A few weeks after my son was born, I was less than thrilled to find that I still looked pregnant. Since the pounds hadn’t magically melted away on their own, I decided to take action. I had a jogging stroller and a baby; now I just had to put the two together. Easier said than done. I was out of breath just from squeezing my new double-Ds into my pre-pregnancy sports bra — and I still had to wrestle the kid into the stroller and summon the energy to pick up the pace. But in the end I persevered, and it was definitely worth it.
In those first several weeks postpartum, starting any fitness routine can seem overwhelming, says Susi Kerr, co-author of Fit to Deliver and owner of Bare Fit and Pregnant, a pre- and postnatal fitness company in Vancouver. “You’re tired, you’re sore and just getting out the door is a massive accomplishment,” she says. But jogging with your baby offers big benefits: not only will it help you shed lingering pounds, but you’ll
also get to spend quality time outdoors with your infant. (Plus, a little fresh air is helpful if you’re struggling with the baby blues.)
So how soon can you get going? “If you’ve run before, had a vaginal birth and are feeling well, you can safely start a running program two weeks after delivery,” Kerr says. But if you’ve never run before or weren’t consistently active during your pregnancy, wait four to six weeks to avoid injury. A C-section also means at least a six-week delay. “The key is to listen to your body,” Kerr says. And don’t get discouraged, she adds. “The first week or two might be tough, but if you commit to short jogs three or four times a week, you’ll start to feel great and see definite results.” In fact, if you stick with it, you’ll be able to cover five kilometres in just seven weeks. Here’s how.
Weeks one and two
The plan: 20 minutes three times a week
First things first: Buy a new sports bra, says Kerr. She recommends the Moving Comfort Fiona bra because it’s super supportive and you can breastfeed in it. Then start slowly with a walk-jog routine for your first few outings (jog for four minutes, walk for one). And take baby steps. “Avoid over-striding: Do a jog, not a run, with short strides,” says Kerr. “Long strides are bad for your hip joints early on, so keep steps short until 12 weeks after delivery, or eight weeks if you were a runner before.”
To guarantee a good run, feed and change your baby before you go. FYI: It’s a myth your baby won’t nurse after you exercise, says Kerr. “Although lactic acid buildup in your bloodstream may affect the composition of your breast milk, it takes about 90 minutes of intense exercise for that to happen — and even then it’s unlikely.”
Weeks three and four
The plan: 25 minutes three times a week
As you build up your time and pick up the pace, work on perfecting your form. When pushing the stroller, avoid hunching over: Draw your shoulders back and down and pull your stomach in. Keeping your back straight while jogging helps counteract the fact that everything else you do (nursing, lifting your baby, changing diapers) drags you forward, Kerr says.
After a run, drink extra water, especially if you’re breastfeeding (a headache is often a sign you’re not getting enough H2O). And take time to put your feet up. A good time to rest is when feeding your baby, Kerr says. “Take advantage of those moments and you’ll recover faster.”
The plan: 30 minutes three times a week
When it comes to postpartum workouts, forget what you thought you knew about stretching. “New moms tend to overstretch,” Kerr says. “Their muscles and ligaments are already too loose because of relaxin, the hormone their bodies produced to prepare for labour and delivery.” Now that your runs are getting longer, she recommends a little light stretching (especially calves and quads) after running — not before.
The plan: 35 minutes three times a week
As you continue to amp things up, beware of shin splints. They’re common in women who run after pregnancy because of the extra weight their bodies are carrying and the fact that their calf muscles may have become overdeveloped to compensate, Kerr says. If you feel any pain in the front of your legs, try this exercise: Lift one leg up and draw the alphabet with your foot, then switch legs. “This will help strengthen your other muscles and counterbalance your stronger calf muscles,” she says.
The plan: 40 minutes three times a week
If you can jog for 40 minutes, you’re ready to tackle 5K — and are probably covering close to that much ground already. So where do you go from here? Kerr recommends switching up your weekly runs to keep things interesting:
- Day One: One 30-minute run.
- Day Two: Run for 10 minutes, stop and do 10 push-ups, 10 step-ups on a bench and 10 V-sits; then run another 10 minutes, stop and repeat exercises. Run 10 minutes home.
- Day Three: One run of 25 minutes with one block of easy running, one block of medium effort and one block of hard effort. Repeat throughout the run with a five-minute light jog to finish.
New mom bootcamp
Need a little push to get you started? Sign up for a “stroller fit” class in your neighbourhood.
Stroller fit classes are basically circuit training for new moms that’s both flexible and baby friendly. “Stroller fit programs often involve babies in the workout,” says Cindy MacCormack, founder of Yummy Mummy Fitness & Wellness in Fergus, Ont. “And if you have to stop for a diaper change or your child is in mid-tantrum, you’re in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. Everyone’s been there.” Most classes are run by personal trainers turned moms like MacCormack. “There weren’t any mom-and baby fitness programs in my area when my first was born, and since I understood the challenges new moms face trying to get fit, I thought this was something I could offer.”
Part of the appeal is that the exercises are geared to all fitness levels. And they incorporate both cardio and muscle conditioning (you might start with a short jog, then find a bench for a few tricep dips).
The results? You’ll lose weight, improve muscle tone and have a chance to commiserate with other moms. “Last year some of the moms in my class ran a local 5K race with their babies and did really well,” MacCormack says.
Her suggestion for getting started? Sign up and go. “Don’t wait until you aren’t tired,” she says. “Moms are always tired. Besides, exercising again will increase your energy and help you feel better.”