Exercising as a new mom. Let me tell you — this took me a hot sec to figure out.
This past fall, my husband and I welcomed our first sweet baby boy into the world. Within moments of his arrival, our lives changed. I was overcome by a kind of love I never knew existed – yes, I’m still head over heels for my husband! — my mind was moving a million miles a minute and my body was…well…recovering. I dove head first into the baby bubble, feeling my sense of purpose on this earth was completely solidified. I was now a mom *gasp!*.
I was also a mom who had an intense infatuation with spit up volume and consistency, counting wet and dirty diapers and double, triple, quadruple checking that my son was in fact still breathing every time he dozed off. My days blurred together and, TBH, taking care of myself was tough. Amongst the list of daily best practices that went out the window were: regularly showering, brushing my teeth, washing my face, and drinking enough water. Oh, and eating anything that couldn’t be consumed with one hand. If you’re reading this and are thinking sis, I’m still there!, know that I see you, mama. There are still days where seemingly simple tasks feel daunting.
But with time, it gets easier.
Needless to say, I was no longer a rise and grind kinda gal. Or, I was, but my grind had nothing to do with getting a workout in before getting down to work and had everything to do with the repetition of feeding then staying stationary so my son could nap on me. Naturally there were plenty of kisses and snuggles in between his two cyclical needs – but, there wasn’t plenty of time for “me,” if you know what I mean.
My body was working hard to heal after delivery, and while I struggled to find the time or energy to do things that made myself feel good, I still craved my daily sweat. After all, I’m a lifelong fitness enthusiast, former spin instructor and the girl who used to sign up for every new workout class because she just had to try it. 🙃
Easing back into exercise wasn’t at all what I had anticipated. My belly felt like a semi-deflated balloon and my stamina was at an all-time low. In the beginning, it was easier to throw in the figurative (or literal) towel and say why bother when I felt defeated each time I attempted a workout.
My first slew of “workouts” went a little something like this:
– I’m changing into my fitness fit and my son immediately starts to throw a fit.
– Or, I’m finding a workout to do and my son does an epic poo.
– I’m 2 minutes into class and the instructor does a move that shouldn’t be challenging, but I’m feeling weak so I have to pass.
So, how did I finally find my workout groove, and how can you too?
Most importantly, please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program and discuss how to find your way back into movement safely. Then, incorporate these tips safely into your postpartum journey.
These 7 tips helped me shift from recovery to ready to get after it.
The change didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t drastic – but here’s what you can do to ease your journey of re-discovering movement postpartum as a new (absolutely incredible) mom:
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1. Be nimble with how you define exercise
“Exercise” for me has always been somewhat synonymous with “structure”. Stretch, warm up, cardio, strength training, cooldown – or, something of the likes. Loosening how you define exercise can be the golden ticket to strengthening your body and avoiding feeling frustrated or guilty if your workouts don’t look like you anticipated while you ramp back up. Accept that there may be some breaks in between reps or a shorter sweat session than you planned if your baby is calling or if your body says I’m done for now.
Celebrate jumping over the largest hurdle: starting somewhere, anywhere!
After getting the thumbs up from my doc to start exercising again, my first few months of workouts were almost exclusively broken up throughout the day. I consistently had to pause my on-demand video and come back to it another time. Sometimes it was a 20 minute break, sometimes an hour. In all honesty, it wasn’t rare that hitting pause meant finished, either.
As a new mom, your day changes quickly. Honoring my new norm and allowing myself to feel empowered for starting, even if I didn’t technically finish, helped me to keep showing up day after day. Eventually, I began moving through an entire 20 minute video without 👏 any 👏 breaks 👏. This tactic worked wonders on combating my perfectionist tendencies – I reminded myself that every squat counted, even if they weren’t completed precisely in the sequence I set out to do. I was committed to keeping my promise to myself: show up, do the work, listen to my body and keep rocking it as a mom.
Beyond rethinking the structure of your workout, welcome in new types of exercise that may seem like simple, day-to-day movements.
If your journey begins as mine did with ever-lengthening walks, spice things up with some ankle or hand weights.
Bala Bangles are my all-time fave because they’re comfortable, chic and ultra-easy to throw on and go. They don’t cut into my skin, don’t absorb sweat and come in a variety of stylish colors that make me feel pretty damn cute when I strap them on.
The best part is that they’re adjustable, so if I want to alternate wearing them around my ankles, wrists or hands, it’s a quick and easy transition. Balas come in 1 and 2 pound options, so if walking doesn’t feel like a workout to you normally, adding extra weight for your body to carry is a way to level-up your movement. Weight + mileage = an opportunity to sweat. Believe me. 😅
2. Schedule less to show up more
I’m a planner by nature – one that found herself scheduling 30 minute daily workouts that she rarely finished, even parsed out throughout the day. Even though I was desperate for a sweat, I dreaded getting started with wavering motivation and the ever-lingering question of would I finish? It wasn’t that I didn’t want to exercise – frankly, it was hard. I was building strength back up, I was sleep deprived and I would leak through my top…a lot. I didn’t love the process, but I knew that I wanted the end result: feeling powerful physically and clear mentally.
Once I started committing to fewer minutes for my workouts, something magical happened. When I had the time, I found myself exercising for longer because I wanted to, not because I had set out to finish a particularly lengthy workout and felt I had to. Overcoming this mental hurdle was huge for my long-term success in remaining committed to exercise.
Here’s the deal: once you get going, your body is warmed up and you feel empowered, you may want to keep moving. A body in motion stays in motion, right?! You can continue adding targeted exercises onto your sequence – or literally just keep your body in motion – until you’re ready to call it a day. Remember, workouts don’t have to be a 2 hour slog at the gym to be effective. Take the pressure off by starting somewhere, and build on as your body is ready and your schedule allows.
3. Strap on baby in a comfy carrier
Long walks, lunges and chores around the house with a weight strapped to your chest – hello ab workout! Whether you’re hitting the pavement, getting after a few lunges, folding laundry or want to work at your standing desk, keeping baby close is excellent strength training. Beyond engaging your torso, it’s a balancing act, calling on a multitude of muscles to keep you upright.
Whether your little one is taking a nap or taking in the world around them, the added weight as you go about your day is a sure way to intensify your movement.
Ergonomic baby carriers like the BabyBjorn Baby Carrier Mini and Baby Carrier Harmony are supportive, comfortable and functional. As our son outgrew the Mini, we transitioned to the Harmony. It features padded mesh and an adjustable waist belt – perfect as he lengthened and put on weight so that the straps weren’t digging into my shoulders. Plus, the support level was 💯 , meaning I could wear him for longer periods of time and even during a short lunge and squat sequence.
4. Bring on the perfect-for-play baby gear
Swings, bouncers, activity centers – these are lifesavers if your baby is happy hanging out while you work out. Put your baby in a bouncer by your side where they can play with a bar toy or gently bounce themselves while you get after it.
Our son lived in our Baby Bjorn Bouncer, partially because we had to keep him upright after feeding due to reflux, and partially because it let me shift my attention to my virtual workout with him next to my laptop screen. If a bouncer isn’t their jam, try tucking them in a swing with fun movements and tunes like the MamaRoo. Some babies prefer continuous motion, and who doesn’t love a good mobile to stare at?
Remember, if you also have a fur baby in the house, grab a baby gate to keep you and your little one enclosed while you workout – or close the door to the room you’re in. This lets you have undivided attention on your little one and yourself. We bought Toddleroo Superyard Gates because they’re sturdy, easy to break down and move and blend right in with our home’s aesthetic.
5. Tackle tummy time together
Fitting in enough tummy time can be a feat, especially if your little one protests when they’re on their belly. A good way to tackle your core workout and theirs together is laying your baby down for tummy time and laying next to them for a quick ab session. Set up books, toys and other visually interesting objects for them to explore while you roll out your yoga mat for core-targeted movements.
When it comes to ab workouts, the options are endless. Get creative with birddogs, planks, russian twists, flutter kicks and beyond. It doesn’t take long to break a sweat working deep core muscles. And if you want to give yourself an extra challenge, try signing a song, making funny faces or holding a conversation with your baby while you move. They’ll be your greatest cheerleader and you can encourage them to keep up the tummy time efforts, too.
6. All black everything
Newborns love high contrast objects. I found my black workout equipment particularly entertaining to my son when he was my spotter. What began as a curious stare eventually turned into full on tracking of my movements when holding black dumbbells or wearing black Balas strapped around my wrists and ankles. It sounds like a simple trick because it is. Get black workout gear and watch as your baby becomes increasingly fascinated with your movements. They’re entertained, you’re remaining engaged and simultaneously toning and tightening. It’s a win-win.
7. Phone a friend or book a babysitter
That friend, neighbor or family member who’s always saying they can’t get enough of your sweet baby? Give them a call. Ask them to come over and watch him or her while you take a moment for mama. Not only will this promote your baby being comfortable with new faces, it allows you to be nearby, if you’d like to stay close.
One of my close girlfriends had offered to help however I needed postpartum multiple times. It wasn’t until she said come over and I’ll watch your son while you do a 20 minute spin class that I said ok, let’s do this. It was incredibly gratifying to have my butt kicked on the bike. But, the best part was the quality time my son and my friend got together. So, phone a friend who will watch your babe for 20 minutes. Or, call another mama and switch off watching each others’ little one while you each exercise. Making it a standing date is a simple way to hold each other accountable for honoring your “mom” time and, of course, getting in a few extra baby snuggles and some serious sweat.
If you’d rather book a professional who has a certain level of experience and certifications, using referrals from friends or websites can help you get in touch with suitable sitters. Whether you want to drop-in at a local studio or would rather work out from home, you’ll have the flexibility to focus entirely on you for the duration of your workout. Tap into resources and know that you’re not alone, mama. It takes a village, and you’ve got this. 💪
Remember, every baby is different, as is every mama’s journey back to movement.
These tips worked well for me – and some may (or may not) work well for you and your baby. Be gentle with yourself. Know that your physical strength will come with time. Continue showing up for yourself, just like you’re showing up for your precious little love. And remember: you’re nothing short of amazing. 💖