How to exercise with a new baby

Words: Gemma Dawkins

It’s no secret that having a baby changes you. One minute you’re seeking out a restaurant with the most obnoxious cocktail menu, and the next you’re googling which ones have easy pram access and won’t judge you for whipping a boob out before dessert. And not in a sexy way.

Of course, your body changes too. Breaking a light jog to catch the lights is a not-so-thrilling gamble with your bladder. Your limbs feel like they may have been replaced with jelly and a once-taut stomach now requires tucking in to your Bridget Jones’. This too shall pass, you tell yourself, as you strap your enormous breasts into a bra that looks like a costume straight from the set of Orange Is The New Black.

The first few weeks with a newborn may pass in a blur of euphoric love, burying your nose in baby rolls and crying at the RSPCA ad. But eventually, the time will come when you would like to move in a fashion other than ‘gingerly’. Before baby, this would have sounded simple enough. Now? Different (definitely fiction) story.

Guys, finding time to exercise with a baby is HARD. Remember back when you were pregnant and pictured yourself whipping out a round of burpees while your precious babe slept in their Pinterest-styled nursery? HA!

As a mama who has been there (and a barre instructor who loves to feel fit), I have a few suggestions for how to make the magic happen.

First things first, because second things first makes no sense at all:


  1. Exercise is not selfish

This is where the subtly-judgy mummy brigade might implore you to love your ‘tiger stripes’ and remember that you can never get this time back. Look, it’s true – this time is fleeting and beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with your lovely mama bod. But. Repeat after me. It is not vain to want to look like yourself or to feel like your body is your own again. If exercise helps you to reconnect with yourself, shake out some of the stuff you can’t quite articulate, or just feel happy, then you will be a better mother for it. You won’t miss your bubba growing up while you knock out 20 minutes of pilates.


  1. Dress for success

If I have just one piece of advice, this is it: put your workout gear on first thing in the morning. It doesn’t matter if you’ve no intention of doing anything fitness related until many coffees later. If you have the stretchy pants on, two things happen. One: you mentally plan to workout, so you won’t have to do that annoying ‘will I/won’t I’ dance with motivation when the time comes. Two: you maximise your workout time. When the baby finally closes her eyes for longer than three minutes, you’re ready. This was a game changer for me. I had my yoga mat set up in the living room, and my weights and resistance bands at arms reach. When the window of opportunity arose, I could drop everything and give you, well, not quite twenty. Five, maybe. When your workouts may only span 15 minutes, this is a gamechanger.


  1. Little baby, little workout

Speaking of time; a marathon this is not. It doesn’t matter if your pre-baby workouts were 90 minute yoga flows or long runs by the water. Post-baby exercise is a sprint. Or if you have a catnapping baby like I do, a relay in which you run every leg yourself, over the course of a day. This can be a hard one to adjust to – for me, it took a while to accept that a 10 minute burst of exercise is not a waste of time. Do that a few times over the day and you’ve snuck in a 30 minute workout. It may be a little less satisfying than a spin class, but trust me – some is still more than none. It’s just maths!


  1. Less HIIT, more easy does it

The other major adjustment? Letting go of your benchmarks. Your body is changed – maybe not forever, but certainly for now. If bench hops and heavy lifts were your thing before baby, by all means work yourself back up to it. But for now, the only criteria your workouts need to satisfy is that you move your body. A gentle walk or a stretch may be all you’re up to after a sleepless night, and if that’s the case, it’s cool. The goalpoasts have moved, so try not to compare yourself to your old standards. Movement is movement. It all counts. See? Maths again!


  1. Stop when you need to

In the same vein, this is not the time to never never never give up. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in your Lululemon tights all day, have finally got the baby to sleep, and have your playlist ready to go. Some days, you will truly get more out of a nap or a hot shower. If you just aren’t feeling it, quit. You’re not lazy, you’re not a failure, and you won’t be the next Biggest Loser. Make yourself a cup of tea and actually drink it.


  1. You need help

It seems all you need is a cute kid and a set of abs to be an instagram fitness professional these days. But if you don’t know your lunges from your leg lifts, you might want to follow a program. There are lots of affordable options available that don’t require much equipment or access to a gym. Barre Body Online has a dedicated postnatal program and hundreds of workouts you can choose from. Or, since parenting can be a lonely gig at times, leave bubba with your partner, parent or postman and take yourself to a real live class. Pay the exorbitant casual class fee and enjoy. You might even get to talk to an adult – the thrill!


  1. Enlist your cutest workout buddy

My daughter likes to be velcroed to me. Just kidding, she prefers the obscenely expensive baby carrier. Either way, there are plenty of days where we come as a two for one deal, and the only sleeps she will have are the ones attached to me. In fear of becoming permanently grafted to the couch, babywearing is the answer for a power walk or a low impact bodyweight circuit. Step ups, tricep dips, squats and lunges pack a little more punch with 5 kilos of tiny human tied to you. And the added bonus? Baby’s head smells way better than a yoga mat.