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Make Fitness Happen! 6 Easy Steps for New Moms

The most challenging aspect of getting back into shape after pregnancy is not lack of desire, sleep deprivation, or bone-numbing fatigue — it’s time. As a new mom, your days are already jam-packed with caring for your newborn, running a household, and seeing to the needs of other family members. At this point in your life, squeezing exercise into your daily routine may feel only slightly less daunting than climbing Mount Everest. After all, if you barely have time to take a shower, how can you find the time to exercise?

   While it may seem like an insurmountable challenge at first, you can find the time to lead a physically active, healthy lifestyle as a new mom. What you need is a rock-solid personal commitment, a generous sprinkling of creative thinking, a dash of resourcefulness, and a flexible program that’s both fun and easy.

   Engaging in a regular exercise program will transform not just your physique, but your entire life — by boosting your energy levels, reducing stress, improving your self-image, and most importantly, giving you the skills you need to lead your entire family to better health and wellness.

Family fitness starts with Mom
   Many of us have internalized the outdated misconception that in order to be a good mother, we have to put aside all of our own needs for the sake our families. When faced with the conflict between meeting the needs of others and taking care of ourselves, we often have the feeling that it would be selfish to fulfill our own needs.

   Nothing could be further from the truth. Yielding to guilt feelings and cutting exercise from your schedule will not give your family their mom at her best. By enhancing your physical and mental faculties with fitness activities, you can’t help but become an even better and more loving parent and partner. Scheduling time for exercise, therefore, cannot be selfish.

   Effective, loving parenting requires strength, stamina, flexibility, and seemingly unending energy. If we allow ourselves to emotionally and physically “run out of gas”, then we have nothing left to give to those we cherish most. To be the best mom that you can be you have to be healthy, and therefore must make exercise a top priority.

The challenges of having a new baby
   Being a new mom isn’t easy. Some babies fall right into predictable sleep and eating patterns; others don’t. Some babies are easygoing and adaptable; others are more demanding and fussy. And of course, once you think you have a schedule down, your baby’s growth pattern dictates otherwise.

   Certainly, your baby comes first. But by following these six steps, you can ensure that your health and fitness goals do not get lost somewhere between diapering and the laundry.

Step One

   Emotionally commit yourself to the goal of fitting in fitness, and to becoming the leader of your family’s active, healthy lifestyle.

This is key. If you’re wishy-washy about this step, then you won’t reach any of your health goals — whether for yourself or your children.

   As a part of this first step, take an honest, realistic assessment of your time and how you manage your priorities. Don’t regard fitness as leisure activity. If you think of it this way — as an option, rather than a requirement — then you won’t be able to fit it in to your daily schedule. The reality of infant care is that you no longer have free time.

   Many new moms make the mistake of telling themselves, “Maybe I could exercise when the baby’s napping and after I get the dishes done.” If that doesn’t happen, then they might say, “Well, I’ll try to get to it after lunch.” This kind of planning does not work. To be successful, you need to commit to specific actions at specific times — just as you would a doctor’s appointment or a business meeting.

   Examine your daily and weekly routine. Determine where you can carve out 20-30 minutes at least three times a week for physical activity, and then block it into your schedule. Many new moms find that exercising during baby’s morning nap works best. That way it gets done and out of the way, and doesn’t get lost in the hubbub of your daily activities.

Step Two
   Set specific, realistic, attainable goals.

   Make sure you start small and stay realistic. If you set goals that are too difficult — such as, “I’m going to run three miles every morning before my kids and husband wake up” — you’re unwittingly setting yourself up for the “F” word — failure.

   Set fitness goals that align with your physique. Too often we look at a supermodel and say to ourselves, “I want my legs, stomach, or backside, to look like that.”  If you are tall and naturally very slender, you might have a shot at attaining that goal, but for the majority of us, that goal is simply unattainable. Instead, aim to be the best possible you! That’s attainable, realistic, and self-affirming.

Step Three
   Pick fitness activities that you enjoy and that suit your personality.

   Recognize what type of exercise environment and activity best suits your personality. One of the biggest reasons our well-intentioned fitness goals fizzle is because we choose the wrong venue, or wrong type of activity — or both. If you enjoy both the setting and the activity, you’re much more likely to repeat the experience.

   Some of us like — and need — to exercise alone, to give our minds time to sort things through. Runners, swimmers and cyclists tend to fall in this category. Others of us need to be part of group and gravitate toward fitness classes. Some women prefer workouts where there’s no competitive aspect; others find positive reinforcement in sports where they have a chance to win in competition.

   Not sure what you’d like? Think back to when you were a kid. Did you prefer running games, riding your bike, swimming, playing a one-on-one game of tennis? Or were team sports, like volleyball or soccer, your game?

Step Four
   Get help. Enlist your husband, family and friends to help you around the house or to watch the children for an hour, so you can use that time to exercise.

   Negotiate with your partner for a regular, committed slot of time, perhaps an hour or two per week, when you’re not on baby duty. You’ll get a much needed “mommy” break, and your husband will have a wonderful opportunity for bonding with the baby and honing his parenting skills.

   Perhaps you have a family member or close friend who can help with baby care once a week. Enroll in a postnatal exercise class where babies are welcome. Another option is to hire childcare, or extend your existing childcare hours so that you can have specific times during the week that you can devote to exercise. If your budget allows, hire a personal trainer to give you in-home workouts.

Step Five
   Write down your action plan and place it where you can’t help but see it regularly throughout the day, i.e., on a wall calendar, a dresser mirror, bulletin board, the refrigerator door, your computer monitor, or other prominent place in your home.

Here’s a possible example:

Monday and Friday afternoons: fitness walk with the baby for 30 minutes after lunch.

Wednesday morning: post natal exercise class.

Tuesday and Thursday mornings: exercise for 20-30 minutes with tapes or DVDs while the baby naps.

Step Six
   Put your plan into action, one day at a time.  

   Make sure your exercise plans are on the top of that day’s priority list, and don’t let anything outside of a true emergency or illness interfere with that schedule. When it’s time for your exercise, don’t ask yourself if you “feel like exercising,” or wonder whether or not you will have the energy. If you give into feeling tired or unmotivated, you might be tempted to skip your workout. Remember, exercise will actually increase your energy level and give you a much-needed psychological boost.

   Research has shown it takes about six weeks to establish a new habit. If you are out of the habit of exercise, you will need to push yourself a little bit to establish a routine. Think of this initial period as your on-ramp to a more active lifestyle. Steel yourself to stay on course. Take pride in small accomplishments. Even if your steps are small, you’re making progress.

   After just a month or two, you’ll discover not only that you are looking and feeling better, you will also have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. And nothing motivates like success. Over time, you’ll be able to look back and see that your many small steps — accomplished one day at a time — have added up to a much healthier lifestyle.

Living with your “mommy body”
   It’s important to keep in mind that it can take anywhere from nine months to a year for your “mommy body” to evolve back to your former self. It’s a rare woman indeed who can get back into her “skinny jeans” anytime soon after pregnancy.

   Avoid the insidious trap of self-criticism or judging yourself against others. It’s easy, especially during times of stress, for our “internal critics” to hijack our internal dialogue. Develop a mental off-button.

   When you hear yourself being critical or self-deprecating, take a moment, close your eyes, and visualize yourself flipping a switch to the ‘off’ position. Then replace the negative self-talk with positive, motivating dialogue. Be kind, supportive, and nurturing to yourself. You deserve it.

Maternal fitness is the cornerstone of family health
   Childhood obesity rates and related health problems continue to escalate unabated. Fit, healthy mothers are the strongest antidote to these serious health problems because they demonstrate positive role models for their children to emulate. Fit, healthy moms have fit, healthy babies and families. Our level of physical activity in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle choices serve as the most powerful determinate of our children’s future health.

   As mothers, we must step forward and assume the mantle of leadership, to actively steer our families to better health and fitness. It’s both an awesome power and responsibility. Not only is our own personal health at stake, but equally important, the future health and wellbeing of our children.

HELENE BYRNE, founder of BeFit-Mom, is a perinatal exercise specialist, author, and publisher of the ‘Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning’ DVD. Visit her website at to learn more about prenatal and postpartum fitness.

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