Fitting in Fitness: A Guide for New Moms
The most challenging aspect to getting back into shape after pregnancy is not lack of motivation, sleep deprivation, or fatigue—it’s time. New moms stay busy almost every moment of every day. Finding the time for fitness activities right now may seem as feasible as climbing Mount Everest. After all, if you barely have time to take a shower, how can you find the time to exercise?
New Mom’s Reap Many Benefits from Exercise
While it may seem like a challenge at first, you can find the time to lead a physically active, healthy lifestyle as a new mom. You need personal commitment, some creative thinking, resourcefulness, and most of all, strong, time-management skills.
Benefits of a Postpartum Fitness Program
- Boost your energy levels.
- Heighten your self-image.
- Manage stress better, making you feel calmer as you go about your day-to-day activities.
- Increase your general satisfaction with life.
- Improve your physical appearance.
- Release endorphins, the brain chemicals that make you feel relaxed—even euphoric—after exercise.
- Transfer a calm attitude to your children, who will feel more relaxed and confident when they see their mother’s “grace-under-fire” composure even in chaotic situations.
- Minimize irritability with life’s daily frustrations, thereby enhancing your loving interactions with your children and spouse.
- Think more clearly, thus enabling you to more readily see the solutions to the little problems that crop up daily.
Be There for Yourself and You’ll Be There for Your Family
Many women have internalized the notion that they must sacrifice themselves for their husbands and their children in order to be a good wife and mother. When faced with the conflict between meeting the demands of our families and taking care of ourselves, we often have the feeling that it would be selfish to look after our own needs.
However, yielding to guilt feelings and cutting exercise from your schedule will not give your family their mom at her best. If you enhance all your faculties, feel better, and have more energy, you can’t help but become an even better parent and partner. Scheduling time for fitness activities, therefore, cannot be selfish.
Exercise Makes You More Effective
To successfully care for our families, we must take care of ourselves. For Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, exercise, relaxation, meditation and other health-promoting activities comprise one of the seven habits that make people effective in all the roles they assume. Such activities, says Covey, restore us, and therefore are analogous to a carpenter “sharpening the saw,” to keep his or her tools in optimum condition. Obviously, we all know a dull blade just can’t cut as effectively as a sharp one. Too often, however, we neglect ourselves, which dulls our vitality and blunts our efficacy.
Effective parenting requires strength, stamina, Flexibility and energy. If we allow ourselves to emotionally and physically “run out of gas,” then we have nothing left to give to those we cherish most. To be the best mom that you can be, you must make exercise a top priority.
The Challenges of Having a New Baby
Being a new mom isn’t easy. Some babies fall right into predictable sleep and eating patterns; others don’t. Some babies sleep a lot; others take many quick naps throughout the day. Some babies are easy-going and adaptable; others are more demanding and fussy. Certainly, the nurturing of your baby comes first. But there are specific steps that you can take to ensure that your fitness goals do not get lost in the shuffle.
Follow These Six Steps to Fit in Fitness
Step One – Commit to the goal of fitting in fitness, to becoming the leader of your family’s active, healthy lifestyle.
If you’re wishy-washy about this step, then you won’t reach your health goals—whether for yourself or your children.
As a part of this first step, take an honest, realistic assessment of your time and how you manage your priorities. Don’t regard fitness as an activity you will do only when you “have the time.” If you categorize fitness as a free-time only activity—an option, rather than a requirement—then you won’t be able to fit it in to your daily schedule. The reality of parenting is that you no longer have free time.
Many new moms make the mistake of telling themselves, “Well, maybe I could exercise after I get the laundry done.” If that doesn’t happen, then they might say, “I’ll try to get to it after lunch.” This kind of planning does not work. To be successful, you need to commit to specific actions at specific times—just as you would a doctor’s appointment or a business meeting.
Examine your daily and weekly routine. Determine where you can carve out 30 minutes several times a week for physical activity, and then block it into your schedule. Many new moms find that exercising in the morning works best. That way it gets done and out of the way, and doesn’t get lost in the hubbub of your daily activities. Others find it easier to exercise later in the day. It doesn’t matter when you do it—just do it.
Step Two – Set specific, realistic, attainable goals.
Make sure you start small and stay realistic. If you set goals that are too difficult—such as “I’m going to run three miles every morning before my baby and husband wake up,” then you’re unwittingly setting yourself up for defeat.
Set fitness goals that match your physique. Too often we look at a supermodel and say to ourselves “I want my legs, stomach, or derriere, to look like that.” If you are tall and naturally very slender, you might have a shot at attaining that goal, but for the majority of us, that goal is simply unattainable. Instead, aim to be the best possible you. That’s attainable, realistic and self-affirming. In the end, we all have to play the cards that life has dealt to us.
Step Three – Pick fitness activities that you enjoy and that suit your personality.
Recognize what kinds of exercise environment and activity best suits your personality. One of the biggest reasons why we fall off the exercise wagon is because we choose the wrong venue, or wrong type of activity—or both. If you enjoy both the setting and the activity, you’re much more likely to repeat the experience.
Perhaps we joined a gym because we think we “should,” or our friends encouraged us to join with them. Or we bought a piece of home exercise equipment because we imagined owning it will solve all our fitness problems. But if the “jock” atmosphere of gyms puts you off, or seeing large exercise equipment prominently displayed in your home isn’t to your taste, then long-term success will not be yours.
Some of us like—and need—to exercise alone, to give our minds time to sort things through. Runners, swimmers and cyclists tend to fall in this category. Others of us need to be part of group and gravitate toward group fitness classes and activities. Some women prefer workouts where they can compete against themselves; others find positive reinforcement in sports where they have a chance to win in competition against a friend or other players.
Not sure what you’d like? Think back to when you were a kid. Did you prefer running games, riding your bike, swimming, playing a one-on-one game of tennis? Or were team sports, like volley ball, your game?
Step Four – Get help. Enlist your husband, family and friends to help you around the house or watch the children for an hour, so you can use that time to exercise.
Negotiate with your partner for a regular, committed slot of time, perhaps an hour or two per week, morning, evening, or on the weekend, for fitness activities. You’ll get a much needed “mommy” break, and your husband will have a wonderful opportunity for bonding with the baby and honing his parenting skills.
Perhaps you might have a family member or close friend that can help with baby care once a week. Another option is to hire childcare, or extend your existing childcare hours so that you can have specific times during the week that you can devote to exercise.
Step Five – Ideas into Reality: Make it real by writing it down.
Write down your action plan and place it where you can see it regularly throughout the day, i.e., on a wall calendar, a dresser mirror, bulletin board, the refrigerator door, your computer monitor, or on any prominent place in your home or office.
Here’s a possible example:
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons: fitness walk with the baby in the stroller (or front pack) for 30 minutes.
Tuesday and Thursday mornings: exercise for 30 minutes with tapes or DVDs while the baby naps.
Step Six – Put your plan into action, one day at a time.
Make sure that your exercise plans are on the top of that day’s priority list, and don’t let anything outside of a true emergency or illness interfere with that schedule. When it’s time for your exercise, don’t ask yourself if you “feel like exercising,” or wonder whether or not you will have the energy. If you give into feeling tired or unmotivated, then you might be tempted to skip your workout. Remember, exercise will increase your energy level, rather than decrease it, and give you a much-needed psychological boost.
Research has shown it takes about six weeks to establish a new habit. If you are out of the habit of exercise, then you will need to work a little bit harder to establish a routine. Think of this initial period as the on-ramp to a more active lifestyle. Push yourself to stay on course. Take pride in small accomplishments. Even if your steps are small, you’re making progress.
After just a month or so, you’ll discover not only that you are looking and feeling better, but you will also have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. And nothing motivates like success. Over time, you’ll be able to look back and see that your many small steps—accomplished one day at a time—have added up to a much healthier lifestyle.
It’s important for new moms to remember that it can take up to nine months to fully recover after pregnancy and childbirth. Avoid the trap of self-criticism or judging yourself against others. It’s easy, especially during times of stress, for our “internal critics” to hijack our internal dialogue. Develop a mental off-button. When you hear yourself being critical or self-deprecating, take a moment, close your eyes, and visualize yourself flipping a switch to the off position. Replace negative self-talk with positive, motivating dialogue. Be kind, supportive, and nurturing to yourself. You deserve it.
10 Fitness Quick-Tips for New Moms
- Dress in your fitness clothes first thing in the morning. This way you’ll be ready to workout right when your baby falls asleep and save valuable minutes.
- Enroll in a post-natal exercise or yoga class where you can go with your baby. You’ll get fit and meet other new moms in your area.
- Buy, borrow or rent exercise DVDs, videos, or books, and commit to using them while your baby is napping.
Tips for Finding Exercise Instructional Materials
- See information on activities Contraindicated for pregnancy at: Contraindicated Exercise During Pregnancy and Abdominal Reconditioning after Pregnancy.
- Evaluate DVDs, VCRs and books before purchase to make sure they adequately address prenatal and postpartum fitness needs.
- Read on-line or print reviews of exercise DVDs, VCRs or books. When reading on-line reviews, be sure to check the qualifications of the reviewer.
- Borrow DVDs and VCRs from the public library, or rent or purchase them from your local bricks-and-mortar store or on-line (many on-line rental companies now have convenient mailing systems for return as well as delivery).
- Record programming of fitness TV shows that cable and PBS stations routinely broadcast in the early morning.
- Push your living room furniture to the side, turn on your portable music player, put in your earplugs, and groove to your favorite dance music. You’ll have loads of fun, get a terrific aerobic workout, and burn calories at the same time.
- Join a health club close your home that has facilities and programs in line with your interests and that includes a good childcare center which you can use when he or she reaches the right age.
- Participate in—or start—a new mom’s group that has a focus on physical activities like power walking or hiking.
- Buy, borrow, —or dust off—home exercise equipment. If you’re worried about the price, used treadmills, stationary bikes and other major pieces of fitness equipment can be found at garage sales or at online at sites like EBay—but try it out, or get a money back guarantee, before you buy.
The best fitness equipment choices for new moms include:
- Sturdy baby carrier
- Jog stroller
- Elliptical trainer
- Stationary exercise bike, or outdoor bicycle adapter
- Large exercise ball
- Free weights
- Exercise bands and tubing
- Post-Natal workout tapes and DVDs
- Baby-wipes also make great sweat wipes. Keep a stack in your gym bag. Wipes can be used to swab equipment at the gym before use to prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses.
- Register with an on-line health and fitness support group for new moms.
- If your budget permits, hire a certified personal trainer who specializes in prenatal and postpartum exercise.