The New-Mom Hiking Program

Hiking is a great way for new moms to get back in shape and bond with baby.

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Hiking is a great way for new moms to get exercise. Not only does it help build strength, but it's a wonderful way to spend time with friends and other new moms. You can carry your baby in a front carrier or an all-terrain stroller on tougher trails.

Marietta Gilman, 43, of San Rafael, Calif., is a hiking advocate for new parents. A former champion white-water kayaker, she now organizes hikes designed specifically for new moms and dads. "Parents with kids, infants and toddlers are sometimes timid about getting out," says Gilman, herself a mother of a 3-year-old. "I'm trying to show that you can get out into the world with your kid and have a wonderful time before he's 4 years old." Her popular hikes, called Roo Walkabouts, are held three times a week in the Marin County area of Northern California.

But how do you start when you can barely find time to brush your hair? Gilman suggests first finding a few hiking partners. Check out new-mom or parenting groups, or check with your gym, church, other members of your childbirth-education class or local Sierra Club. Then buy a guidebook to your area, plot your paths and, as time goes on, add new places to your repertoire to keep hiking interesting. When hiking with others regularly, assign an organizer each month to take care of the logistics.

The following get-your-body-back hiking program is adapted from Gilman's new video, "Hiking With Baby" ($13, Roo Views; call Blackboard Entertainment at 800-968-2261). It is a progressive program that even brand-new moms can begin. After your fourth week home, and with your doctor's approval, you can add some strength exercises. Hiking: Day 1-14 With your doctor's approval, begin by walking about 2 blocks to 1/4 mile twice a week, depending on your strength, with baby in a front carrier. Stay on flat ground as you regain strength and balance, and wear well-cushioned shoes and thick cotton socks. (If you've had a Cesarean section and a front carrier is uncomfortable, use a stroller instead.) Hiking: Day 15-28 After 2 weeks on flat terrain, add short staircases or small hills (they will help build your butt and calf muscles). Increase distance as you get stronger. To build strength, increase hiking to 4 times a week, 30 minutes per hike.

After 4 weeks: You now may be ready to undertake a more rigorous hiking routine. Of course you should check with your doctor first, particularly if you experienced any complications during labor and delivery. Before each hike, make sure to warm up first by stretching all of your major muscle groups.

4–6 weeks postpartum: During these 2 weeks, build up to a 1-hour hike. To build strength and stamina, alternate hilly terrain with flat: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, hike on trails with small hills. On Tuesday and Thursday, keep to flat ground.

6–8 weeks postpartum: For the next 2 weeks, extend your hiking time by 15–20 minutes per hike and drop a day so you're hiking 4 days a week.

8–12 weeks postpartum: For these weeks, extend your hiking time by another 30–45 minutes and drop a day so you're hiking 3 days per week, still varying days on flat ground with days hiking on hills.

On the 2 days that you're not hiking, do a different activity, such as aerobics or swimming. Add more strength training with weights if you can. Note: When your baby's weight hits 16 pounds, it may be time to transfer him from a front carrier to a backpack. When you do this, try neck and shoulder rolls as part of your warm-up.

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