The focus on women’s “post-baby bodies” is enough to put some mums off exercise after giving birth, but rediscovering a love of fitness or sport can be about so much more than appearance. It can help new mothers to feel like themselves again, as these four women are discovering.
“Fitness formed part of my identity prior to children and I’m looking forward to regaining some ‘me time’, even if it is just for an hour a week whilst looking after the littlies,” Lucy Alexander, 33, tells HuffPost UK.
Prior to becoming a mum, Lucy played sport five times per week, but that stopped when she gave birth to her daughter two years ago and she has since had a son three months ago.
Lucy, who lives near Milton Keynes, has found that the biggest challenge has been finding the time to exercise. She felt guilty about leaving her children in a crèche while taking a class and says many were unaffordable on her maternity leave budget.
“Wake ups in the night and mornings that start as early as 4am meant that as soon as 8pm rocked around (and we finally got our toddler to sleep) I was ready for bed too,” she says. “It has taken me almost two years to get back to exercise and I would say [it was] very challenging.”
She recently discovered an affordable local class where parents complete circuits in a sports hall while their kids play on nearby trampolines. Over the next few weeks she’ll take things at her own pace and enjoy the sessions when she can.
“I’m not pretending that this is it, I’m back in the swing of exercising and sport, as I am aware that there will be times due being a mum that I can’t take part,
but I’m hoping that this is where I start,” she says.
Lucy is one of the mums working with Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign to encourage women who once enjoyed being active to rediscover their love of fitness after giving birth, while emphasising how every woman’s return to exercise is different.
“It can be really tricky to get back into or start exercise after pregnancy, especially as some people can make unhelpful comments about ‘snapping back into shape’,” the campaign’s strategic lead Kate Dale tells HuffPost UK.
“Remember you’re not alone and there are a huge number of women who are experiencing the same thing. The six-week check might mark the point at which it’s safe to gently start reintroducing exercise, but only you can decide if you feel ready to start getting active again – and that’s different for everyone.”
Like Lucy, Katie Edwards, 33, from Leicester, had always been into fitness but stopped attending much-loved classes when she became pregnant with her first child in 2016 because she simply “didn’t know what [exercise] to do”.
But 11 weeks after her baby was born, a friend recommended she try out a local class called “buggy fit”, where mums incorporate gentle exercise and stretches during walks with their buggies and she found it had an unexpected benefit.
“Exercising has been great for my mental health. I had quite a difficult labour and birth, resulting in me not bonding with my son, as I held him accountable for the pain I was in,” Katie tells HuffPost UK.
“Within a few weeks of attending [buggy fit] classes and speaking to other mums, things became so much easier.”
Katie has since attended classes every week, stopping only for a six-week break after giving birth to her second child in April 2018. She’s also fallen in love with piyo – a mix of yoga and pilates to music – and swimming.
Laura Gray, 28, from Diss in Norfolk, is a mum-of-one and has found that getting back into running after giving birth in April this year was more of a gradual process than she had anticipated.
“My first run I could barely manage a mile before my body said enough was enough,” she says. “I hurt all over and in places I thought wasn’t possible. I had to stop and this made me feel like I would never be as fit as I was previously. I had to fight these thoughts.”
Laura said she felt it helped to remind herself how recently she had given birth.
Laura says she has struggled to accept the change in her body shape since giving birth and while she has always exercised for enjoyment - rather than to lose weight - she’s now aware of the social media pressure women face to lose baby weight.
Zoe Colver, 39, from Manchester, played hockey before giving birth in February and is determined to get back into the sport and its vibrant social scene. However, like Lucy she has struggled to find classes that fit in with childcare as she is breastfeeding, so is limited to evening sessions that start after her son’s bedtime.
She started attending buggy boot camp, yoga and body balance classes in April, but found them tougher than expected.
“Physically I was surprised just how much of my core strength I had lost. Doing a plank was near impossible at the start but I’m getting better now,” she says.
To new mums, her message is simple: “There is no rush to get back to it, start gently with walking and work up to anything more strenuous. Exercise has been a great way for me to get out of the house and start feeling and looking like my old self.”