If you’re pregnant or have a newborn, you’re probably getting a lot of advice! What infant straightjacket is best for swaddling, what “drowsy but awake” looks like, why “sleep regression” might be a term invented just to mess with you. Here’s another piece of advice that may or may not make you feel better: Exercise during pregnancy and in the few months after delivery can help ward off postpartum depression. It even reduces depression among women who aren’t depressed enough to meet the PPD diagnostic criteria.
Photo: Serge Melki
I know, I know. Who has time or energy for exercise? Just showering, or thinking of something you can eat with one hand or even no hands, like a cat, can sap all your strength. But I know from personal experience that even the gentlest of workouts, like a short walk, can boost your spirits. The study examined programs that lasted for three or more months and encouraged exercise three to five times a week, but otherwise didn’t conclude that one particular type of exercise, or the duration, is better than another. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it doesn’t matter what you do or how hard, as long as it’s something.
I’m also going to guess that it isn’t just the exercise but the social interaction of exercising that lifts the spirits. If you’re walking with the stroller, you might have a chat with a passerby who admires your baby. If you’re going to the gym, you’re talking to the guy at the reception desk and maybe saying hello to the nice trainer that someday you’re definitely going to hire. If you find an exercise meetup, you’re commiserating with other new mums. Even just walking to the cafe with the baby in a carrier gives you a little bit of human interaction, which is critical for keeping your mood up.
But how? Below, a few suggestions for getting a little air and exercise. And please, if you’re feeling too low to even think about getting outside and moving a little, talk to your OB about PPD.
Mine Your Birth Class for Potential Exercise Partners
The best reason to join a birthing class when pregnant is to have social connections when you have a newborn. Shoot your fellow Lamaze-ers or Bradley-method devotees an email and suggest everyone get together for a walk. If it’s bad weather, amble around the shopping centre, or meet at someone’s house for a stretching video. If you’re not enrolled in a class, ask your OB if you can put a note on her office bulletin board about meeting up with fellow new parents.
Research ‘Baby and Me’ Exercise Classes
Gyms and yoga studios often offer classes to which you can bring your baby. Check out classes such as Pram Fitness or even a personal training group such as Fit Mums and Bubs. Your child can take part in these classes, so it’s a good bonding experience as well.
Find a Gym with Childcare
Most gyms won’t take tiny newborns, but if your baby is a little older (my gym will watch babies starting at six months) the babysitting can be an opportunity to get in a little bike time or a Zumba class. Bonus: You get to shower afterwards. By yourself. In peace. Gyms with pools also often offer “family swim time”, which can also be an opportunity to just walk from one side of the shallow end to the other holding your baby (again, probably a little older than a newborn-newborn).
Reach Out Via Social Networks
As great as social media is for keeping in touch with far-flung friends, it’s terrific for solving close-to-home problems too: If you post on Facebook that you’re looking for exercise partners, or even to find someone with whom to swap brief periods of child care, someone local will likely come through with an introduction. (Regarding swaps: I once met a friend in the park and watched her kid while she jogged 10 minutes in one direction and then 10 minutes back. For me, the walk to the park was enough.)
Take the DIY Approach
If you prefer your exercise at home, alone, there are literally thousands of options, from exercises you can do while holding a clingy baby to yoga videos specifically for new mums to training programs for ramping up your post-pregnancy workouts. If you feel like company, you can obviously invite someone over to do it with you, and if you make it only five minutes into the video before a nappy explosion, well, at least you tried. Have a beer.
Set a Walking Goal
I know I’m pushing walking here, but it’s free and accessible and you can keep your baby with you while you do it. (Want a harder workout? Get a jogging stroller and pick up the pace.) When I had a newborn, I would walk to a bar about 1.5km away and have a soft drink while the kid napped in his stroller. As this was usually late afternoon, the bartender had few customers, was bored, and was willing to chat. It got me out of the house, I enjoyed a little fresh air, and I had company for that third nap of the day — just at the moment one’s spirits start to ebb.
Whaddya say? Up and at ’em? If not, don’t despair — this phase doesn’t last forever. You’ll be eating with both hands again in no time.