Becoming a parent is a huge transition and it’s essential to maintain a sense of yourself as you adjust to and learn how to care for a baby while caring for yourself, your family, working, and dealing with all the changes that parenting brings. Many times, parents drop themselves and their own self-care and interests because they feel overwhelmed or because of social messages that they put their needs last. However, happier, healthier and calmer parents are better able to provide a nurturing, calm environment for babies to thrive in.
As we know, exercise provides so many mental and physical health benefits which are definitely necessary in grounding parents as they adjust to parenting. This time to exercise may also give you room to figure out what your other needs are and give you permission to make space for your other values e.g. a happy healthy relationship with your partner, finding some time to create art, spending time with friends and family, being outdoors etc. Remember, the happier and the more grounded you are as a parent (and in your relationship), the better care you can give to a new human being and the happier your baby will be! They learn everything from you. If you are from a group that deals with cultural, financial or social barriers this is even more important because maintaining your health and sense of well-being gives you an extra boost to be able to deal with these extra stressors.
Here are ten tips for keeping up or beginning to exercise post-baby:
Keep a routine – even though a new baby is on their own schedule, in the first few months post baby’s arrival, it’s important to figure out some way to get away for exercise. This will help you manage the transition, all the emotions that may be up, and help you feel like yourself. Your routine may be slightly different for a few months e.g. if you are used to exercising in the early mornings you may change this to late mornings or afternoons due to the sleep interruption that occurs at night if you have an infant. But discussing this with those who are helping, will give you the freedom to prioritize both your mental and physical health, and allow you to be a better parent. If you aren’t good at asking for help, this is a perfect time to develop that skill.
If you really don’t have help, it’s still important to get outside and move if you can. Take the baby on a walk or a run in their stroller.
If you bike, buy a bike seat (or trailer) that you can attach to your bike and go out biking.
As your baby gets slightly older join a gym that has childcare.
Exercise with other parents and piece together childcare as a group. If you don’t know other parents look up groups for parents or start one in your community.
Use an exercise video or app. if you are unable to leave the house.
Put on some music and dance. Your baby will love this if they are awake.
If you have a partner or live with other family members, plan and alternate times that you give each other to go out for physical activity. This may mean getting up earlier than you usually do, so you can do the activity of choice, while someone stays home watching your child. This guarantees that you will set up good sleep patterns so that you and your child get enough sleep. For those who may need more specific ideas, if you are in bed at 8 pm or 8.30 pm., one of you can get up at 4.30 am, head out to the gym for a workout or swim from 5-6 am, get back home, partner heads out and works out from 6.30-7.30 am. and then you can leave for work. While one is working out, the other is having breakfast. This also means having dinner at 6 pm and starting to wind down after that. Kids need a lot more sleep so infants and toddlers can be in bed way before parents, which also gives parents some evening time to themselves. Some of you may be wondering how to get to bed so early, well, cutting out lots of electronics and media watching, helps reduce the wasted time in the day and actually helps with efficiency. Many productive and successful people actually get a good night’s sleep! And good communication with partners and family members or friends will help figure out a routine that works for everyone. You cannot do this easily without communication and support from others.
Remember, kids love learning and seeing new things – begin early with taking them on hikes and walks with them strapped to your back or in a stroller. You can make your walks/hikes as challenging as you’d like. You can do these walks with a partner, friends or just with you and your child. Once your child can walk, taking them on walks (even slow walks gives you some extra time outdoors and moving), you can go to a park, run or walk around, kick or throw a ball. This introduces them to movement early and builds a love of activity.
Strength train with your child - lift them up and down, they are good alternatives for squats and lifts, as anyone who has carried a child knows. They get heavy!
Some skills that can help maintain exercise post-baby are organizational skills, being able to have a schedule that works for you and your family, flexibility, good communication with your support people and developing a system that helps ground you in the importance of maintaining a sense of self and well-being even as you become a parent.
Dr. Cory Nyamora is a licensed psychologist, an endurance sports coach with certifications from USAT and the founder of Endurance – A Sports & Psychology Center, Inc. He provides endurance coaching for beginner and experienced athletes, as well as psychological services to children, adults, and families. He provides trainings for organizations on topics related to the intersections of sports and mental health and overall wellness.