Working Out with Your Baby

by Melanie Bowden


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You've got your workout clothes on, and you're ready to conquer your first exercise class since giving birth. Then the phone rings. The babysitter needs to cancel. It's enough to make a new mom toss her cross-training shoes right in the trash. But, there is another way. Why not exercise with your baby instead? It's a great way to bond with your child, and you'll be laying the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy fitness habits.

Here are some ideas for getting fit with baby in tow (Be sure to get your healthcare provider's approval before starting any exercise program.):

Exercise Tips from Veteran Moms

  • "Try mall walking, housework, or gardening with baby in a pack." - Nancy Piper-Opiel, mother of two.

  • "I used to lie on my back, bend my knees, and put my baby on my shins, then do reps and lift him like that. It was good for the abs." - Ellece Bill-Schmitz, mother of one.

  • "Most isometric exercises would work while holding a newborn. Also, the most important exercise of all, kegel!" - Louise Mark, mother of two.

  • "I would put my son in his car seat in a portable playpen beside the tennis court while I was playing tennis. I also ran on a treadmill with him in his car seat or walker in the "lock" position. The noise from the treadmill would always knock him out!" - Becky Stapp, mother of one.
  1. Work out to an exercise video while carrying your baby in a sling or snuggly. Lisa Stone, a Pre-and Post-Natal Fitness Instructor, recommends you choose any pre-pregnancy video that is low impact. For safety, she suggests, "Always keep one hand on the baby, either on the back of the neck, cradling the baby's head, or on the baby's back if they have good neck control." You could also exercise to a video with the baby safely in a seat or playpen nearby.

  2. Strength training for your arms. There are lots of ways to strength train with your child. Just use your baby instead of handweights for resistance. Stone suggests two ways to work your biceps:

    Biceps Exercise #1: Sitting in a chair, place your baby tummy down, across your right forearm, and hold under their shoulders with your right hand. Use your left hand to hold their left thigh, near the hip socket. Starting with your forearm parallel to the floor, lift the baby up toward your shoulder and repeat reps. Then switch arms.

    Biceps Exercise #2: Lie on your back, knees bent, hold the baby under his armpits, tummy down, on your chest. Lift the baby straight up in the air above your face as you exhale. Then bring your elbows down towards your sides and plant a kiss on your baby's forehead as you inhale. Don't be surprised if this one brings on lots of giggles!

    Triceps Exercise: To work the triceps, Ben Kwock, a certified personal trainer and program coordinator for the YMCA, provides the following exercise. Start in a similar position as Biceps Exercise #2, except begin with your elbows pointing towards the ceiling, holding the baby over your face. Straighten your arms to lift the baby into the air. While keeping your upper arms still, lower the baby's tummy toward the top of your head and back up again.

  3. Swimming or water walking with baby. Kwock suggests holding the baby under the arms and then straightening and bending your arms, moving the baby back and forth through the water to work your back and chest. Many pools offer water walking, and you can carry the baby in a snuggly while you walk the shallow lanes. Be sure to get your pediatrician's go-ahead before taking your baby into a chlorinated pool. Also, since a baby needs to be six months old before you can use sunscreen, swim at indoor pools or make sure the baby is fully covered until she reaches that milestone.

  4. Stomach crunches. Stone recommends the following exercise: Lie on your back with your knees bent, then place your baby either tummy down on your abdomen, or sit the baby up with his back against your thighs while you hold him with one hand. As you exhale, tighten your abdominal muscles and lift your head and shoulders off of the ground while pressing your lower back into the floor. Slowly lower your head to the ground as you inhale. Repeat eight to ten times. Work up to three sets.

  5. Hiking with baby in a pack. Hiking is a great cardiovascular workout and an activity that you can continue to share with your children as they grow. It's also a psychological boost to get out and enjoy nature after staring at the same four walls of your house for weeks. The first hikes with your baby should be short, easy trips, and be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy up. Remember the baby won't be exercising and will probably need to wear more layers than you to keep warm.

  6. Squats, lunges and calf raises. "A good way to work the quadriceps and gluteal muscles is to hold your baby while doing squats," says Kwock. "Be careful to only go as far as you can comfortably without your knees sticking out past your toes. Back lunges are also good for these areas. To work the calf muscles, hold your baby while you do heel raises." Start with a set of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise and add sets as you build strength.

  7. Postnatal Yoga. Mom and Baby Yoga instructor Penni Thorpe says, "Yoga is a great way to get back in shape after a new baby." If there's not a class in your town, consider purchasing the book I Can't Believe It's Yoga For Pregnancy and After ($14.95, Hatherleigh Press, 2000) by certified personal and yoga trainer to the stars Lisa Trivell.

  8. Find an exercise buddy. OK, I cheated a little bit, since this isn't an exercise. It is, however, one of the best ways to stay motivated. Your buddy can be your spouse, another new mom, your older children, a neighbor, a friend, even your dog! Just knowing that someone else is counting on you to show up can get you out the door.

  9. Dancing while holding the baby. Crank up some fun music and dance away. Again, if you are carrying the baby in a snuggly or sling, be sure to keep one hand on the baby at all times, and no jumping.

  10. Strollercize or other Mom/Baby exercise classes. Many postpartum exercise classes let you bring your baby along or are designed to use the stroller with baby in it as a resistance tool. Check your local hospital or Park and Recreation department for classes. For information on Strollercize classes or their video workout, go to www.strollercize.com or call (800) 978-7655.

  11. The most popular form of exercise in America: Walking. Pushing a baby in a stroller or carrying her in a pack adds resistance and helps you burn more calories. Other moms suggest that you time your walk for right before naptime. After the walk, put the baby down for her nap, do some stretching, and take a nap yourself. You deserve it!

Writer, mother, and postpartum doula Melanie Bowden is the author of Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me? True Stories of New Motherhood. Download a free chapter of her book at motherhood.booklocker.com

Take the Next Step:

  • First, get your healthcare provider's approval before starting any exercise program. Then, pick one of the above ideas and get moving! Start walking or be on the lookout for postpartum exercise classes being offered in your area.
  • Check baby product reviews at Cheapism.com before making a purchasing decision.

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