Busy mom holding toddler and big kid

In my line of work, I run across a lot of lists and blogs offering advice that aim to help busy parents find time to exercise. Because those articles are often missing a critical element: the cold hard truth about life with small children. Life with small children is FULL. It’s overflowing. Finding time to exercise when you’ve got a baby or a gaggle of children underfoot is not as simple as just scheduling “me time” in your calendar.

Here I offer my own set of tips on how to find time to workout with a baby around, and I’m spinning them in the context of a little reality check.

I’m going to be real with you. There’s no magic pill here. I can’t pull time out of a hat for you (I wish!). Yes, I will offer you a few tips- but before we get there, I will also offer you a simple truth: when you taking care of juggling a newborn or small child, whether that’s your full-time job or you have another full-time job, you are going to have to choose a few priorities and let a lot of shit go. If you are finding it challenging to make time to exercise, it’s because you legitimately have a lot of competing priorities.

Personal anecdote: Working out is a high priority for me. So is cloth diapering my baby’s sweet little tush. So is spending QT with my family. All of these things take a lot of time. If you come to my house, the first thing you’ll notice is that it looks like a herd of elephants live here. Second thing you might notice is that it looks like that herd of elephants doesn’t fold laundry (it doesn’t). Our house isn’t tidy on the regular and I don’t fold laundry. Except for those diapers. That my friends, is my secret sauce.

I hope this isn’t the case always. I would like both a tidy house AND be able to swing my heavy-ass kettlebell, but right now, those are my choices. I’ve come to terms with my priorities, and I let a lot of other stuff go.

Second truth: Your workouts will have to be flexible. Yesterday, I did half my workout at 4 pm. Half-way through my second superset my youngest hurled applesauce all over the living room. Window lost. 9 pm, I finally had time to finish. Ideal? No. For everyone? No. But finishing that workout was a priority for me, so that’s how I did it.

Now here’s my third (and final) truth. You don’t HAVE to make time to work out yet. A few years from now, when you look back, it won’t matter if you started exercising at 6 weeks postpartum, 6 months postpartum or a year postpartum. Truly. Unless maybe exercise is part of your job.

Take the time you need to rest and recover after having your baby. Bond with your kids. Get your ducks in a row. Decide if adding an exercise routine to your day right now is going to add to your quality of life or detract from it. If it’s not an add, it’s not the right time. When it is, then this advice applies to you.

When you are truly, truly ready to start exercising again, check out the following tips to help figure out how the heck to add yet another thing to your busy day.

1. If it’s an option, ask for help.

This may seem trite, but I’m surprised by how many people don’t think to (or don’t like to) ask for help when they need it. Ask your partner, friend or family if they can watch the kids for a few minutes so you can make some time for yourself!⁠

2. Work out at home.

Going to the gym takes a lot more time and requires overcoming a lot more inertia. You don’t need a ton of equipment to get a good workout at home, there are a ton of great workouts you can do with bodyweight and inexpensive resistance bands. And even more with a few dumbbells. (Hint hint… get in touch if you feel stuck!⁠)

3. Be flexible.

You might not be able to work out at a consistent time everyday. Be prepared to workout when you can.⁠

4. Reframe what a “good” workout looks like right now.

Maybe it means you need to break up your workout into smaller chunks. Maybe you have 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon. Maybe you just have 15 minutes. Use the time available to you. Which leads me to: ⁠

5. Lose the all-or-nothing mentality.

A short workout that you do today, is better than the full workout you do a month from now. Truly. Short, consistent workouts will not only add up to more exercise minutes over time, but they will also build habits that will carry you through to periods in your life when you have more time and bandwidth.⁠

Relevant reading: Permission to Half-A$$ Your Workout: An Argument For Consistency Over Perfection

6. Don’t wait until you have alone time- workout with your kids around.

It’s win-win for both of you⁠.

7. Don’t bother to change your clothes.

If you’re wearing something you CAN work out in, do it. Sometimes the barrier to changing your outfit is just enough to prevent you from getting your workout started.⁠

8. Find an accountability partner.

Accountability can be an ugly word when it comes to postpartum fitness. Refer back to my third truth at the top of this post. You have to dig deep and decide if you really have the time and capacity to prioritize exercise right now. Consider, why do you need an accountability partner? If you are truly ready to exercise, your body is healthy, your life is in a spot where time for exercise could reasonably exist without upending other high priorities, then cool. But if you are trying to squeeze water out of stone, this isn’t your answer.

If you do look for an accountability partner, I recommend finding a friend who understands (really, truly understands) the demands of your life and your competing priorities. Or, if you have the means, hire a coach who is skilled in working with postpartum people and helping them navigate return to fitness in the postpartum. A good coach should be able to offer appropriate accountability: meaning, if you’re life gets complicated, they’ll actually encourage you to de-prioritize your workouts when it’s appropriate. Learning de-prioritize workouts when appropriate is the flip-side to learning how to push through and make it a priority the rest of the time.

And finally, try and cut yourself some slack. You might also consider WHY you are having time finding time to work out. What else is going on in your life? If life-stress is high, it’s okay to take some time off from your workouts and come back to them when you have bandwidth.

Take a deep dive into HOW to dial in your breathing strategy to and kick-start your postpartum recovery. Download a copy of my signature ebook The No B.S. Guide to  a Stronger, Drier Pregnancy and Postpartum.

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Redmond, WA-based Seattle birth doula Laura Jawad, headshot

My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.

Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I work with people locally (Seattle’s Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and online to develop personalized pregnancy and postpartum personal training plans. I also offer labor support (doula services) within the greater Seattle-Metro Area.