took care of the rest. Now life couldn’t be more different. Exercise is snatched haphazardly, unexpectedly and whilst silently praying the little time I’ve found lasts more than few minutes. For someone who loves to stick to a plan, having to become more flexible has really stretched me (pun intended).
Then there’s the added complication of breastfeeding and being on my own with Zahra most of the time. But I’ve chosen to make fitting in exercise a priority for me. This is not about exercising to get my body back, or to put pressure on myself to do it all and be a superwoman. I’m certainly aware of that pressure, and how my ego struggles when I teach a class and find I can’t do so many things that I used to do easily. This is exercise just for me. To feel good and to cope better.
Go easy and listen to your body
Before pregnancy I’d always pushed my body. But returning to exercise after giving birth bought a new level of mindfulness to my practice. I’ve learned the importance of modification and how wonderfully adaptive pilates is for rehabilitation. I often see clients working at a level they’re not quite ready for, and now I can tell them from experience how beneficial modification is. There’s no shame in the modification game.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to get back to exercise quickly. I took it super easy in the fourth trimester. Once Zahra got closer towards six months I was able to do a lot more, amazed at my body’s ability to heal itself. I had experienced a lot of pain with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during pregnancy, which only got worse when I had a baby to constantly pick up. Surprisingly I found that I was able train with a kettlebell, and hit a punch bag, and it seemed to help my wrist. I checked all this with my Physio, so always get advice if you’re unsure about any exercise.
Adapt to home exercise
If you are going to fit regular exercise into your life, and around breastfeeding if that’s another consideration, then most likely you will need to do this at home. The challenge here is most likely you’re not going to ‘feel’ like doing it. It’s easier with a class as you’ve committed to doing it, and the instructor/teacher takes care of the rest. The only way around this is to roll out your mat and just start, don’t wait until you feel like starting.
You don’t need an expensive gym membership to get fit. If you are confident you can exercise safely at home, there are so many good online resources now. Find a dedicated spot in your home and keep your mat nearby ready to roll out. Investing in some small equipment such as dumbells, kettlebells and resistance bands adds strengthening to your routine.
Let go of trying to establish an exercise routine
Grab opportunities when you can. For me these are often unplanned and unpredictable naptimes. But if I see those little eyelids getting heavy then I whip out my leggings. This can seem incredibly motivated, but it is just a habit to think of exercise first and not the laundry, the washing up and everything else that needs doing. Make a commitment to yourself that when naptime comes around you’ll use the time to exercise.
Try short routines
I used to have an-all-or-nothing approach to exercise. I’d love an intense hour of HIIT or a 90 minute Jivamukti yoga session. Anything short of that seemed a little pointless. This was such a mistake; as if I didn’t have a free hour I would skip doing anything for the day. Consistency always wins out in the end, and I now realise I would have achieved much more fitting in what I could. Now my workouts are more likely to be 5-20 minutes at a time. Sometimes I can do a couple of these a day and without a great deal of effort I’ve managed to do 30 mins exercise. Five minutes of stretching in the evening after baby has drifted off is a lovely way to end the day.
Put your leggings on
Arrange with your partner, or a visiting friend/relative that you’re going to take some time to exercise when they arrive. Have your workout clothes on ready as if you were going to the gym. As soon as you greet them, avoid getting into a conversation until you’ve done your session.
Bring your mat to friends/relatives houses
It might seem a little strange, but I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you. I’ll go over to my sisters for dinner and whilst I’m waiting, I’ll pop upstairs to her bedroom and fit in 15 minutes of Pilates whilst Zahra is well looked after.
Exercise with baby
This can be really fun for baby and sometimes the only way exercise is possible. The secret here is distraction, distraction, distraction! I like to bring out the big guns at this point, items usually reserved for when I need to cook or eat. For Zahra these are crunchy paper and plastic bags, tissue paper and her favourite, an empty packet of nuts! She loves all the crinkling noises these make. It’s far from ideal for a relaxing workout, but I can keep my eye on her and stop every few minutes for kisses and tickles. Every now and again I’ll pull her onto the mat to join in. She’s a great medicine ball substitute for overhead presses.
Make walking a challenge
Walking at a brisk pace with a buggy or sling will soon get your heart rate up, with all the benefits of fresh air too. Choose a route that incorporates a few hills for lots of feel-good endorphins.
Think movement not exercise
Exercise is probably the most unappealing thing when you are exhausted and sleep deprived. Be kind to yourself and change your perception of what it means to workout. Sometimes just lying on your mat, and doing a couple of gentle stretches is all you need to reconnect, get out of your head and back into your body. Play around on the mat and have some fun. Remember the goal here is to feel good, not to pressure yourself into recovering your pre-pregnancy body.
Remind yourself why you’re doing this
Looking after yourself is the best gift you can give to you and your baby.