Being a new mom is hard. You can read all of the books about what to expect, but they never quite do it justice. Your life will change in expected and unexpected ways. My sweet “Blueberry” was an unplanned blessing. We had planned on being married for a year before trying to make a baby, but that plan, along with others, went out the window when I saw two blue lines on a pregnancy test. But while our lives changed (in many of the best ways) when she was born, I soon realized that we could still enjoy our favorite hobbies. I get a lot of great comments on social media about how wonderful it is that we take our toddler on our adventures, but the truth is, I’m not that special! I just want to share my love of the outdoors with my child and her age has never stopped me! The sheer amount of praise I have gotten on this subject inspired this blog post. I want to share with you how I learned how to stay active as a new mom, the gear that has made this goal easier, and the positive effects it has had on our new little family.
If you’ve spent much time poking around this blog (thank you, by the way!), then you probably know that my husband and I met at a running group. I was an avid runner before I became a mom and I was actually one month into training for a 50 mile race when I discovered I was pregnant. About two months into my pregnancy, I got hit hard with Sciatica — horrible pain in the Sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back down into the leg. It is the largest nerve in the body and portions of this nerve run down into the calves, feet and toes. My growing baby put so much pressure on this nerve that I had a lot of difficulty running. I was also super paranoid about doing too much and losing the baby. In hindsight, this was a stupid fear as I was not trying to do extreme sports or Olympic-level weight lifting. Next pregnancy, I definitely plan on doing things differently when it comes to staying active, but that is a topic for another post. Needless to say, because I wasn’t running, I gained A LOT of weight during my pregnancy. As soon as I gave birth, I was ready to hit the road! Well, mentally I was — my pelvic floor needed to recover.
The Road Back to Running
I worked at a run specialty store called West Stride in Atlanta when I was pregnant. Every year, the store is one of the sponsors of the Atlanta Women’s 5k race. It is an extremely hilly 5k course open only to women held in March. Even though my due date was February 19, I signed up the for the race, which was held on March 26 that year. Blueberry ended up arriving a week late, so I ran the race just one month and one day after her birth. I did a few runs leading up to race day and completed the race without stopping to walk. However, I did feel my pelvic floor for most of that run. I hadn’t been cleared for exercise by a doctor yet, but I was ambitious. I was tired of being sidelined by pregnancy “stuff.” After this race, I took a small step back and analyzed how I could balance recovery, running and a new baby.
To stay active as a new mom, you need the right gear. You want to be safe in your efforts, as well as keeping your precious child comfortable and safe. We received a BOB Revolution running stroller as a baby shower gift from my family, complete with a car seat attachment. This stroller has been absolutely amazing! After that first 5k race, the weather in Georgia was starting to get warm, so I loaded the Blueberry up in the car seat, stuck it on the stroller, and took her on long power walks down the Silver Comet Trail (a nice paved greenway right outside of Atlanta). Once I started to feel stronger, my husband and I began coordinating our runs on the SCT together. He would start off running while I power walked with the stroller to warm up. Once he circled back and met me, he’d take over walking the stroller back towards our car while I did my out-and-back run. Yes, it took planning, but it worked for us. There may be other options that work for you, especially if you’re a single mom or if your spouse isn’t able to work out with you. Once the Blueberry hit the 3 month milestone, her pediatrician cleared us for running together — because we had a stroller that safely accommodated her car seat! This changed everything for me. I was still running slower than I ever had in my life, especially since I was pushing a stroller, but I was running! My legs slowly got stronger, my pelvic floor stopped hurting after every run, and my lungs and heart were returning to their former glory as well.
Early powerwalks with Blue — as my husband ran with the dogs
For the first 18 months of Blue’s life, the BOB stroller was the only stroller we had. We didn’t really care about getting an umbrella stroller because it was important for us to be active and we didn’t have the money or space for two strollers. The only reason why we have an umbrella stroller now is because a sweet lady at church gave it to us when her granddaughter outgrew it. It stays in our car because it is great for taking Blue into stores and to the zoo. There are many different brands and styles of running/jogging strollers, but the BOB Revolution had been highly recommended to us by other runners with small kids. Chris and I spent an afternoon trying out all of the brands Buy Buy Baby had to offer when I was pregnant, and we loved the ride and easy fold-up capabilities of the BOB, so that is what we chose in the end. Here is what sets jogging strollers apart from your ordinary umbrella strollers:
Jogging strollers like our BOB typically have 3 large wheels, whereas umbrella strollers have 4 smaller wheels. The large wheels of the jogging strollers, as well as the placement of the wheels, help keep the stroller stabilized (and your baby safe) over various types of terrain. The tires on our stroller are basically small bicycle tires with a really good tread on them. We have taken the stroller on beaches, over rocky terrain, on wide trails with tree roots sticking up, and of course on pavement on both sunny and wet days. The stroller handled all of that without any issues! I am continually impressed with the great traction of the tires on this stroller! Also, the front wheel of our stroller can either be locked or have the ability to swivel. Honestly, we never lock the front wheel because that swivel feature is so great! We are able to make tight turns while running on sidewalks. Not all running strollers have a swiveling front wheel, so I highly recommend trying out several in a store to see what you like.
Suspension and Shock Absorbers
This allows for a smooth ride for your baby. As I said before, we have taken Blueberry on rides across various types of terrain and she never got injured! In fact, she slept through most of them. The BOB stroller has an outstanding suspension system and shock absorbers that reduce the amount of bounce and turbulence your baby feels while you run. This is especially important when your baby is little, because it reduces the risk of injury. However, this is great for older toddlers as well. Blue always falls asleep when I run with her. In fact, on days when I have to run with her as a part of my training, I try to time my run around when I need her to take a nap. The shocks on the stroller help her to have a long, peaceful nap as I get my run in.
Comfort and Attachments
The final benefit of a good running stroller is how comfortable it is! My daughter prefers the running stroller over the umbrella stroller we have. She never fights going into the jogging stroller and she often wants to stay in it for a bit once the run is over. You can recline the back panel for naps, which she loves! Also, the canopy that is attached to the stroller is great for most weather. It does a good job of shielding her from the sun and misting rain. The umbrella stroller is a different story – she fights going into it and tries like hell to escape it!
Our BOB stroller comes with some pretty great attachments, too. As previously mentioned, you can buy an attachment to safely secure an infant car seat to it. We kept Blue in the car seat while running until she was 11 months old, even though it was technically safe for her ride in the stroller without it at 6 months. She loved her car seat and she was safe, so I didn’t feel the need for change. Once she started to outgrow the car seat, I took the attachment off and she rode around like a big kid. The transition ended up being super easy and she didn’t mind the switch.
There are two weather-related attachments you can get to further shield your child from the elements: the sun shield and the weather shield. The sun shield reduces glare and heat from the sun. It also shields your child from wind and flying insects. The front has a translucent panel that allows your child to see out and for you to see in to check on them. It is a pretty cool attachment! The weather shield is more heavy-duty and better for cooler weather. The purpose of the weather shield is to keep your child warm and dry on rainy, windy days. It is water resistant and has a see-through section that again allows your child to see out and for you to see in. This attachment is great for where we live, since it rains nearly every day from November to May.
The jogging stroller has been a great investment for us!
I used to really enjoy going to the gym. I loved the wide selection of machines offering resistance training and free weights. However, the decision to become a stay at home mom (and thereby reducing our income) meant giving up the gym membership. But it is still possible to get some good strength training in without a gym and without needing to hire a babysitter! When we moved to the Seattle area, our apartment came with a tiny gym area. It had a few kettlebells, a treadmill, a stationary bike and some dumbbells. This was enough for me as I started to get back into a good strength routine. At that time, Blue was only five months old. She wasn’t crawling yet, so I was able to sit her down with some toys as I banged out a quick 15-20 minute routine that covered arms, core, glutes and legs. Yes, she would get bored at times, but I’d switch out the toys, sing and make funny faces at her and she’d giggle as I finished my workout. Once she started crawling, I had to get creative. I started working out in my living room, limiting the trouble she could get into. I also took advantage of nap time to get workouts in without having to keep her occupied. Now that she is a toddler, she does a lot of my strength workouts with me. When I do squats, she loves to mimic me. Same with planks and calf raises. I also put music on for her to dance around to while I complete my workout. I try to keep it to around 30 minutes at the most so that she doesn’t get too bored. This is really enough time for me to exhaust my muscles, too.
1. At our tiny apt gym. 2. At Brooks HQ gym. Making it work!
The Benefits of Training at Home
Working out at home was an adjustment for me, but I see a lot of benefits in it. I spend less money. The equipment I use: 5 lb. dumbbells, a 12 lb. body bar, resistance bands and an exercise ball all cost less than your average monthly membership fee to a gym. I also don’t have to waste time driving anywhere or waiting around for the machines I want to use to free up at the gym. The equipment I use at home fits easily in a closet and is enough to give me a full workout. If you’re not sure how to get started or how to do certain exercises, check out YouTube! There is a ton of free content there. You can even find videos on how to incorporate your baby or toddler into your workout! I love having my daughter around when I work out because she gets to see firsthand that working out and being healthy is fun for me. It is also yet another chance for us to have fun together and bond.
When Working Out at Home Isn’t Your Jam
If you have the extra income and want to incorporate your child into your workouts, but you struggle with self-motivation, that’s ok! There are solutions. I have friends that are Wellness Coaches with Beachbody and they create workout plans for their clients and give them motivation to stay on track. They do this primarily online through emails and groups on social media, but if they have clients close by, they will join in on workouts with them. They can tailor workouts to fit your specific needs – including working out with your little ones. Stroller Strides is another popular options for new moms. They have these groups (or at least similar programs) all over the country. There is a monthly fee to join, but they lead workouts that incorporate running with strollers and strength training. Finally, if you have childcare but hate the gym, look into Females in Action (FiA). They also have groups all over the country and it is FREE to join. You’ll make great friends/accountability partners as you meetup with the group to work out. Some workouts are strength and conditioning based while others include more running and cardio. Depending on the group you’re joining and the temperament of your little one, you may be able to work out with your child. I would recommend finding childcare for this, though, so that you are free to make new friends and enjoy the community.
While on the subject of personal training, if you are a runner and want a great online running coach, check out Running Lane here! The coaches are phenomenal! I was a client of Running Lane when I trained for my first marathon. My coach tailored my workouts specifically to fit me. He designed workouts each week based on how the previous week had been. If my workouts had been too easy, he’d make them harder the next week and vice versa. I was in the best shape of my life when I trained with Running Lane, so I highly recommend them! You will communicate over email and through their site to check in and get your workouts (and motivation if needed). If you happen to live in Alabama, as I did when I was training for that marathon, you will have the ability to join track workouts with some of the other members. They will train you for all distances, from a 5k race and up. Seriously, check them out if you are interested in running!
Hate to run and not a fan of strength training? Try hiking! All you need for a nice hike is a good pair of shoes and a baby carrier (unless the trail is wide and gentle enough for a stroller). We took Blueberry on her first hike in October 2016, when she was just over 7 months old. We bundled her up and took her to Mount Rainier to celebrate our anniversary. Chris and I took turns hiking with her, using our Lille Baby carrier. A few weeks later, we took her back to the mountain, along with one of our close friends. Blueberry loved the adventure, even at such a young age. Just after Christmas that year, we used a very generous Amazon gift card to buy an Osprey Pack child carrier for hiking. We have used this like crazy! Apparently Blue finds it comfortable because she rarely fusses while we hike with her and often falls asleep.
From our first 2 trips to Mt. Rainier
The right gear is going to make your hike more enjoyable. A good baby carrier will keep your baby comfortable and reduce your risk of injury (read: your back will thank you!). For toddlers, a framed out pack like the Osprey carrier will provide a lot of value. It can safely carry a child up to 43 lbs. and has some pretty great features for a day on the trail. Ours includes a sunshield, which we used on a particularly sunny day snowshoeing at Mount Rainier. I got sunburned, but thankfully my daughter did not! It also has several pockets to store water, snacks and supplies. Most importantly, it is comfortable! Blueberry weighs almost 30 lbs. now, but I can still hike 5 miles with her – no problem. The pack is designed to distribute your child’s weight evenly, using shoulder and hip straps. My back is never in pain after hiking with Blue, and I have a pretty weak back overall. Chris has also worn the pack carrying Blue while hiking and snowshoeing and loves it. We have gotten really good at adjusting it to fit our bodies, but you can go into places like REI and the associates will give you a tutorial on how to adjust and put the pack on safely.
Our Osprey pack in action
While we are discussing gear, at minimum, you should have a comfortable pair of shoes that fit your feet well. You do not have to have hiking boots. I actually prefer trail running shoes for hiking because I find hiking boots too restrictive on my ankles. For running shoes, you should go up a shoe size from your heel/boot size. This will prevent you from getting black toenails as your feet expand while you exercise (this happens to everyone). Your shoes should also have good traction to keep you stable as you hike, for your own safety as well as your child’s. You’ll also want to wear comfortable clothing. If you are going to be out hiking all day, you should also carry an extra set of clothes for your child in a pack (because blowouts and accidents happen) as well as plenty of water and snacks. A small first aid kit is a good idea, too! This will go a long way in making your hike an enjoyable, successful trip.
Picking a Trail
Hiking doesn’t have to be a huge adventure, or it can be! You just have to pick a trail that you’ll find enjoyable. All Trails is an app that you can use to find trails close to you. You can select trails by difficulty and length, or find ones that are dog friendly and/or have great views. It even allows people to post reviews about each trail, which is great for when something happens to make part of a trail inaccessible. You’ll know ahead of time and can choose your route accordingly. You can also do a Google search for trails in your area. Keep in mind the difficulty of the trail. If you are a novice hiker, you should stick to an easy trail when hiking with your child. As you gain more experience and get used to navigating various types of terrain, you can start trying out more challenging trails. You should also keep an eye on the elevation gain and overall altitude, especially when hiking with a baby or very small child. Their lungs are much more delicate and may not be able to handle high altitudes. You can consult your pediatrician or do a little research online before you go.
Most trails aren’t going to be an issue, but I do want to briefly share an experience I had with a tougher trail. Chris and I both grew up on the East Coast and we have only been in the Pacific Northwest for a year and a half. The mountains we loved back east and in the South are nothing compared to what you’ll find here! This past October, Chris and I got a babysitter for Blue and we went back to Mount Rainier to celebrate our anniversary. This is becoming a bit of a tradition for us, but we also really just wanted to climb up to Camp Muir base camp. This is a base camp to rest at when summiting the mountain and it is the highest you can go up the mountain without a climbing permit. Camp Muir sits at an elevation 10,080 feet and you have to cross the Muir Snowfield in order to reach it. I am so glad we did not take Blue on this hike! It was a great day, the views were absolutely breath-taking, but it was the toughest hike we have ever attempted! We knew taking Blueberry was going to slow us down, so that is why we had decided to get a sitter for the day. Aside from that, we did not do enough research. As it turns out, people actually take classes and train for this hike! And we had pretty much decided to just go and do it. Crossing the snowfield was rough. It was windy without anything to shield you from the wind. It was also tough to find good footing on particularly icy sections, making it a fairly dangerous trek with the very basic gear we had chosen to take with us that day (we were wearing trail running shoes and didn’t even have trekking poles). Crossing the snowfield is also a pretty steep climb. I would literally take three steps and have to stop to catch my breath – and I am a runner in very good shape! The air is just so thin at that elevation that it takes your body time to adjust. On the hike that day – which took us all day to do – we climbed roughly 5,000 feet of elevation over about 4.5 miles! That is an insane amount of elevation gain! We had fun and the whole experience was a pretty cool metaphor for our marriage. We helped each other climb this big, beautiful mountain (actually an active volcano) and found a lot of joy doing it together. But, this was a lesson for us as we try out new trails in our new home. We have to know what we’re getting into before we start the hike and take it seriously. By the grace of God, we had a great day, but we considering how unprepared we were, it could’ve been much different.
Some pictures from that crazy, beautiful hike
So to wrap things up, staying active as a new mom has some challenges, but is isn’t impossible! It will take motivation, some planning, and maybe even a little creativity, but you CAN handle it! For me, staying active as a new mom was a big goal. Not because I wanted to look a certain way, but because I wanted to FEEL a certain way. I am a much happier person when I take the time to run and workout. Endorphins are the best happy “drug” out there! I also enjoy feeling strong and fit – like I can take on the world. And those feelings make me a better mom, wife and overall person. I know this is overstated, but since I even have trouble letting it sink in, I’m going to say it, too – you have to carve out some time for yourself! If you aren’t healthy, both physically and mentally, your job as a mom is going to be so much harder. You owe it to yourself and your family to be the best you can be, and that requires self-care. All new routines are a little challenging in the beginning, but I promise you it DOES get easier and it is so worth it. I hope this post gave you some encouragement and some good ideas on how to stay active. Thanks for reading!