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Working Out After Having a Baby: My Journey Back to Fitness In the First Year Of Motherhood

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been a year since baby J entered my life! It may sound like a cliché, but her birth has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. Today I’d like to share what working out after having a baby has been like for me in this past year. Come for the not-always-so-pretty truth, stay for the pictures of baby J adorably photobombing my attempts to work out 🙂

Working out after having a baby - my fitness journey in the first year of motherhoodWorking out has been an important part of my life since I was a teenager. My motivation changed a lot over the years from aspiring to stay thin with tons of cardio to pushing my body to its physical limits through distance running and lifting weights and, in the last couple years, keeping my anxiety and stress levels down.

So when I started experiencing signs of postpartum anxiety soon after baby J was born, I knew I needed to go back to doing things that helped me before. Since exercise used to be very helpful for my mood, I had to figure out a way to get back into working out. However, I was facing a few challenges from the first days:

– My daily routine was set entirely around baby J and her needs. In fact, calling it a routine is an overstatement since most days were quite chaotic 🙂 For a while I couldn’t figure out which part of the day I could fit my workouts into – not to say about taking a shower afterwards.

– Breastfeeding around the clock and staying up for hours at night whenever baby J required it was leaving me absolutely exhausted. I knew it wasn’t going to be wise to bring even more stress upon myself.

– Since baby J was born via c-section, I needed to allow myself time to heal beyond six weeks postpartum that are a standard doctors’ recommendation. While I was able to do some walking with a stroller a couple weeks after the birth, it took me at least two months to fully feel like myself again.

– I didn’t have anyone to watch baby J if I wanted any time to myself (including for working out). Plus the gyms in my area don’t have any childcare options. So it became clear that I couldn’t go to the gym anymore if I wanted to work out.

Working out in the first year after having a baby - my storyWorking out in the first year after having a babyI have to admit that developing a consistent routine of working out after having a baby has not been easy in any way, and to this day I often struggle to find time, motivation, or plain energy. So in this post, I’m sharing exactly how things went for me in the first year of motherhood.

Also, if you’re wondering what my fitness routine was like in the second year of motherhood, see my post about setting up my busy mom workout schedule when I went back to work.

By the way, huge thanks to adidas for the awesome workout outfit that I’m wearing in these pictures! I’m in love with the Stronger For It soft printed bra that supports all my breastfeeding mommy bits (sorry for TMI 🙂 ) even during high-impact activities. How cool are the back straps that can be criss-crossed?!

1st Phase: Setting Up a Simple Home Gym

For the first three months of baby J’s life, I struggled to find time and energy for working out. At first, my fitness activities were limited to some occasional walking with a stroller. Since gym was off limits, it soon became apparent that if I wanted to work out, I needed to find a way to do it at home.

For Christmas 2017, I asked Santa for some very basic home fitness equipment (I wrote about it in detail over here). Once baby J started sleeping in longer stretches by around 3 months of age, I was more rested in the morning, and finally felt ready to get back into working out.

In early January 2018, I started doing short-ish workouts in the morning while baby J was catching the last of her zzz’s. I focused on full-body workouts that were challenging enough to make me a bit sore later, but not so hard that they would drain all energy from me for the rest of the day. My goal was to work out 2-3 times a week, but I’ll be honest: it wasn’t always easy.

How to get back into working out after having a baby2nd Phase: Getting into an Exercise Routine

In mid-January 2018, my mom came for a visit from Russia, and stayed with us for almost two months. Having her around was hugely helpful for me in lots of ways. Since I’m focusing on my postpartum fitness story here, I’ll just say that it was thanks to her that I was finally able to follow my exercise routine consistently for a while.

By then baby J was waking up earlier, so on the mornings when I intended to work out, I would breastfeed her first, then get 30-40 minutes of exercise in while my mom entertained baby J. Afterwards I would have my breakfast, then feed baby J again. By then she was ready for a nap, so after she fell asleep, I would get a chance to take a shower.

I aimed to do this two or three times a week – less on weeks when baby J started going through her 4-month sleep regression, and once again I was I entered the land of sleep deprivation 🙁

3rd Phase: Regrouping

After my mom went back to Russia mid-March, my postpartum anxiety flared up again (I wrote about this in more detail in my recap of our first 6 months of parenthood over here). Things weren’t getting better with baby J’s sleep regression after she turned 5 months. Because of my lack of sleep and constant exhaustion, I was too tired to do any sort of working out for over a month.

Working out after having a baby - my fitness journeyI knew I needed to set up a daily routine to make things more predictable (and more manageable) both for baby J and for myself. I started nudging her onto a two-nap-a-day schedule with the same times for meals, play and napping.

We also added a daily walk that baby J enjoyed in her baby carrier. Every afternoon, we would go outside and walk in our neighborhood for up to an hour. Both baby J and I looked forward to our walks because being outdoors made us both feel better.

It was a slow progress, but eventually, after baby J was sleep-trained and our new but predictable daily routine was established, I finally felt strong enough to give my workouts another shot.

4th Phase: Stronger Than Ever

By late spring, I was back to working out in my makeshift home gym 2-3 mornings a week. Baby J would hang out in her bouncy seat or a jumper while I did my burpees and squats. I started turning on some kids’ music to keep her entertained, and pretty soon I’m a Little Teapot and Wheels on the Bus became my regular fitness soundtrack 🙂

Eventually I started trying to get back into running after almost a year off (my last run happened when I was 27 weeks pregnant). Right away I’ll admit that it wasn’t easy. However, I was surprised to find out that my regular walks with baby J in a carrier had helped me build up some endurance, which turned out very helpful when I went running in my very hilly neighborhood.

Mom fitness - my story of working out in the first year after having a babyInitially, my runs happened only about once a week, but by mid-summer I was able to get out for a run two times a week. Coupled with another two strength-training workouts at home, I had a fitness routine that worked for me just right.

With every run, I only had about 30-35 minutes, so I couldn’t run very far. Usually that was just enough for a 5k run around my neighborhood and some stretching to cool down at the end. Whenever I felt good, I tried to run faster and cover a longer distance within the same time span. If at first it took me around 29 minutes to run 3 miles, then eventually I could run the same distance in about 26 and a half minutes.

While I was running, baby J stayed home with Rob. If I was running in the evening, he would also be charged with cooking us dinner (a nice break for me once a week). If I ran in the morning, he would watch baby J while getting ready for work, or play with her if it was Saturday.

By the way, I absolutely love my Edge Lux running shoes by adidas that I’m wearing in these photos – these days I’m practically living in them! That’s impressive for a girl who used to only wear workout shoes during her fitness sessions.

5th Phase: Recalibrating

By mid-August, the air quality here in the Pacific Northwest became quite terrible due to all the forest fires that were burning around us 🙁 . It got to a point that baby J and I couldn’t go outside even for a few minutes because of the smoke and haze. Cooped up inside, we had to do whatever it took to keep entertained.

Because of the bad air quality, I had to cancel my runs too. I still worked out in my ‘home gym’ two or three times a week, but I definitely missed the freedom of being outside. Baby J and I would listen to our favorite kids’ music while she crawled all over the place and I exercised trying to keep an eye on her.

At the end of August, the three of us flew across the country to New York to spend a few days with Rob’s family. Our experience on the plane with the 11 month-old baby J deserves a blog post of its own – let me just say that I’m questioning my willingness to travel anywhere else until baby J is at least seven 🙂

Once we came back from New York, we found that the air quality here in the Northwestern Washington state was finally improving. Baby J and I went back to our daily walks – actually, by then we were taking two shorter walks a day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon because baby J moved to just one nap in the middle of the day.

Mom fitness - my story of getting back into working out after having a babySeptember started off being a very busy month for me. Between work, entertaining baby J and getting her ready to start daycare in October, I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to fitness. I still managed to squeeze in a couple home workouts a week. For the time being that was just enough because anything more than that just sucked all my energy out. I couldn’t afford that since I needed more of it than ever to keep up with baby J crawling all over the house and getting into everything she’s not supposed to get into 🙂

6th Phase: Moving Forward

As I’m finishing this post, I have to say that working out after having a baby was not an easy feat for me. I realize that I am lucky to have been able to stay home with baby J for an entire year, working from home only a few hours a week. This allowed me to find time to squeeze in a workout or a run here and there, but not everybody can follow my exact steps.

As I’m beginning to work at the office again these days, it remains to be seen what my fitness routine is going to be like moving forward. They say that if you want to do anything, you have to make that thing a priority. I’ll try my best to continue staying active, and if life gets too hectic and I stop working out for a bit, I’ll try not to get bummed out and just pick it up again when things get easier.

This post has been sponsored by adidas. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats
Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Eventually she embraced veganism as a way to be kinder to fellow living beings and the environment. Alina hopes that this blog helps its readers on their path to becoming vegan and making this world a better place.


Wednesday 10th of October 2018

I hear you. I’m also struggling to find spare time to workout and remove the spare tyre around my waist. Juggling a 7mth old, work, housework and me is a workout in itself. Thanks for sharing.

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Wednesday 10th of October 2018

Thank you Jacqui! Yes, it's absolutely not easy, and I still often struggle with having enough motivation or energy, but at the end of the day, we're doing a great job juggling all of this!