Exercising With Infants
The tabloid obsession over celebrities and their post-pregnancy bodies is certainly unhealthy and arguably damaging, but most people do gain and retain weight after having a baby. Always consult with your physician before beginning any fitness program, particularly involving maternal health.
In one recent study, 75% of women had a higher bodyweight a year after giving birth, compared with their pre-pregnancy weight, with almost half (47.4%) retaining more than 10lbs, and almost a quarter (24.2%) retaining more than 20lbs.
A timely return to a healthy body-weight after pregnancy is recommended, but how can you exercise when you’re beholden to baby’s needs? Fortunately, many ingenious people looking after newborns have found great ways to exercise with infants.
First up, baby bicep curls. Simply prop your baby (securely) in the crook of your arm, and do a regular old bicep curl. Don’t forget to pull a silly face at baby, or blow them a kiss as they get near to your face! Three sets of ten reps a day and you’ll soon have some great guns. What’s more, as baby grows, you’ll have to work harder. It’s the perfect steadily increasing weightlifting program.
To work on those stroller-guns even further, get out and about with baby every day for at least a half-hour walk, preferably with a few hills included in your route. Pushing an increasingly heavy stroller up and down inclines is tough work, and it’s even harder if you have a double stroller with an older child also adding their weight.
Front-carrier squats are a great way to tone your abdominal muscles, and are perfect for anyone who had a C-section. To execute front-carrier squats, strap your baby into a front-carrier and stand with your feet just a little wider than shoulder width. Take a breath and lower your body as if sitting in a chair, while keeping your back straight and belly pulled in. Breathe out and return to your starting position. Do three sets of ten reps.
Many people find that even if they lose their pregnancy weight they are still a waist-size higher than before pregnancy. This is because the hips typically widen during pregnancy in order to make childbirth easier. Doing side leg-lifts can help to tone up your lower body, and these can also be done with baby in a front-carrier.
To execute side leg-lifts, stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your waist or supporting baby, and transfer your weight to your right leg before lifting your left leg out to the side slowly. Hold for half a second and return to your starting position. Do two sets of ten leg lifts on each side.
Every kid dreams of flying, so why not start them out early with this great exercise. Lying on your back with baby resting on your belly, slowly lift them above you until your arms are fully extended, hold the position for a second or two, and then slowly bring them back down to rest. Do three sets of five reps a day, complete with flying noises while baby soars above you.
If a home workout isn’t quite cutting it, take a look at your local community centre, ask your midwife or doula, or get recommendations from friends for baby yoga classes. Some yoga studios offer a dedicated class for new parents who need to bring baby with them, while others have classes that involve both you and your baby. Child pose should be a breeze for your little one.
Possibly not for the faint-hearted, and definitely one to do with experienced instructors, sling-swing is a great way to exercise with infants as it keeps baby close while giving you a pretty intense workout. Look for a class near you, and be careful to ensure exercises are age-appropriate. Delicate newborns and high velocity rotation certainly don’t mix. Done right, this kind of gentle, purposeful movement can help put baby right to sleep.
One of the easiest ways to exercise with an infant is to enroll them in baby-swimming classes! You get to tread water and work your legs and core while the water supports your weight for reduced impact on your joints, and baby gets to learn a valuable life skill!
Kids and Kegel’s
And, finally, one of the most important types of exercise to do after having a baby is pelvic floor muscle exercise. The strength of these muscles can decrease significantly during pregnancy, causing urinary incontinence and affecting quality of life . This can also make it difficult to return to certain types of exercise, such as running or rebounding, where sudden jolts can cause stress incontinence.
Fortunately, pelvic floor exercise (often referred to as Kegel’s) can be done pretty much anywhere at any time! These exercises are also recommended before and during pregnancy and have been found to significantly improve pelvic floor muscle strength during pregnancy and post-partum. Anyone experiencing urinary problems during or after pregnancy should talk to their health care practitioner.
Is it Safe to Exercise While Breastfeeding?
Some people are reluctant to exercise while breastfeeding because of fears that this might adversely affect milk production and the growth of their baby. In a meta-analysis of four randomised, controlled trials, no detrimental effect was seen in infant growth in those who exercised while breastfeeding . Any increase in demands on the body, from increased exercise and from breastfeeding, warrant extra caution about adequate intake of nutrients, especially omega-3 DHA, which is needed for cognitive development and healthy visual development in infants .
Not only does pregnancy weight gain and post-partum weight retention adversely affect maternal health, research has shown a significant association between pregnancy weight gain and the body mass index (BMI) of kids at three years old . Exercising with your infant seems like a pretty great way to get back in shape after childbirth, and to make an early start on building positive associations with exercise for your kids!
References:Endres, L.K., Straub, H., McKinney, C., Plunkett, B., Minkovitz, C.S., Schetter, C.D., Ramey, S., Wang, C., Hobel, C., Raju, T., Shalowitz, M.U.; Community Child Health Network of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2015). Postpartum weight retention risk factors and relationship to obesity at 1 year. Obstet Gynecol, Jan;125(1):144-52.  Kahyaoglu Sut, H., & Balkanli Kaplan, P. (2015). Effect of pelvic floor muscle exercise on pelvic floor muscle activity and voiding functions during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Neurourol Urodyn, Feb 3. doi: 10.1002/nau.22728. [Epub ahead of print]  Daley, A.J., Thomas, A., Cooper, H., Fitzpatrick, H., McDonald, C., Moore, H., Rooney, R., Deeks, J.J. (2012). Maternal exercise and growth in breastfed infants: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pediatrics, Jul;130(1):108-14.  Bourre, J.M. (2007). Dietary omega-3 fatty acids for women. Biomed Pharmacother, Feb-Apr;61(2-3):105-12.  Olson, C.M., Strawderman, M.S., Dennison, B.A. (2009). Maternal weight gain during pregnancy and child weight at age 3 years. Matern Child Health J, Nov;13(6):839-46.