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Working Out with Babies and Toddlers

When experienced parents wish new parents "good luck," their intent is clearly about the little one, but they could easily be offering best wishes about the fitness challenges new parents will face given their life-altering addition.

Obviously, new mothers have more fitness issues to deal with; however, even though new fathers don't have to worry about getting back to their prepregnancy weight (at least we hope they don't), it's a solid bet that the toddler will mean a father's tight schedule just got a lot tighter.

So does parenthood mean that your fitness goals need to be put on hold until Junior goes off to college? Surely not. (If you answered "yes," you've got serious fitness issues that we need to address; if you said "no," we'll start when they go to grad school; put the book down now.) With a little fine-tuning and cagey planning, both mother and father will be able to get back on the workout bandwagon and be even fitter, more energetic parents.

Oh, Momma!
Let's take a look at the female half of the equation. Typically there are two major concerns for new mothers. First, even though kids have been around for a few years, new parents wake up and think, "Where's the instruction manual to deal with this erratically sleeping, frequently crying, constantly peeing and pooping machine?" (Admittedly, this is the less-romantic view of early childhood, but it is a dominant concern for new mothers, especially breastfeeding moms who wake up every few hours in the night.) The second less-vexing concern is "How can I get my prebaby body back?"

While we cannot tell you why babies don't come with instruction manuals, we can give you plenty of tips on getting back into shape and figuring out how to work out even if you're a new parent. Luckily, nature has provided us Homo sapiens with a few neat tricks. Typically, a woman gains between 30 and 40 pounds by the time she delivers a baby. Of course, many of those pounds are shed when the baby leaves mom's womb for a hospital room. Afterward, it's best to nurse your baby, since breastfeeding mothers burn through calories the way Elizabeth Taylor goes through husbands. (Breastfeeding requires more calories than being pregnant.)

So in fact, for new, breastfeeding mothers the key isn't so much losing weight as it is regaining muscle tone. Of course, if you've been exercising throughout your pregnancy – and you should – you'll be better able to jump back on the workout wagon. Either way, an oft-overlooked point when it comes to regaining your former figure is to exercise extreme patience. With all huge life changes, you need to regain your strength, establish a routine with the new kid, and only then start thinking about working out. In the interim, eat a healthful diet, walk with Junior, and remain patient. Before you can say lactation consultant, we'll have you back in the gym pumping iron again instead of breast milk.

To state the obvious, pregnancy plays havoc with your body. Not only have you gained two dozen or more pounds, your muscles have been stretched like a bloated hot water bottle and your energy reserve severely sapped. In other words, please don't expect to bounce right back and start scaling mountains. The first few months of tending to a baby is mountain enough. It will take some time for your hormones to get back under control and your muscles to regain strength. Start slowly and with consistency you can restart your prepregnancy exercise routine with the little one in tow.

The Big Comeback
There are a host of factors that determine how soon you can resume exercising after your baby is born. If you exercised throughout your pregnancy, have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, and you feel up to it, then you can probably return to exercise two to four weeks after the big day. The key here is to be true to your instinct. If you're not up for returning to the gym, you can begin doing isometric abdominal and pelvic floor exercises immediately after delivery to speed up the healing process. You can also begin a regular walking routine at a moderate pace as soon as your caregiver gives you the okay.

Since your baby requires a lot of attention and takes precedence over all else, you may have to be creative about how and where you sneak in your workouts. If you have child care, this is fairly easy; if you don't, you need to be more motivated. However, nothing puts a baby to sleep faster than motion. If you stuff the little one into a snugly or backpack and hit the road, you're likely to inspire a nap and get a workout in at the same time. The fresh air will do you and your upstart a world of good.

We have a female friend who used to set up her stationary bike next to her infant's crib and cycle for a few minutes each time he took a nap. Not only did she get to work out, the snoozing tot seemingly slept securely knowing his mom was close by. We used to joke that if she had been able to hook up a gizmo to connect the cycling with rocking the cradle, the baby might never had woken up and she'd have become a world-class cyclist.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Short Workouts © 2001 by Deidre Johnson-Cane, Jonathan Cane, and Joe Glickman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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