Exercising with your Baby or Toddler: Expectation vs Reality

By Heather Osoy (Guest Blogger)

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Heather Osoy

Exercising with your baby or toddler: it sounds so sweet, and there are so many benefits. Maybe you want to go hiking, enroll in a baby-wearing dance class, join a Mama & Baby yoga class, jog around the neighborhood, or consider a stroller-based fitness program.

The many Instagram and YouTube videos would have you believe that your little one will laugh or participate adorably, or even quietly go along for the ride as you work up a sweat.

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In real life, working out with an unpredictable little person can be much more complicated, and guess what? It is normal.

When my son was an infant, he was a joy to have in the stroller. I would walk around the neighborhood, as the constant movement lulled him to sleep. In the rare moments he would fuss, I would switch him to a soft structured carrier, and nurse him back to sleep as I continued my walk. It was a winning situation.

As he entered his toddler phase, however, things changed. Suddenly, the stroller upset him, and he wouldn’t stop crying until I took him out. That meant no more long walks or jogs. I opted for a stroller-based fitness program- thinking the other kids would occupy him. I ended up being so embarrassed by his constant screaming, I gave up on fitness completely. Even taking walks with him in a carrier was out of the question. 

It was hard not to feel defeated. I saw those moments not only as opportunities to bond with my son, but also opportunities to do something I enjoyed pre-baby. 

Mother holding her crying baby

None of the other moms seemed to have the same trouble. I tried snacks, new toys, games on my phone, music, books, and giving him a chance to stretch his legs out on the playground before working out.

NOTHING worked.

He kicked and screamed every time I tried to exercise with the stroller.

Maybe he was feeding off of my energy? Maybe he needed a more regular routine? Maybe he wasn’t sleeping enough? Maybe I needed to be stern? Maybe I was already too stern? What was I doing wrong? In a short time, Mommy Guilt managed to hurt something I once enjoyed.

After launching Baby Boot Camp in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, I often experience déjà vu.

Moms would come to class, and be horrified to hear their little ones crying. As soon as they took a few steps back, or were out of the line of vision, the water works would turn on.

The convenience of bringing your baby or toddler to a workout class is to eliminate the need for a sitter, spend quality time with them as you exercise, and meet like-minded moms. Although being around other mothers is comforting, it’s easy to forget just how much we have in common. The moms with the upset children would get flustered, apologize, and have the same defeated look I once had.

Here’s what I always tell them:

1) You may stop at any time to tend after your child.

Your needs, and the needs of your child both matter. Sometimes mamas feel guilty about interrupting, or as if they’re holding the class back. If you need to break a workout with some baby cuddles, nursing, diaper changing, etc., then you are more than entitled to do so.  

2) Think positively.

There’s nothing you can do to prevent a breakdown. You may run late sometimes, and you may habitually leave something behind. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can change how you react to certain situations. Just because something doesn’t go your way, doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Be proud of yourself for getting back into a fit lifestyle, and engaging in healthy activities with your child. Taking care of a little one, plus trying to get back into life isn’t easy. Give credit where it’s due!

3) You’re not alone.

If you think some mothers have it all together, you are so, so, so, so, so, sooooo wrong. Every parent goes through unexplainable fits, diaper blowouts, potty training dilemmas and sleepless nights. As a mother, I’ve been where you’ve been. As a member of your village, let me try to entertain or calm your child as you get your workout in. Accepting help doesn’t make you weak.   

4) It’s not a race.

This is where body shaming comes into play. Whether your child is well behaved or not, some of us may feel the urge to speed up results when we work out. See your path to wellness as a lifelong journey. It takes time to reach your goals, and then you need to maintain them. In the end, how you feel matters more than numbers on a scale.

5) The tantrums will stop (sort of).

I can’t explain it, but there does come a time when the fussiness subsides. Could be better emotional maturity, routine expectation, time of day, new toy, teething break, better sleep, more comfortable stroller/wrap/ssc, etc. One day, your little one will go with the flow a little better, and even actively enjoy what is going on. Could take days; could take months. Try to be consistent in your workout routine, and take deep breaths (easier said than done). Remember why you started in the first place, and you will have others to help you.

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What ultimately makes an effective workout experience between you and your little one is the community that surrounds you during. It’s not enough to be physically fit. Your overall wellness also matters. If you ever feel embarrassment and guilt from typical episodes of motherhood, then you’re not getting the support you need. Find an active group of optimistic, caring, and driven mothers in your neighborhood. You should enjoy being active, because what you are doing has lasting positive effects for you and baby. Great job, Mama!

Guest Blogger Heather Osoy is the Owner/Fitness Instructor for Baby Boot Camp Sacramento – Oak Park, which offers various fitness programs for moms of every stage. She’s AFAA Certified in Group Ex Instruction, ACE Certified in Pre/Postnatal Fitness, American Red Cross certified in CPR/AED/First Aid, and a Licensed Provider of the Core9 Birth Recovery Program & Diastasis Repair Workshop.

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