There is a baby boom in the UK, with over 700,000 bundles of joy arriving last year to throw the lives of their parents into total chaos. Even if your baby is not third in line to the throne, there are ways to keep up an active lifestyle when the bomb hits and two becomes three.
When a new baby arrives, the effect on the life of the new parents has been likened to that of an explosion which scatters their ordered lives into small pieces. Uninterrupted sleep becomes a distant memory and exhaustion can reach whole new levels. Even leaving the house involves so much pre-planning that sometimes it all seems to be too much effort.
New parents can feel as if they are always going to be trapped in the house, especially if the baby appears not to have read the rules and does not sleep for any length of time. For the first few weeks, it is best to work with the baby’s timetable if at all possible. This means sleeping when the baby does, eating simple meals and letting the housework go. Don’t be afraid to refuse visitors, and do accept all offers of help. Whether it is cooking, babysitting, cleaning or gardening, never say no to anyone who says ‘what can I do?’
It is very important not to give up on activity. Not only does it help recovery from birth and loss of pregnancy weight, it also maintains the fitness and stamina that parents are going to need for many years to come. Once children are old enough to notice what is happening, active parents also set a great example. Being brought up in a house where everyone gets outside together, enjoys healthy food and spends weekends in the park rather than the shopping centre is a wonderful start for children.
It is never too early to start. If you have the energy in those early weeks, take the opportunity to get outside. Even a few laps round the block pushing the pram will help you to get some exercise and fresh air. Some babies are also soothed by the motion of the pram. A sling is another good idea for active parents, leaving your hands free and releasing you from the tyranny of flat surfaces that a pram demands. Like everything else, parenthood becomes easier with practice and you will soon find that you are better organised and able to leave the house more quickly.
Not everyone is the ‘mother-and-baby-group’ type - but there are still plenty of chances to get out. Many gyms are now offering workouts that can incorporate a baby. There are outdoor workout classes that run over pram-friendly surfaces, and there are even classes where the baby is used as a weight for toning arms and stomach muscles. This has the advantage of combining childcare and entertainment, as babies usually love being lifted up and down.
As the baby grows and starts to take more interest in the world, opportunities for getting active widen. Being pushed about in a forward-facing stroller will greatly interest a baby that cannot yet crawl. This stage is when they are at their most portable, so make the most of it.
Once the baby starts crawling, things will change. This may be the time to take up the crèche places available in many gyms. Two-hour slots are usual. This is just the right time to give a parent an hour for a workout or exercise class, time to settle the baby before and have a shower and a coffee afterwards. Gyms do not have to be expensive to offer a crèche – these facilities are now becoming standard in council run centres. There is usually heavy demand so be sure to make enquiries in advance.
Once your child is able to walk, the fun can really start. Starting with toddles to the playground and graduating to longer walks, getting on to two feet opens up all sorts of opportunities. The process of learning to walk is hard work for children - it may be well over a year after those first steps before they really start to enjoy walking. Hopefully you will then find that the buggy is no longer required, which means that there is no longer a need to plan all routes round steps and slopes.
It may all seem very daunting when you have a new-born and those first steps are still a while away. Remember not to rush yourself. Your body will take time to recover from the birth and you should not try anything too strenuous. Certainly don’t try too much until you have had your post-birth checkup and your doctor is happy with your progress. This is especially important after a pregnancy or birth with complications. New fathers also need to slow down.
There is no doubt that you will have to make compromises once you are a parent, especially in the early years. The best philosophy is to go at the baby’s pace and be flexible, and to make the most of the time with your children. Any parent will tell you that the pre-school years vanish in a flash – so enjoy them while they last.