To put her daughter to sleep, Colleen Robinson used to dance the Charleston, the baby in her arms.
Now 4, Clodagh joined the swing-dance class her mother taught last week for mothers (and one father) and their babies and young children. The dance classes offer a way for parents to use their bodies and brains learning steps while their children learn, too, Robinson said.
“I really like being able to dance with my daughter,” she said. “That’s what motivates me the most.”
When it comes to regular exercise, babies and young children can throw a wrench in the works. Crunched for energy and time, suffering discomfort after childbirth, or just generally overwhelmed, women may drop exercise from their routines.
Others rush to return to their prepregnancy fitness level, risking more harm than good.
For new mothers, two area fitness educators advise starting small, slowly and, like Robinson did, finding ways to make their kids part of the program, along with sound nutrition, plenty of water and rest.
Step one for new mothers: Carve out the time for exercise, said Elizabeth Jones-Boswell, a Spokane Pilates teacher who works with pregnant and postpartum women.
“How can you really take care of anybody else if you can’t take care of yourself?” she said. “It’s not about being selfish. It’s about being a role model.”
Jones-Boswell advises mothers to get the OK from their doctors and then start small after childbirth. That’s after a period of nine days or so of lying low as their bodies recover and readjust after pregnancy and childbirth.
Pilates uses exercises performed on mats and special equipment to strengthen the abdominal, pelvic and back muscles at the body’s core. But, while working with an instructor can help women master some techniques, they don’t have to go anywhere or buy fancy equipment.
Sitting on an exercise ball can be a workout, especially you’re also making circles with your hips.
Another easy one, said Jones-Boswell, who has four children, can be done while feeding your baby in a comfortable chair. Place your legs up on an exercise ball, feet together, and rock the ball from side to side to work the abdomen and pelvis.
For cardiovascular workouts, she’s put her babies in a sling and climbed on her indoor bike. But walking is great exercise, she said. If it’s comfortable, a baby in a sling or wrap adds to the workout and keeps you close to the baby.
“I waited six weeks before I went on long walks, because I’ve done so much rehab on women who’ve never recovered,” including those who gave birth years ago, Jones-Boswell said.
The “fourth trimester,” the three- to five-month period after childbirth, is a good time for women to work on rebuilding their energy and physical strength, said doula and yoga instructor Cara Wright.
Wright owns Anam Cara Yoga Center in Spokane Valley. Her classes include sessions for women who’ve recently given birth. They’re encouraged to bring their infants to class.
The classes also offer a chance for new mothers to get out of the house and move their bodies without leaving the babies behind.
Wright and her students work on poses to rebuild their abdominal muscles along with their shoulders and upper body, “because everything starts to feel so collapsed.”
They also work on Kegel exercises. Named for Arnold Henry Kegel, a gynecologist credited with their invention, the exercises involve repeated contractions and relaxation of muscles in the pelvic floor.
While most pregnant women receive vague messages that they’re supposed to do them, they less often learn exactly how, Wright said. Doing them incorrectly can lead to urinary incontinence and painful sex, she said: “Five to six months out, women are going, ‘Wait a minute, I’m supposed to be feeling better down there, and I’m not feeling better at all. I’m feeling weird.’ ”
Wright said she talks with her clients and students about the importance of complete rest for seven to 10 days. And especially in the first few months after childbirth, she advised, seek out physical activities that give you energy rather than deplete it. Those might be walking, getting massages or doing restorative yoga. Women who can’t make it to a class can choose from among “bazillions” of instructional videos online, she said.
All this may be easier said than done in a culture that encourages women to quickly lose weight after childbirth – and among women who expect a lot from themselves.
“Having a baby is such a different experience, partially I think women just want to get back to who (they were),” Wright said. “It’s not that I don’t support that, but you have to be realistic and not expect to be there in six weeks.”