Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s winter series on what fitness means to Canadians: “What Does Fitness Look Like For Me?”
The new year typically brings a lot of stories on how people can “lose weight.” We’re not interested in that. We want to know what Canadians really think about fitness, how it makes them feel, and whether they think it’s important for their health. Because no matter what fitness looks like for you, it’s valid.
Today we’re talking to: New parents.
Cooking for yourself, changing diapers and onesies, rocking baby to sleep, sleeping with baby, entertaining visitors, feeding baby, postpartum depression and anxiety, and the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with being a new parent are just some of the barriers that could prevent one from exercising.
WATCH: Mom shares her mommy-daughter workouts to promote family fitness. Story continues below.
For the first three months of my son’s life, I barely went outside — I barely moved — because I had to feed my baby every couple of hours, try to “rest” (hahahaha) in between feeds, sit unmoving on my couch for hours while baby slept on me and recover from PPD.
It wasn’t until I was about six months postpartum when I thought I should try to get some exercise, and that was because I was so incredibly bored that I would do anything to get out of the house. I found a local dance studio that held classes you could bring your baby to, so once a week, I found myself doing Baby Barre.
But exercise looks different for everyone, so we talked to five new parents about how the meaning of fitness changed for them after they had kids.
Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and length.
What did fitness look like for you before you had children?
Rachel Jimenez-Katsman, 32. I am a middle school teacher and online health and fitness coach. I have one child who is 13 months old.
Before having [my baby] Zoe I would say fitness was my leisurely escape. I loved working out and enjoyed discovering new boutique studios around town. As I got busier with work, I would watch YouTube videos to find workouts. I connected with my coach who introduced me to Beachbody, an on-demand workout program platform paired with an amazing online community full of supportive women on a similar journey.
David Markle, 41. I am a real estate broker with with Re/Max Prime Properties. I have one child, who’s 11 months old.
I usually would work out from home three-to-four times a week to maintain a healthy weight. It was a good de-stresser.
Courtney Graham, 36. I am a midwife. I have one child who is 18 months old.
At that time in my life, the goals of fitness were different. While building muscle was a priority, the absolute goals were governed around appearance. It was an all-or-nothing mentality and it was easier to get derailed if I didn’t hit my goal number of trips to the gym.
Sheryl Jesin, 40. I am a stay-at-home mom and an online health and fitness coach. Before having kids I worked as a lawyer. I have four children who are 11, nine, six, and two months old.
Before I had kids I did not work out regularly. There were periods of time when I went to the gym but not consistently. I was “skinny” but not fit, and in retrospect I was probably underweight with no muscle or strength.
Brenna Gauthier, 37. Lawyer by day and co-founder of the lifestyle brand The Lake by night. I have one exceptionally cute kiddo (if I do say so myself), who is 18 months old.
Before I had my baby, I wasn’t one who could just casually partake in fitness. I would go to the gym every day at lunch, joined running clubs, tracked food using various apps, took “motivational” progress selfies, and adopted strict diets based on the latest Netflix documentary.
I now see old photos of myself, in my sports bra and bike shorts and remember feeling unhappy with my body ... Like what? What was I thinking? I was fine! But I thought I needed to do more, get fitter, and achieve a goal weight.
How has having kids changed your idea about what fitness means to you?
Fitness has become even more important since my daughter was born. You don’t really think about it but every morning you’re picking up your child, who is getting increasingly heavier with each passing day.
As a result, you need to be able to not just lift them — off the floor, out of the crib, to and from the car seat, to the high chair, in and out of the bathtub — but also at awkward angles that are really tough on your back.
I now look at fitness as a way to keep up with my child so I am able to move with her as she grows.
Having a child has changed how I think about fitness into a broader theme of general health and wellness. Prior to my daughter being born, fitness goals were a bit surface in what I was hoping to achieve. Now, I really celebrate just getting through the door of the gym.
Fitness to me now is a luxurious break where I get to do something kind for my body and soul. It’s a chance for a bit of productive mindfulness — is that thing? — and for the pleasure of sweating and feeling an endorphin rush.
Yes, I see myself in the mirror and feel a bit of that familiar dissatisfaction with my reflection, however I truly feel like I’ve shifted towards “body neutrality” where I am feeling a deep sense of gratitude for this body that carried my incredible son and continues to get me from point A to B.
WATCH: Easy moves you can do at home. Story continues below.
How has your fitness routine changed since having kids?
I no longer have time for an hour-long workout session. I also do not have the flexibility to leave my house when I desire to go take a workout class. I have had to find alternative solutions to ensure I am still focusing on myself and yet making sure I am present for my child. My workouts are now 20-40 minutes long and take place at home around my child’s schedule.
It has changed significantly because I usually leave the house now to work out during her naps so I don’t wake her. I joined Orangetheory [gym] because it’s a one-hour program that really pushes you to get your blood pumping in a short amount of time.
I also hired a personal trainer to learn how to work out properly and avoid injury. Injuring myself is not an option anymore because of the baby.
I found a fantastic family-centred gym in my neighbourhood that allowed me to bring my daughter with me to workouts when I was on parental leave. I’ve gravitated towards doing something for me, to maintain my physical and mental health for myself primarily and as a positive consequence, my daughter.
I also try to be really mindful of the whole picture and how I’m feeling. Of course there are moments we have to push through to get there, but there are also moments I listen to my body saying it needs rest or sleep, better food, more water, etc.
I’m much less focused on the physical and understand my body has changed permanently in some ways.
Before having kids, I never worked out consistently. After three kids, I now use Beachbody home workout videos; it saved me a ton of time to be able to work out at home and I didn’t have to find anyone to watch my three young kids.
I’ve been doing these workouts for the last six years and continued during my last pregnancy. I took a break for about a month after my fourth baby was born and then jumped back in with low-impact workouts.
How do you juggle getting exercise while looking after your baby and working?
As a real estate broker, I don’t have a traditional 9-5 job. I am lucky enough that I can do a lot of my work from home and plan my schedule accordingly. I now try to get to a class twice a week while my partner watches our baby. It’s not just a chance to get a great workout but by leaving the house you’re really focused on the time that you’re there.
Barely. Because of the inconsistency of my work schedule, no two weeks look the same so creating consistency is challenging. I plan in advance and try to be really realistic about what’s possible.
Even though morning workouts are best for me, my toddler still isn’t sleeping through the night so a 5:30 a.m. wake up to make a 6 a.m. class just isn’t going to happen.
I aim for three-to-four workouts a week and if it doesn’t happen, I don’t beat myself up about it. I just keep trying. Am I seeing the most physical result? Nope. But the goal these days is to show up for myself.
I work out at home to avoid the issue of having to worry about finding childcare. My older three kids are at school during the day, and as soon as my baby goes down for his first nap of the day, I get into my workout clothes and push play on my workout video and just get it done!
Thankfully working out is part of my job so that’s extra motivation to get it done.
Do you feel guilty for working out?
All the time! When [my baby] is awake I feel guilty I am not paying attention to her when I am working out. If she is napping I feel like I should be doing something around the house or prepping her next meal.
The way that I push past this is remembering that this is only two per cent of my day that I have carved out for myself. Working out makes me feel fresh and rejuvenated even after a bad night. I can think clearer, and be more present for her after my workouts and of course down the road because I am taking care of my health and wellbeing for today and tomorrow.
Not really. I’m really trying to keep fit and get stronger now for [my daughter]. I don’t want to have to sit on the sidelines because I’m out of shape or too injured to keep up with her. It’s not a guarantee, as life happens, but it helps.
I never, ever feel guilt. As a mother, there is so much of ourselves that we give to your partners, children, work, friends, and lives. Fitness is a brief snippet of time that is completely about you. I owe it to myself to prioritize my health and general wellness and make that as important as everything else I do.
I feel zero guilt for working out even with kids to look after. I absolutely believe that working out makes me a better mom. I’m much happier and more patient when I work out.
I 100 per cent feel guilty but I remind myself that it’s ridiculous for me to feel that way because if I’m working out I know my son is having a great time hanging with his dad and isn’t even missing me!
I also come back refreshed and feel good so I’m probably more fun to hang out with — it’s a win-win.
What advice would you give to new parents who are looking to get into, or get back into, fitness?
Make time for yourself and it doesn’t have to be long! You can get your heart pounding with a good 20-minute session. Just be creative and don’t feel bad about carving out time for you.
Also, mamas don’t be hard on yourself! Your body needs time to adjust after having a child. We all have to start somewhere and there is no better place than right where you are.
Get a trainer if you can afford it to learn the proper forms and join something that you will actually go to. Also, [take] baby steps. You don’t have to run out and go five days a week and burn out. Just start.
Change, in whatever form, has to come from you. No one can tell you to change but babies help.
Just go. You owe yourself the time.
I would tell them that there will never be a perfect time to get back into fitness. You will be tired, a kid will be sick, you will be busy with work, you will be travelling — it doesn’t matter. Just get started and make working out a daily habit.
Be kind to yourself — you are probably very, very tired. If you find pleasure in the activity you decide to do for fitness, you’ll probably find more time to do it.
Walking counts and podcasts are great walking entertainment. And last but not least: don’t ignore your pelvic floor.
Also on HuffPost: