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Why exercise can feel so challenging after having a baby and how to tackle it

Updated: Jan 31

Do these sound familiar?

  • I don't have time

  • I don't know where to start after having a baby

  • I have tried many things but cant stick to them, I am a lost cause

  • I don't have energy

  • Exercise is too exhausting right now

If you answered yes to all or most of the above then know that you are not alone in finding exercising challenging after having a baby. There can be many mental and physical barriers when it comes to starting exercise in the postnatal period and even though you know exercise can be one of the best anxiety and mood boosting tools out there, after a stressful or tiring day on little sleep, it can also be the last thing on our minds.

"So what if I told you you’re not alone, in fact you’re in the majority"

Mentally we can feel like a stranger in our own body, like we almost don't recognise it after pregnancy and birth. So what if I told you you’re not alone, in fact you’re in the majority of mothers, and see if any of the below resonate with you.

"My body isn't what it used to be"

The controversial title to start us off, but hear me out! So funnily enough your body has changed since having a baby. Lots of changes have happened before, during and after birth; Our abdominal muscles have stretched, elongated and separated to allow room for the baby to grow, our pelvises have widened and joints softened. Regardless of birth method our pelvic floors have been under immense pressure from the weight of the baby, bodily fluids, placenta etc. and our postures have altered - which may make something as simple as walking feel difficult and subsequently we can immediately feel alienated it in our own bodies as it's “not what it used to be”.

- If this is you, I hear you!

"I don't have time to exercise"

What did we do with our time before having kids? When we look back we realise could do what we wanted. Now the time we have 'spare' is dedicated to keeping our small humans alive and happy, and often at the detriment of our own health and wellness because we simply don't. have. the. time.

- If this is you, I hear you!

"My health and fitness is not a priority right now"

I speak with many mothers who say to me that they feel they have so much work to do on regaining strength, that they almost might not bother. Remember, I wasn’t a pre & postnatal PT when I had my first daughter, so speaking from one mother to another, I have also been in this position where I felt I've gone so far the other way, there was no coming back. Now I'm the strongest I have ever been after two children. You may worry that you will injure yourself or exacerbate any symptoms and you're not sure what exercise is suitable for you and therefore it's easier to just ignore it

- If this is you, I hear you!

"I have tried many so many programs, none of them work"

We’re all guilty of signing up to a summer shred with a restrictive calorie intake and intense cardio workouts and two weeks in you're thinking...I'm too hungry, mad and exhausted to do this, all whilst looking after kids. It has meant giving up before you've even gotten out of the starting block because of an imbalance of energy in/energy out and motivation.

- If this is you, I hear you!

"In a fit of desperation I have been late night googling ‘solutions’"

Anything from belly bands to help support lower back pain, to spot reducing fat around the midline - I too have been there in the darkest hours of the night trying to find solutions to areas of my body I am unhappy with.

- If this is you, I hear you!

"Just as I get into a routine - teething and sleep regressions throw me back out again"

We are all guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of ourselves, so regimented that we become trapped by barriers so that when we don't deliver on them, we want to give up We get ourselves into these vicious cycles that means every time we attempt to form any sort of a ‘routine’ with exercise and it goes slightly off track, we just give up and feel a sense of failure so easier to just not bother.

- If this is you, I hear you!

Ok so we've pointed out all the negatives, what can we do about it?

If any of the above resonate with you, then know that you’re not alone in feeling this way. It is possible to be the strongest you've ever been after having a child, so it is not a time to give up before you've started, even if you feel like a stranger in your own body. So here are some ways to tackle the 'negative nelly's' in your brain and get you on track to exercising

Firstly, it's important to remember you were someone before you were a mother. If you were told to take time for 'you' before would take time, right? But now you're a mother it's the first thing we sacrifice. It is completely normal to feel guilty doing anything for yourself after having a child - welcome to motherhood and mum-guilt - but taking time for you is necessary for your mental and physical wellbeing, because taking care of you is taking care of others. Get them involved too if you want, babies LOVE squats!

"Your body has changed during and after pregnancy, it's important to acknowledge you may need to start from a lower base with exercise (we all have to start somewhere), but that doesn't have to be as daunting as you think."

Your body has changed so exercise may indeed feel harder so it's important to acknowledge you will need to start from a low base with exercise (we all have to start somewhere), but that doesn't have to be as daunting as you think. As mothers, it is the perfect and most crucial time to start exercising, we need physical strength and stamina for all the heavy lifting, running around and long nights ahead.

Remember exercise can be so many things and everyday I come across mothers who say to me "the only exercise I've done is walking" and I always smile. Walking is an amazing form of exercise, and we completely underestimate the benefits of this simple yet effective way to exercise. Walking for just a few minutes each day helps with our sleep, boosts our energy, boosts our mood and subsequently our motivation to do more exercise. Don't overthink what exercise is, watch this reel for more examples of adding movement to your life:

It's important to choose something which you enjoy so it can become something maintainable in your life - Put simply, you will not stick to it if you think of it as a burden or exhausting - so choose something you don't hate doing! If you feel like you hate all exercise, no problem, time to try something new. Start simple - a walk with a friend, or a 10 minute beginner bodyweight workout from home - you can try this one for free.

"the benefits outweigh the negatives and exercise isn't just for pain, but for empowerment. "

Add small bursts of exercise into your daily routine and build from there. 10 minutes is better than no minutes at all. Doing this will improve mood, motivation and mental health and a create a positive snowball effect to get you out of any rut into a rhythm with exercise. Many of us feel exercise has to be long, arduous and painful, so flip that around - watch yourself progressing from 10 to 15 to 20 minutes a few times a week and visibly see yourself strengthen. The benefits outweigh the negatives and exercise isn't just for pain, but for empowerment.

When you start a routine but struggle with set backs, it is then hard to pick ourselves back up and if like me, and many other mothers and women out there, you self-criticise and throw in the towel easily. We cant stop this from happening, it's hard wired into our brains to be like this because we're compassionate beings. This a visual I took from a book by Dr Julie Smith: Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

This represents how low mood (top of the cycle) and low motivation breeds even more negativity and the sense that if we withdraw and ignore, it will go away...The truth is, if nothing changes, then we're stuck back in this negative cycle. Even at the lowest level of motivation and you feel totally out of sync - break it down and do 10 minutes of exercise, then gently build up from there - I promise you'll feel better after!

Here is something I teach my clients when their mood and motivation is low, imagine you are speaking to a friend in your position. What would you say to them to motivate them to get back up and exercise after some time off?

You would tell them encouraging things like “remember how great you felt” “you haven’t ‘undone’ anything by taking a few weeks off” “pick up where you left off and don't drive yourself further down” - You would be kind and supportive, right? So why is it we are so harsh on ourselves when really we need to be our own cheerleader and self-compassion hero. Next time you want to throw in the towel, just imagine you were speaking to that friend and what you would say - now say it to yourself over and over!

The ‘cant be bothered’ attitude creeps in and putting your feet up and watching Netflix or having a scroll through social media can often feel A LOT more inviting than putting on a workout video. I know it all too well myself! Mindless scrolling on social media is a dangerous game and mentally that can have a huge impact on our mood and self esteem, we begin to unpick ourselves, our lives and criticise. This is the exact moment where we need to say STOP, put down the phone, put on our trainers and stretch, walk or workout for 10 minutes to bring back that motivation. Doing this and you’re immediately setting yourself up to win!

"but how do I get myself to stop scrolling and starting stretching?"

If you find it hard to get into the routine of exercise and wonder 'how do I get myself to stop scrolling and start stretching?', here is a habit breaking trick that works wonders.

This is taken from James Clear: Atomic Habits, a book I read last year and one of my biggest take aways was how to break a bad habit and create a good one.

Lets take a negative habit loop for example:

Cue - Feel negative in yourself, feel frumpy and out of shape in your own body

Craving - To feel a quick relief of happiness through food, TV or a mindless scroll

Response - Reach for the phone, reach for chocolate

Reward - Moment of happiness, followed shortly by more negative negative back to the start

Now lets try a positive habit loop:

Cue - Feel negative in yourself, feel frumpy and out of shape in your own body

Craving - To feel a quick relief of happiness through food, TV or a mindless scroll


Response - Go for a walk to clear the head and get some fresh air, pick your phone but don't scroll, instead put on a 10 minute workout or stretch video

Reward - You get a hit of happiness, endorphins and your negative thoughts are quashed as you have officially BROKEN the bad habit cycle. Breaking the chain in this cycle can reap so many mental and physical rewards, give it a go tonight, break those bad habits!

We can feel anxious or worried about our bodies after a baby so joining a class or program worrying that you won’t be any good at it can be a scary prospect. It's why after having a baby it's important to start small, gentle and build up. Beginning a new exercise regime is the hardest part, but pushing yourself gently outside of that comfort zone is huge for mental and personal development, let alone the physical benefits.

In summary, here are my top tips:

  • Remember first and foremost you were someone before you were a mother

  • Your body has changed - honour that, respect that

  • Exercise can be so many things - don't overthink it

  • It's important to choose something which you enjoy and if you don't know what that is, then start small and build up

  • Add exercise into your daily routine and build it each day and know it won’t always GO to plan, but thats OK!

  • When you start a routine but struggle with set backs - become your own cheerleader and remember what you would say to a friend in your position

  • When the ‘cant be bothered’ attitude creeps in or you find it hard to get into a routine, start your bad habit circuit breaking

  • If you feel anxious start small and build from there

Now go forth and start forming some maintainable and sustainable exercise habits for yourself with the above in mind. If in doubt, speak with an expert in pre and postnatal exercise. You can book a free discovery call with me if you need help and guidance on where to begin in the form of my free eGuide - Where to Begin With Exercise After Having a Baby and you might also be interested in the below if you're ready to get cracking:

The 6 week postnatal group program, starting 1st November for 15 mothers is designed by a mother (me!) for mothers. It is designed to get you results, from home, with a gentle reintroduction to exercise which builds in intensity as you become stronger and ready for it. The workouts fit into your daily life, with a short commitment of only 20-25 minutes up to 3 times per week. The main thing is, don't worry if it doesn’t go to plan and you don't workout on the day you thought you would or if you had to press pause and come back to it - the program is designed to help you form healthy and maintainable habits and also get you feeling your strongest self after having a baby

Adding a short class can relieve your body of physical and mental stress and boost your energy levels, help you sleep better the best part is, it doesn’t have to be as hard and as gruelling as you think. My On Demand Workout Channel caters to just this - a workout channel with over 50 workouts - anything from 10 minute to 25 minute workouts using both bodyweight and resistance. You can begin forming quick and healthy exercise habits from home - even in your PJs

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