I never want my daughter to stop doing the things she loves, so I'm leading by example.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
September 17, 2019
Credit: Cassie Shortsleeve

Sleep while the baby sleeps: It's advice new moms get over and over (and over) again.

After having my first baby this past June, I heard it countless times. They're fair words. Sleep deprivation can be torturous, not to mention downright terrible for your health and—for me—sleep has always been paramount for both my mental and physical wellbeing. (Pre-baby I regularly logged nine to 10 hours a night.)

But there's something *else* I've always turned toward to feel my very best: sweat. Exercise helps me beat anxiety and strengthen my body, and I enjoy training for races and trying new classes.

I kept up my routine during pregnancy, too. I even did a 20-minute Stairmaster workout the day before I gave birth to my daughter. I was breathless, sweaty, and—most importantly—a little bit calmer. (Of course, you should talk to your doc before doing the same during your own pregnancy.)

So, while I certainly feared the sleep deprivation that comes hand-in-hand with a newborn, one of the first questions I asked my doctor was, when can I work out again?

Since I was a regular exerciser pre-baby and all throughout my pregnancy, my doctor told me I could start with easy walking as soon as I felt ready. The night I got home from the hospital, I walked to the end of my block—probably less than a tenth of a mile. It was all I felt I could do but, in a way, it helped me feel like myself.

Credit: Cassie Shortsleeve

Recovery from childbirth is no joke—and it's important to listen to your body. But as the days went on, I continued with my walks (sometimes with my daughter in a stroller, other days alone thanks to a husband or grandparents who could watch her). Some days I only made it around the house, other days a half-mile, eventually a mile. Soon, I was able to add light strength training, too. (Related: More Women Are Working Out to Prepare for Pregnancy)

These workouts helped me clear my mind and left me feeling strong in my body while it healed in those early weeks. Even 15 or 30 minutes helped me feel like my old self and helped me be a better mom, too: When I came back, I had more energy, a fresher outlook, even a little more confidence (not to mention it was an excuse to get out of the house—a must for new mamas!).

The afternoon I returned from my six-week postpartum appointment, I went on my first run in four months while my mom watched my daughter. I ran one mile at a pace far slower than anything I'd ever logged. By the end, I felt as though I couldn't go a step farther, but I did it and I felt good for doing it. When I came back sweaty, I picked up my baby and she smiled back at me.

Credit: Cassie Shortsleeve

The truth is, while rewarding, the postpartum period can be really tough. It can be exhausting, emotional, confusing, scary—the list goes on. And for me, fitness has always been a part of how I've always conquered such mental hurdles. Keeping exercise as a part of my routine (read: when I can and when I feel up for it) helps me feel continue to feel my best, just as it had during pregnancy. (Related: Subtle Signs of Postpartum Depression You Shouldn't Ignore)

Working out also lays a foundation for my daughter to see me for who I am: someone who cares about her health and wellbeing and wants to prioritize it. After all, while I am certainly working out for me (guilty!), I'm also doing it for her. Exercise is something I hope to enjoy with her someday, and I want her to see me pursuing my own health and fitness goals.

I also want to be able to be my best, most calm, happiest self around her. And here's the thing: That does involve making sure I'm getting my sleep. Sleeping while the baby sleeps is great advice—and it can give you the energy to sweat while the baby sleeps the next time she's down for a nap. After all, working out when you're completely and utterly sleep-deprived? Next to impossible (plus, not super safe). On those days when I was running on two to three hours of sleep—and there were plenty of them—you'd be more likely to find me in bed than at the gym while my daughter snoozed. But as my daughter started to sleep through the night (knock on wood!) and on days when I could catch up on sleep with a nap early in the day, I was totally saved by at-home workout videos, free weights, and tons of family living nearby who could babysit.

Mom guilt is something we hear *a lot* about. It's easy to feel guilty when you go back to work, when you go on a run, heck, when you take a breath outside of the house away from your little one. It's an exaggerated concept but it's a real one. I feel it, too. But when I'm doing things that I know help me put my best foot forward—and be the best person and mother I can be—I no longer feel guilty.

Credit: Cassie Shortsleeve

This October, I'm a race ambassador for the Reebok Boston 10K for Women. It's a road race that's been going on since the 70s, encouraging women to set the bar high and chase their health and fitness goals. Many women run the race alongside their daughters or mothers. The race will likely be the farthest distance I will have run since giving birth in June. If she's ready, my daughter will join me in the run stroller, too. If not? She'll be at the finish line. (Related: How I'm Using My Love of Fitness to Teach My Kid to Enjoy Exercise)

I want her to grow up learning to do the things she loves—the things that make her happy and healthy; the things that make her feel alive. I want her to pursue those things, to fight for them, to enjoy them, and to never apologize or feel guilty for doing them—and the best way I can show her that is by doing them myself.


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