Moms & babies: get moving

MIDDLEBURY — There’s growing scientific evidence to suggest exercise is beneficial for both babies and new mothers. Studies show that a little bit of exercise can set infants on a healthy track for life, and it can help moms shed weight from pregnancy and prevent postpartum depression.
What’s more is that most recommended fitness routines for infants and new mothers are relatively easy.
On the baby end of the postnatal equation, Dr. Michael Seaton of Middlebury Pediatric says that one of the best forms of baby activity is also the simplest — “tummy time.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents put their baby on his or her tummy on a solid surface, such as the floor, put a toy in front of the baby and engage the baby in play.
“Doing this regularly will help strengthen the muscles in his neck,” according to the academy website. “It also will help prevent your baby from developing a flat spot on the back of his head.”
But Seaton cautions that tummy time is for when babies are awake.
“We still strongly recommend that babies be put to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as crib death),” he said. “But at the same time we want to remember that when babies are awake, we want to give them the opportunity every day to practice being awake on their tummies so that they develop good muscular strength, head control and motor skills.”
Seaton also says that giving infants free time to roam around and play is crucial to their development.
“Free playtime is the most important thing. I don’t think there’s really a risk of overdoing it if children are allowed free playtime,” he said. “In general, that sets children up for their older years to be healthier and have good play habits. We worry about plopping kids down in front of a television set and not allowing them to go outside and explore their environments and be active in their bodies.”
Leaving infants sedentary in front of a TV for hours on end is one of the worst things a parent can do for their child, explained Seaton. It’s one of the reasons that, according to U.S. Center for Disease Control statistics, 17 percent of today’s adolescents are obese.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing many, many more children struggling with obesity at a very young age, and it’s possible to set children up for unhealthy habits that lead to obesity at younger and younger ages,” said Seaton, who explained that infant activity can help prevent obesity as they age.
Furthermore, there’s no reason that parents can’t take their kids outside when they themselves exercise, as long as they take proper safety precautions. In fact, spending time outdoors is beneficial to infant development, said Seaton.
“It sets (children) up for a lifetime of physical activity, and they learn from a young age to enjoy playing outdoors,” he said. “It helps them develop their motor skills and their senses and their coordination in a way that being indoors doesn’t.”
Kathy Haskell is a former Middlebury mom and longtime fitness instructor who used exercise to successfully ward off postpartum depression and return to a normal weight after childbirth. She had so much success that she began teaching fitness classes for mothers at Middlebury Fitness and around Middlebury, where moms could exercise outside with their babies. Since her three children have grown out of their infantile stages, Haskell no longer teaches the classes, but she recalls the lessons she learned.
Haskell, who now lives in Waitsfield, recommends outdoor routines combining strength, aerobic and anaerobic exercises. In her outdoor classes, she said parents often had their babies in traditional strollers or specialized jogging strollers, or “joggers.”
“Some women had little strollers and some had joggers,” she said. “You’re walking at a fast pace, your kids are asleep and you can get in a great workout. I definitely lost more baby weight pushing that jogger around Middlebury than I did anything else.”
Mothers who feel up to running can do so, said Haskell, but there are many other exercises that parents can do with a jogger or stroller. Standing on a hill, moms and dads can push the jogger up and down to work out the arms and relax the baby. For a deeper leg workout, parents can do forward lunges up a hill while pushing a jogger. At the park, the women in Haskell’s group would sometimes use exercise mats and bands, and they’d use a bench to do pushups, sit-ups and dips — all while looking at their babies.
Baby backpacks are good for exercise, too, said Haskell. Not only do they help parents and infants enjoy the great outdoors together, but they also help parents build muscle when hiking or doing workouts like squats and lunges.
Haskell’s husband also pushed his babies in a jogger up Chipman Hill and the surrounding Trail Around Middlebury.
“He didn’t need to run because of the friction of the jogger with two kids,” she said. “You have an extra 35-40 pounds in front of you.”
Haskell also felt that kids traded fewer germs when they were outside and stayed healthier. At the end of the workout, the children also had time to play while the moms enjoyed a post-workout high.
“It was great,” she said about those outside workouts. “After the workout, the kids could get out and play and the moms had just worked out and we all felt good.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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