Hiking and Exercise Lessons Learned 1 Year Postpartum
Following my daughter’s first birthday, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the lessons I learned regarding hiking and exercise during my first year postpartum.
1. Hiking is a great postpartum exercise
Perhaps this is a biased opinion, since I loved hiking before becoming pregnant, but I truly believe hiking is a great postpartum exercise.
Hiking helped me lose weight. After all, hiking is a cardio exercise! When I was hiking for 1.5-2 hours once a week, I noticed that week I would lose 1-1.5 lbs of weight. These weeks were usually coupled with light muscle training or HIIT training, but the main exercise for the week was hiking. With this regimen of hiking and light training from 6 weeks postpartum, I was able to reach my pre-pregnancy weight after about 7 months (I gained about 45 lbs during pregnancy). That’s just weight-wise, though, I definitely did not have the muscle definition that I had prior to pregnancy. I felt like my milk supply was impacted by getting back down to my original weight, so I gained back 5 lbs and have stayed at that weight ever since. Of course every body is different, but this has been my experience.
Hiking helped inspire me to exercise more. I’ve always found it a bit challenging to stay motivated to exercise exclusively at home. I tend to find it boring and not as refreshing as spending time outdoors. I definitely noticed that I felt better about doing muscle training and HIIT exercises at home when I’d been for a hike that week. If I didn’t go for a hike, my other exercise would lag.
Hiking also helped my mental health. Being a stay at home mom and taking care of baby around the clock is serious work and exhausting. I’ve never been so consistently and thoroughly tired in my life. I felt so much better throughout the week if I was able to go for a hike during the weekend. Even one hike of 2 hours max in a week makes a big difference.
2. Go easy on yourself
Give yourself grace. No matter how you gave birth, your body has been through a lot and is still going through major changes. Your body and even brain have changed through the process of becoming a mother.
My initial goal was doing 4 hours of exercise a week. That equates to about 30-45 minutes of exercise per day, or 20 minutes per day if I did a 2 hour hike on the weekend while dad watched baby. This sounds manageable, but honestly, it was hard to keep up with. When you are exhausted from lack of sleep, breastfeeding, pumping, and taking care of baby around the clock, even 30 minutes of exercise seems like a lot. I was lucky some days if I could get a shower in. When I did have time, I often just wanted to take a nap or zone out.
At first it was frustrating and disappointing when I couldn’t meet what I thought was a reasonable exercise goal some weeks. But you also have to listen to your body. One time I got to the trailhead but felt like crying at the thought of hiking, so I went back home and rested in bed instead. This felt like the best choice for my body that day. There will be a time when you have more time or feel up for the exercise. Go easy of yourself.
3. Be careful
There was a temptation to work out hard and hike fast during the short periods when I had time in order to get as much fat burning exercise in as possible. Well, that led to me spraining my ankle mid-summer and being unable to hike for 2 months. Several months later, I sprained my ankle again when I tripped on the stairs (baby was not in my arms) and was again unable to hike for another 2 months.
It’s much better to go at a manageable or slower pace steadily and be careful than to overdo it and put yourself out of commission for weeks or months on end.
4. Don’t Compare
Social media is great at connecting us with what our friends are up to, but it can also be a bit depressing in that it shows what you can’t do now that you have a baby to take care of. So many times I’ve seen pictures of friends on hikes on my feeds and wished I could be there. The desire to get out the house and go on a long, refreshing hike, or in a location 1 hour away like Rocky Mountain National Park or the Indian Peaks Wilderness, was overwhelming at times. Where we live, we can see the mountains and they are just there, calling, but out of reach. It’s also been hard to see friends as often as I would like, because we would usually go for hikes together during the week. Our schedules don’t match well now.
Sure, depending on the person, it’s possible to take baby on hikes or even camping. However, at least for us, it was difficult. Baby would cry in the car and I would stress over her comfort and positioning while hiking. Timing for feeding and pumping also complicated things. Hiking with baby was a stressful endeavor. As a result, we went on a total of 5 hikes with baby in the past year.
It’s taken some practice, and I’m still working on it, but I try to not compare myself to what others are doing. They have their lives, I have mine. I find focusing on what I’m doing as a mom and appreciating what I can do exercise-wise helps to combat the FOMO (fear of missing out). Which brings me to…
5. Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude
Focusing on the here and now really is a way to increase your happiness and comfort. As parents, we are both living the miracle of life and seeing that miracle of a new life growing before our eyes. There is so much to appreciate and see the beauty in while observing our children.
I’ve found that listening to audiobooks and reading books by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has been helpful for understanding how to practice mindfulness on a daily basis.
I’ve also started an almost-daily yoga practice, which helps cultivate mindfulness. What got me into being able to do this so often was a 30-day challenge with Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Her classes are generally 15-30 minutes long and not too strenuous.
Thanks to these resources and practices, I’ve learned to become more appreciative and mindful of the exercise I can do. A walk in the neighborhood with baby in a stroller may not be the same as a hike, but it still offers good exercise as well as fun things for baby to look at. Yoga at home can stretch out your muscles that are tired from bending over and playing with baby all day as well as help mental health. HIIT or muscle training at home can be a quick way to work and target your muscles that you want to tone postpartum. These are all exercises that are still available to me, even if I can’t go hiking as often and as far as I would like. I’m grateful for that and try to soak in the benefits of those exercises as much as I can.
6. Ideas to Get Exercise In
Some ways I got exercise in during this first year include –
Exercise when baby is awake
When my baby was not yet crawling, I would stick her in a bouncer and do a 10-15 min HIIT training or yoga session while she watched. She usually wouldn’t fuss and would watch with interest.
Go for walks with stroller at baby’s nap time
When my baby was younger, I would take her for a walk during her nap time. She usually only napped for 30 minutes in her crib, but would nap for 1 hour in the stroller during a 1 hour walk. Longer nap + exercise = win, win!
Exercise when baby is asleep
Now that my child is taking 1 nap a day for a solid 2-2.5 hours, if I have the energy, it’s possible to do 30 minutes of yoga or other exercise at home after she starts sleeping, scarf down a quick lunch, and get in a 1 hour nap before she wakes up. I’m also doing exercise in the evening for 30 minutes to 1 hour now that she’s sleeping through the night for 12 hours from 7pm to 7am. When I’m really ambitious (which is not often), I can even get in a 10-15 minute yoga session first thing in the morning before my daughter wakes up.
Wear fitness clothes or keep them close by
These practices make it easier to exercise when you have a short amount of time to do so, or when you decide you feel like exercising on the fly. Time is the top commodity for busy new parents, and even 5 minutes spent changing your clothes is something. I’ve found that wearing fitness clothes helps me to exercise more. I can do yoga with my nursing bra/top on, but I do change into a sports bra/top if I’m doing HIIT. I’ve lived in these comfy yoga pants for almost this whole past year.
Before I became pregnant I was able to go for 7-10 mile hikes around Boulder several times a week. When I became pregnant, my energy levels dropped and a daily 1 hour, 2 mile walk became my max. In my second trimester I could do 2-4 mile hikes, but by the third trimester doing more than 30 minutes of exercise a day became difficult. After birth, I’ve only had the time for a maximum 4-5 mile hike once a week, but my ability to do so every week has fluctuated.
It’s been quite the journey, and the journey continues. I’m still learning how to optimize my time and find the exercise that feels best for me on any particular day. Sometimes hiking is what I need, sometimes it isn’t. It has taken time for me to become comfortable with this new way of being and exercising.
Flexibility with what comes is also an important lesson and part of being a parent. Over the past year our daughter has grown so much and our schedules have changed countless times. There is no one right way to do things, what feels best to do will be different for everybody, and what works will change as both you and baby grow.
I am happy where we are now, but I’m also looking forward to being able to bring our daughter on more hikes as she gets older. I’m hopeful that once she starts walking, she will enjoy exploring new places. If that doesn’t work well when the time comes, then we will find ways to adapt at that time as well.