How Exercise Can Help Postpartum Depression

A fitness class can do more than get a new mom back in shape.

How Exercise Can Help Postpartum Depression

When we talk about postpartum depression and exercise, the first thing that comes to mind is the aspect of engaging in physical activities, perhaps getting back in shape. But even now that many parents live far away from their families, raising a child still takes a village, and the connections that we get from social media is simply not enough. Sure, a sleep consultant, a nanny, or lactation consultant may help. But interacting #IRL with other women who are experiencing or have experienced the same kinds of anxieties is of utmost importance.

Case in point: a mom recently told me after my postpartum fitness workshop, “This class, every week, is saving my life.” I took it as a compliment, sure, and figured maybe she just really enjoyed being physically active again. But then she told me she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and I listened up.


This mama was outgoing, friendly, and as put together as you can be 10 weeks after giving birth. She was so engaged during the class, I could have never imagined that she was depressed. But as it turns out, postpartum depression isn’t much different from clinical depression: it is hard to detect the burden that rests on people who not only deal with the condition, but also fight hard to hide it from society.

For some women, postpartum depression is a symptom of hormonal imbalance, as they experience a sudden drop in progesterone, estrogen and other hormones after delivery. But for many more women, the demands of having it all and leaning in trigger postpartum anxiety and feelings of isolation, sadness, and failure -- especially for a first-time mom.

So what exactly is at the root of postpartum depression? Here are some (not all) of the issues that have come up during my conversations with new moms:

  1. Returning to work and having to be away from your baby after only 10 weeks.
  2. Dealing with the “whisper wars” and judgements that come within the mom community.
  3. Deciding on sleep training methods.
  4. Having to pump milk, figuring out how much to pump or when to supplement with formula.
  5. Introducing a new childcare provider and maneuvering the separation anxiety that baby experiences.
  6. Re-introducing physical intimacy between the mom and the partner and fearing physical discomfort.

Since learning about some of these triggers, I’ve made compassion and empathy central to my classes. I’ve worked hard to prompt even the most internally driven new moms to work out with others and, in the process, learn that they are not alone in their struggles.

Maybe it’s the intimacy of sweating with one another and feeling like everyone is going through emotional distress, incontinence, leaking breast and hormonal changes to body odor. Or maybe it’s the simple fact of working out, which releases endorphins, helps regain a positive image and, in turn, alleviates some of the heaviness of depression. Either way, I have noticed a difference. In my classes, mothers seem to have let go to the point of roaring belly laughs, cathartic crying in savasana, and ending their workouts in hugs.

So whether you join an exercise class in which you can bring baby or go for a brisk walk with other new moms, the combined benefits of harnessing the physical, the emotional and the psychological will be tenfold.

Have you too suffered from postpartum anxiety? Have you been diagnosed with postpartum depression? If so, tell us in the comments how you were able to overcome it.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.


I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

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A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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