Before my daughter Seren Grace (now 15 months) was born, my entire life was dedicated to helping people get fit and keeping fit myself. But my priorities quickly changed after giving birth. Suddenly, nurturing my baby overshadowed anything else in my life. Even though I couldn't believe how saggy and big my tummy looked after childbirth, it didn't really bother me that much. Nothing else mattered as much as taking care of my daughter and I know most new mothers will feel the same way at some stage.
Yet sooner or later, and often by learning the hard way, many of us realize that we need to give more time and effort to care for ourselves so that we can be a happy and healthy mum for our babies and partners and, more importantly, to feel good for ourselves. Although it is, of course, hard to find the time, the motivation or the energy to give ourselves the care that we need.
I for one completely underestimated how much time is needed to dedicate to a newborn each day and how little opportunity there is to do what makes us feel good. For me this has always been working out, and the release of amazing, feel-good endorphins that comes along with that.
After a while as a new mum I was getting really desperate to work-out consistently, but I was plagued with feelings of guilt that this would mean I was neglecting my beautiful baby girl. I couldn't bear the thought of leaving her to go and work out, and it really started to affect my happiness, confidence and mental health.
But then I had a little mental revelation: I started incorporating Seren into my work-outs, using her weight as resistance to help me build up my strength. It worked so well that I ended up doing it regularly, up to three times a week, until she started crawling.
I realised that there must be lots of new mothers out there who want to get fit, but who don't necessarily have the time or money to go to regular exercise classes outside of the home and away from their babies. This led me to devise a 12-week video Babyandme workout plan and online coaching for new mums, sharing exercises that can be done with your child in tow. I also offer Babyandme classes in person at venues across the UAE. Over the last year I've seen the profound impact these Babyandme classes can have on new mums, with great benefits for both mental and physical health. I’ve not only built a great library of testimonies but some real lifelong friends for myself and for Seren to grow alongside.
To any new mums feeling bad about their post-baby body I would say: you are beautiful just as you are right now, and your body has just performed a miracle! You deserve to give yourself lots of love and admiration.
My advice would be to ignore the message that the media gives boasting fast weight loss in new mums: these women are definitely in the minority and for most of us a slower journey of weight loss is more achievable and, in the long term, probably better for us. However, just as our bodies can miraculously change to accommodate a baby, they have the same ability to bounce back afterwards. Remember this during your moments of self-doubt and self-criticism: be patient and kind to yourself to let your body take time to adjust and return to normal.
Exercising with your baby is such a great way to start rehabilitating your body and bouncing back into shape. Baby gets stimulation and enjoyment, and you get to improve your fitness levels while also bonding with your little one. It’s also very progressive and you will get stronger as your baby gets heavier. And it's so much fun! Seren giggles so much when I do squat and presses that it only makes me want to do more!
Doctor's Check up
Firstly, before bench pressing your little one or lunging your way to your pre-pregnancy shape, you must ensure that you have completed a six-week post-birth check-up with your doctor and been given the ‘green light’ to work-out. Additionally, before working out alone at home after childbirth you should also get an expert - either a trained postnatal instructor or a physiotherapist - to check you for ab separation, or diastasis reci. Almost all women will have ab separation to some degree after giving birth, and it's important that your workouts encourage the abs to close back together, rather than push them further apart - jumping into crunches and sit-ups straight away is a big no-no!
Read more: The lowdown on Diastasis Recti
How to create your own Babyandme Workout
While you are more than welcome to join me at the Babyandme classes held across Dubai, you can also create your own workout to do at home with your little one. First off, here are the different baby-holding positions to use during your workout. All three techniques keep your baby’s neck safe and supported. Changing between the holding positions and changing sides will prevent your arms from aching too much.
The following workouts should be done while holding your baby safely in one of the three above positions. They are suitable for all abilities and involve basic exercises such as squats, bridges and planks, plus the added fun element of interacting with your baby at the same time! The below workouts assume some familiarity with these kinds of exercises in the past, but do pop along to a class if you aren't sure of exactly what each exercise means. Each session should take roughly 45-60 minutes.
Read more: The Best Prenatal Fitness Classes in Dubai
Babyandme standing workout to do with your baby*
Squats x 8 - Bend both legs together and then straighten again, holding your baby as a weight.
Standing Shoulder Press x 8 - Use your little one in place of a barbell, raising them to your chest, and then lifting them up into the air and back again.
Stationary Lunge x 6 each leg - Holding your baby as a weight, step one knee back and bend carefully down to the ground. Straighten up to stand on both feet, then repeat on the other side.
Chest Press and Kiss x 8 - Hold baby to your chest and then stretch your arms out. Bring baby back to your chest and give him or her a kiss!
Hip Hinging x 10 - Holding baby securely, lower him or her down gently while hinging from the hip. Straighten up again before repeating.
(Rest as long as needed, Repeat three times)
Baby will be having fun and enjoying watching her role model and Mum live out an active and healthy life and if he/she isn’t already they will soon be planking alongside you, clapping as you count your repetitions and pushing down on you as you do your press-ups! The more you move the more fun they have!
Your body will quickly get fitter and stronger as a result of regular Babyandme workouts and feel a lot better in return. As your little ones get heavier it will certainly get tougher! I started lifting Seren when she was just 3kg, and progressed up t o 11kg when she started crawling, meaning I progressively got stronger with every session.
*Remember to listen to your body and regress the exercise or rest more if you find yourself struggling.
It was only time before my little baby grew into a toddler and I would no longer be able to work-out with Seren in my arms. Not only was she now 11kg, difficult to hold and too big for the carrier but she just wanted to explore the world. Seren started walking from 10 months old, so gradually Babyandme classes involved teaching more exercises with a dumbbell while Seren was running around and climbing the studio mirrors.
Babyandme home workouts gradually turned into Babywithme workouts, keeping her entertained with toys while I repped out my walking lunges and banded bridges.
I designed Babywithme classes to follow on from Babyandme and to help mums get fit and feel great without having to worry about arranging childcare. Babywithme classes are from walking up to pre-school age.
The classes are more circuit based with a combination of moderate exercises, with special baby and toddler zones so that your little one can have fun and can make some little friends while you get a great workout and are able to watch over them.
Read more: Postnatal fitness challenge
As a Mum myself I know how important it is to have and receive support for and from each other on this extraordinary journey, I love that working out together means we can cheerlead each other on, have each others backs when things get tough, and give a hug when its needed.
The focus is on feeling good about ourselves, our body and also having fun with our new baby. I love having fun with Seren while working out, and this is the beginning of setting a life-long example of showing her how much fun exercising can be 🙌
Join Rhian's Group Classes at three different venues across Dubai in Al Barsha, Downtown and Marina. The next set of sessions has started this February 2019, so email firstname.lastname@example.org to book yourself on!