By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
I am writing this in the thick of the post partum period. Seven weeks ago we welcomed our beautiful little girl to join her big two-and-a-half-year-old brother in our family. Although I'm motivated to work out and regain my fitness, I'm also reminded that babies are a classic example of ideals meeting reality. While some infants have been known to tolerate complete strangers, sleep and eat on a somewhat predictable schedule and even take a bottle occasionally, I have yet to actually experience such a child less than three months old. Even hardcore fitness zealot, Jillian Micheals, admits to taking a pass on her workouts for a few weeks following the birth and adoption of her children. If you've managed to jump back into your workouts anytime before your youngest enters kindergarten, congratulations. Please, post your tips below for getting back in the game. Please. For the rest of us, here are a few common dream scenarios for achieving pre-baby fitness, the realities of them…and some unexpected ways of coping.
Scenario 1: Staying flexible and working with junior's nap schedule, you'll be keeping up a daily yoga practice and regaining your core strength in no time.
Reality: The closest you've gotten to your yoga mat in the last six weeks is practicing mindfulness every evening while bouncing your colicky newborn on a fitness ball (this is actually a great trick for the seriously fussy child).
Thoughts for Recovery: Decide what you need to stay sane and let the rest go. If daily or every-other-day yoga is top on your list, engage your partner to take the little darling for a walk during his fussy time (Baby's or Daddy's) so you can get some time on the mat. If you're hitting the mat out of obligation, give yourself permission to let that go for a few months until things settle down.
Scenario 2: Your local gym offers free daycare, so on the day your little cherub turns eight weeks, you'll be heading in for your usual 8:30 a.m. step class.
Reality: You were paged by the daycare before you got out of the locker room. Your little angel won't take a bottle from the staff and has been impersonating a howling alley cat for 20 minutes straight.
Thoughts for Recovery: This may not be the time in your life for scheduled workouts. Some babies (and some gyms) are ready and predictable at eight weeks old, most aren't. If you aren't one of the lucky ones, take advantage of the free daycare to try some of the more flexible offerings at your gym, such as napping in the sauna, and fit in an interval workout on your home elliptical during the little one's next nap.
Scenario 3: You'll be hitting the pavement at two weeks post partum sporting a new jogging stroller with a quality newborn insert.
Reality: Heading out into the slightest breeze with that thing makes you feel like a kite in a hurricane, your little bundle won't stop wailing whenever you run towards the sun, and your four legged running buddy (you remember your dog, don't you?) is nipping at the wheels.
Thoughts for Recovery: There's definitely something to be said for sticking to the treadmill during the post-partum period. I tend to look at my outdoor runs as being recovery workouts and time to exercise the dog, but I keep them short and hand off the baby rather than taking her along. For quality training, I hit the treadmill for some intervals and get the chance to run without the infant or the dog getting in the way.
Scenario 4: Armed with some new fitness DVD's and a set of home weights, you'll be rolling with the punches and putting in some serious training while working around the baby's needs.
Reality: Hubby's parked in the middle of your home theatre/makeshift gym, baby hasn't let you set her down since 6:30 this morning, and the last thing you're going to do when things calm down is pick up a set of dumbbells.
Thoughts for Recovery: It's time to roll with those punches. The truth is, you're in what's known as the fourth trimester. Some days just aren't your day. Try a baby swing or a bouncy seat and cultivate your baby's relationship with the grandparents (or neighbors). Try again tomorrow. Look at the big picture and know that in a month (or three) this is all going to get easier.
Weigh in: Tell us all about it. We'd love to hear your plans and experiences with post-partum recovery and your home fitness equipment.