Hi all! Yay, finally another post! Today I’d like to share how I’ve returned to working out after giving birth to my baby girl almost four months ago. Getting back into an exercise routine after having a baby was not an easy task, but I’ve finally figured out a way to make it work. Except for the days when the lazies get the best of me 🙂
Whether you’ve given birth before or not, I’m sure you’ve heard the classic advice to stay away from strenuous exercise for at least the first six weeks afterwards. I was recovering from a c-section, and even though I felt pretty good about 3 weeks later, I didn’t want to rush anything. Honestly, working out was the last thing on my mind at that point: on top of serious sleep deprivation and all the emotional ups and downs, I was trying (and failing) to put together some semblance of a day-to-day routine that would be manageable with a tiny baby who had her own ideas about keeping a schedule. Finally we had a daily routine down: baby J and I would hang out together during the day, not getting much done but spending plenty of time playing with frequent breastfeeding and diaper changing breaks until my husband came home, then I’d make dinner while he played with J, we would take turns eating while the other person hung out with her, and then it was time for me to start J’s epic 2-3 hour long nighttime feeding before she’d finally fall asleep.
Every now and then I’d think about how in my previous life before the baby I couldn’t imagine living without running or going to the gym regularly. But with this new routine, it seemed impossible to find time to exercise. The big WHEN??? hung above my head. Should I stay up and work out after Juliana’s last feeding at night around 5:30 am? But I was so sleepy that an extra hour or two of sleep sounded way more appealing. Should I work out during the day when she naps? She stopped being a good daytime napper a few weeks after birth, and even if I was lucky, her naps would be just long enough for me to scarf down some leftovers for lunch. Working out while J was awake was out of the question as she would throw tantrums if I stepped away for a couple minutes, not to say took an entire half an hour for myself (plus a shower later).
Needless to say, I was puzzled. I wasn’t concerned about baby weight as I lost it pretty quickly after J’s birth (cue in breastfeeding, constant stress and probably genetics), but I knew I needed to exercise to keep my sanity and to reclaim at least one part of my identity that was so abruptly gone after I became a mom. Going to the gym wasn’t an option: none of the gyms in my area (I live on an island in the Pacific Northwest) had childcare, and my husband’s schedule wasn’t flexible enough to stay home with J while I would go to the gym. I quickly realized that if I wanted to work out, I had to make it happen at home.
Equipment: Stocking My Home Gym
A couple years before J was born, I got into working out with free weights – dumbbells, barbells, etc. proved to be more fun than any exercise machines that conventional gyms are famous for (here are a few workouts with free weights that I did during pregnancy). I knew I didn’t need those thousand-dollar machines at home to get a good workout in. Eventually I settled on a few basics for my makeshift home gym – the links are for the exact things I’ve been using:
1. Two 20-lb dumbbells – my favorite dumbbell weight when I was still able to go to the gym, so I knew I’d get a lot of use out of these.
2. One 35-lb kettlebell – for those exercises where 20 pounds won’t cut it. Plus, the bright orange color of this particular one brightens up our grey Pacific Northwestern winter mornings!
3. A 65-cm exercise ball – this proved super-useful besides my workouts: J loves when we bounce on it while holding her, it’s a sure way to get her to fall asleep if she’s resisting a nap during the day.
4. A large 8 x 4 ft exercise mat – this one proved to be a perfect size for all my fitness activities, from burpees to lunges, etc., plus it protects the floor from an occasional dropped dumbbell. Better yet, it can be rolled up conveniently when it’s not in use – great for smaller areas!
5. A 65-cm Bosu Ball – this is more of an optional addition as I’ve only used it a few times so far, but I asked for it as a Secret Santa gift for Christmas, because the gift of fitness is truly the one that keeps on giving 🙂
6. On my wishlist: a barbell with a few plates to do the basic squats, deadlifts and bench presses (I’d need a bench for that too 🙂 ), but with a tiny baby and all sorts of new obligations, my goal right now is to just get moving, not to set PRs.
My Fitness Schedule: Finding the Time
Now that I stocked my home gym with some basic equipment, I needed to find the time for my workouts. About three months after J’s birth, our daily routine was set in a way that allowed me some time to myself during her morning nap that usually took place anywhere between 9 to 11 am after breastfeeding, and lasted for about 30-40 minutes. I’m saying “usually” because this is never a given. If I’m lucky, I can now squeeze in a 20-30 minute workout during that time about 2-3 times a week. There have been times when J was wide awake, so I put her on her playmat within my eyesight and rushed through the workout accompanied first by the sounds of her cooing, then screaming as she demanded attention 🙂 Showering post-exercise was another challenge: I would either wait until my husband came home from work during his lunch break, or attempt a super-quick shower with J lying on a blanket just outside the bathroom.
I’ll admit that currently things have been easier as my mom came to stay with us from Russia for a few weeks. While she’s playing with J, I’ve been getting spoiled by my new ability to find time not just for exercise, but also for writing this blog post and even doing a few hours’ worth of work here and there. Yay to short unpaid maternity leave in the US! NOT.
Planning the Workouts
Since I only have about 20-30 minutes for exercise, I have to plan my workouts to make every minute count. Gone are the days of leisurely 90 minute-long fitness sessions with proper rest breaks between every set 🙂 These days I’m sticking to this formula:
20 burpees – great for getting your heart rate up
Dynamic stretching – 3-4 full-body moves to get things going
3 sets of 4-5 exercises* that target the whole body
Cool-down stretching (If J is still occupied/sleeping)- 4-5 moves to wind things down.
*Sample exercises: kettlebell swings, dumbbell squats, pushups, planks, dumbbell deadlifts, kettlebell sumo squats, single dumbbell snatches, plank toe taps, V-up crunches, Bosu ball hip swings, etc.
This pic was taken a couple weeks after I started working out – about 3.5 months since J was born.
More exercise inspiration: shortly before J’s birth, I saw that one of my favorite fitness bloggers, Jess from BlondePonytail.com, released a 6-week home training program (not an affiliate link) that required only dumbbells. I’ve been following Jess and her blog for years, so I knew that this mom of two wasn’t messing around when it came to efficient and quick workouts. I ordered this workout plan shortly before getting back into exercise, and even though I haven’t attempted it as prescribed yet (5 days a week for 6 weeks), it’s been a huge inspiration to find new exercise moves and workout ideas. Jess also has a 30-day workout plan if 6 weeks sounds like too much.
Anyway, I hope you found my experience with postpartum fitness useful!
Question for you: If you’ve been in a similar situation as me (trying to get back to working out whole staying home with a small baby), how did you make it work?
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