Returning to exercise after a baby

Moire O'Sullivan

It’s not easy getting back into exercise after having a baby. Mountain runner and adventure racer Moire O’Sullivan ( knows this all too well, as she shares in her book Bump, Bike & Baby: Mummy’s Gone Adventure Racing.

Moire has kindly supplied us with an extract from this book. This extract is taken from a couple of days after the birth of Aran, Moire’s first son. Her husband Pete suggests they take their dog Tom for a walk after realising Moire has practically not left the house since Aran’s arrival.

The first outing

‘Why don’t we go for a walk with Tom?’ Pete says. ‘I think we’d all appreciate some fresh air.’ The mere mention of the word ‘walk’ sends Tom into a mad frenzy. It looks like we’re going out, whether we like it or not.

Beach with Aran Aug 2013
Beach with Aran Aug 2013

We opt to visit the deserted beach I walked on just before my waters broke. I enclose Aran in his wrap on the excursion, and despite being buffeted by strong coastal winds and swirling sands, he soon nods off to sleep. The beach walk is the remedy I needed. Every step I take makes me realise that my lung space has finally returned. I don’t feel too breathless from the gentle steps I take on the shore.

Pete runs after Tom, who has spotted another dog frolicking in the waves. However, I am very aware that even a gentle jog towards the sea would be a very bad idea. Aran’s abrupt exit has caused my pelvic floor to collapse. In addition, I have suffered a urinary prolapse. I am so stretched down there that I fear running might cause all my internal organs to slump out between my legs.

I am disappointed with myself. Irish Olympian Sonia O’Sullivan was back running ten days after giving birth. I am nowhere near that stage. So if I ever had the notion I was even close to Olympic material, I now know I was terribly mistaken.

When I get back to the house, I email my biking and pregnancy guru, Susie Mitchell, to see how soon she started exercising. Though she had a C-section, so had different issues to deal with, she suggests that once I can sit on a bike saddle, I should be able to go for a spin.

I am not convinced by Susie’s suggestion. Sitting on a bike sounds really sore. But there is ultimately only one way to find out how bad the pain will be. I wheel out Bike, who has undergone solitary confinement in the garage for nearly two months. I slowly slip myself on to the saddle.

Much to my surprise, it is not sore at all. Within seconds I shout, ‘Pete, can I go for a bike ride?’

Back in the day, I could hop on my bike and inform Pete when I’d be back from my spin. But now, with baby Aran about and me breastfeeding him, we need military-precise coordination for when I can and can’t leave the house.

‘So, if I give Aran a feed now, he probably won’t need one for another hour,’ I say to Pete, trying to work out when and for how long I can abscond.

‘But what if he looks for a feed while you’re away?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say, trying to escape the house with Bike. ‘Can’t you figure that out yourself?’

Pete looks at me blankly.

‘Look, I’ll be back in sixty minutes,’ I say to Pete, begging him to let me go. ‘If he cries, I don’t know, sing to him or something.’ I cycle off before Pete can lodge a formal protest.

Riding Bike is sheer heaven. I had forgotten how fast you can go, how the wind whips your hair and catches your breath, how the rhythm of the pedals soothes away all your cares. It is also wonderful to be back cycling without a baby inside me. My lungs feel as large as life, no longer squashed against my ribs. I can push myself a little harder on the hills, and not worry about raised heart rates or overheating myself. Gone too are the fears I had of falling off Bike and doing Bump permanent harm.

Quest Killarney Forest

It is not only the joy of being outdoors and doing some exercise that thrills me so much. It is the fact that I am getting a brief break from motherhood. Since giving birth two weeks ago, I have felt so fat and unfit. With Aran waking up every couple of hours at night, sleep deprivation is hitting me hard. Now, for this single hour, I am doing something I love that could reverse all these afflictions. I tell myself to cling to this time that it is solely mine.

I arrive back home, on a high from my ride. It’s great to have different chemicals coursing through my veins instead of pregnancy hormones. I bounce through the front door, full of serotonin and dopamine. I feel like a completely new woman.

Aran is starting to stir from his slumber on Pete’s shoulder.

‘Perfect timing!’ I shout to Pete with a smile.

I take Aran off him and carefully slide Aran under my biking top. Though my breast milk is now laced with lactic acid from my exercise, Aran doesn’t seem to mind a bit. He drinks greedily from the supply, then falls back fast asleep.

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