Fitness with a three-month-old baby: My humbling comeback to exercise
Mary Jennings continues her series on fitness in pregnancy and how she has planned her return to running
Mary Jennings walking with her son’s buggy in the park: “It’s all about trying to build activity into our day without consciously calling it exercise,” she says
Once the initial exciting weeks with the new arrival have passed, mothers can often place an unrealistic expectation on themselves to return to their former shape, fitness and identity. For a body that is tired, recovering and still adapting to its new role, it’s no wonder mums can often feel like they may never lose the weight gained or the strength lost in pregnancy.
I believe a lot of people expected me to practically run home from the maternity hospital. If I had a euro for everyone who said to me in the early months ‘I suppose you are out running with the buggy’, I’d be a very rich lady now. The truth is, I wasn’t, and months later I still am not out running with the buggy. The return to pre-pregnancy fitness and strength was not as quick or easy as I had envisaged.
A trial run
Although very comfortable walking every day, I didn’t feel ready to attempt a run until my baby was just over three months old. Cautiously I started out gradually with one minute run, one minute walk but very quickly I realised my body was not quite ready for the impact. Naively I had assumed three months was sufficient recovery time, but my women’s health physiotherapist confirmed after a check-up that I needed at least another month with low-impact exercise before my running shoes should hit the road again.
Reduce the impact
When you are used to high impact and dynamic exercise, this return period can feel quite sedate. It’s important to recognise that the body is still undergoing hormonal changes and even though you might feel strong and energised, the hormone relaxin is still present, which means our joints are less stable as our ligaments are softer and looser. Avoid heavy weights, jumping, sit-ups, crunches and dare I say it, running and planks until you have built up gradually and you have the go-ahead from your women’s health physiotherapist to increase the load on the body. There are no exact guidelines as everyone’s body and recovery is different, but you do have to ask yourself what long-term damage you might do if you push yourself too soon.
Finding the old me
It would have been easy for me to ignore the signs and keep on running with a view to bouncing back to the old me. Truth is, I’m not sure I would ever be the old me again. My priorities, my body and my mindset were now different. My running mojo wasn’t quite there anyhow. Maybe it was tiredness, or just a new sense of direction, but surprisingly I wasn’t too disappointed I couldn’t run right now. I knew there was plenty of other things I could do to keep moving once I managed to drum up the energy to do them.
Exercise in disguise
Don’t stress that you cannot escape alone from your baby to go to a gym or join a class. Finding “me time” is practically impossible in these early months and when you do manage to sneak 30 minutes to yourself there is a long list of things that feature higher than fitness. I didn’t have the energy nor the wish to leave my baby even when I had the chance to take a little time to myself. I made the decision to try and multitask movement into my time with the baby rather than make specific time for exercise in the evenings when I knew I wouldn’t be motivated to go out.
Do you need to sit?
The more you move, the less stiff, tired and weary you will be. Apart from feeding the baby, there was no real need for me to be sitting on a chair. I tried to move when I could and let the baby take the lead. I walked the buggy as the baby slept. I lay down on the mat when the baby played there. I twisted and turned as my body craved and built in some simple Pilates, breathing and flexibility exercises while he chewed toys and wriggled alongside me. I was mindful of my technique of lifting and moving from floor to standing and back again. I had fun trying to mirror his moves as he started to roll over and set myself the fun challenge of attempting to do what he did on the mat as he gained strength and moved so effortlessly.
Dress for success
The day was full of movement opportunities if only I chose to take them. One simple tip worked wonders for me. What I wore dictated the type of movement day I had. The days I wore a tracksuit or leggings and trainers were the days I was more motivated to get down on the mat with the baby and stay mobile with him. The days I wore tight jeans, dresses or shoes, it became a barrier to moving and I was less motivated and less active. I even was less likely to go for an impromptu walk.
The right direction
Without time or motivation to exercise, you can nudge yourself in the right direction by wearing the right clothing and generally being more mindful of opportunities to move rather than sit. It’s all about trying to build activity into our day without consciously calling it exercise. Make this your priority rather than focus on stomach size and chasing your old shape for now. We need to be fit to be a parent, not a model, with our three-six month old. It’s not long until we will be chasing toddlers around the garden. That’s when the real workout will begin. We better get ourselves fit and ready for that.
Next in series: Fitness with a six-month-old child
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. She trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury free. She is also the creator of all our Irish Times Get Running programmes: Beginners Get Running, Get Running 10k and Get Running Stay Running.