You just had a baby. Your tummy’s seen flatter days, and after months of seeing that number on the scale go up, up, up, you probably can’t wait to see it go down, down, down… But how are you supposed to exercise when you’ve got an infant in your care, 24/7? There are plenty of at-home fitness options, but a certain point, you might want to revisit the boot camp or spin class that got you wedding-dress-ready way-back-when. And that’s where the gym babysitting service might be worth investigating.
The question is—can you really trust your pride and joy to strangers during an hour-long sweat session? Here’s how to tell whether a facility is a good fit for your baby—and some tips for getting your little one used to a little time away from mommy once you do find the right fitness center.
Finding a Baby-Friendly Gym
Whether you’re looking for a new gym to join or are considering leaving your baby at a fitness facility you already belong to, I wouldn’t trust the babysitting center until I was 100% certain that it met the following criteria:
-Friendly, warm babysitting employees with years of experience in childcare (interview the workers whose shift falls during the hours when you want to use the gym to ensure you feel at ease with them)
-A clearly stated and adhered to limit for how many children the center will accept, depending on how many workers are available
-Clean, well-lit room with recent-model baby toys and equipment that is regularly wiped down (if it goes in a baby’s mouth, it needs to be removed from the general population and disinfected)
-Separate area for infants to prevent the toddlers and crawling babies from disturbing them
-The staff needs to wear gloves when changing diapers, and follow any other state-mandated hygiene guidelines for daycare centers
-A security policy to ensure the right baby is returned to the right parent
-A clear policy for feeding children while they are in the center—some babysitting facilities will not allow any food at all, while others will only feed children from containers clearly marked with their names to avoid exposing little ones with food allergies to foods they shouldn’t be eating
-An acceptable policy for handling children who are experiencing separation anxiety—does the staff pull you off the workout equipment after 5 minutes of crying? 10? Not at all?
-A sick child policy that matches what childcare centers in your state enforce—usually that means children with fever, diarrhea and/or yellow mucous are not allowed into the facility…but if any of the children being watched seem unwell, I’d be apprehensive about leaving my baby there!
Tips for Successful Drop-Offs
Finding a gym where you feel your child will be safe during your workout is half the battle—the other half is surviving the first few sessions without wanting to throw in the (sweat) towel and cancel your gym membership.
Here are a few tips for navigating your baby’s first hours outside of a family member’s care:
- Be age-appropriate. My gym accepts babies as early as 6 weeks old, which might feel a wee bit on the young side. But, if you wait until your child is older than 6 months, you might have to worry about serious separation anxiety (which tends to happen right around the time babies become mobile by crawling or cruising.) I’d suggest getting started at the gym when your child is sometime between 2 months and 5 months, then going every day for a few weeks in a row, so that your baby becomes used to the staff and the other children before they are old enough to wail hysterically at the thought of being away from you.
- Time it right. Especially if you have a young infant, nursing and feeding time is going to factor heavily into how well the babysitting session goes. A hungry baby will cry while you’re gone—and if you’re in a class with any sort of jumping, your need to nurse can lead to leaking, engorgement and other breastfeeding-related miseries (I have been forever traumatized by a wardrobe malfunction during a kickboxing class). Also consider whether your baby will happily nap in a bouncy seat while you work out, or if she needs the comforts of her crib to nap. If she’s picky about where she slumbers, visit the gym when she’s wide awake and ready to play so you don’t miss her nap window.
- Keep the transition simple. A very young baby won’t need an elaborate goodbye. You can just drop him off and go on your merry way. A baby approaching the age of stranger fear and separation anxiety will need a reassuring, “Mommy will be back soon,” and nothing more elaborate. If your baby is older than 6 months, though, spend a little time with him in the room before you leave during your first trip to the gym so he knows to be comfortable in these new surroundings. Older babies may be more tearful when you leave—don’t take even the most forlorn sobbing as a sign that he will never adapt. It just may take a week or two before he discovers how fun all of the toys are!
- Don’t leave the staff empty-handed! Bring your baby’s favorite comfort item, a change of clothes, diapers and wipes, a pacifier (if she takes one) and some single-serve snacks to tide her over while you’re gone (if she’s on solids; if not, a bottle of pumped breastmilk or formula isn’t a bad idea to have just in case your class runs over). It’s true that you’ll likely be gone just an hour or so, but little babies have lots of needs!
- Enjoy this “me” time—every minute of it. True story: ten years ago, once I got over my initial anxiety about leaving my baby at the gym, I went from reformed couch potato to absolute gym rat, taking my oldest son to my local YMCA every single weekday for an hour class and then even showering afterwards. (Because I knew that if I didn’t shower then, I wouldn’t be able to until my husband got home from work hours later.) I got into the best shape I’d been in during my entire adult life, and made great friends, too! The shower stalls weren’t exactly glamorous, but with some packed-from-home scented shampoos and a little aromatherapy-infused body wash, I was in heaven. Meanwhile, my son got to benefit from socialization, doting caretakers (one of whom we still send a holiday card to every year)…and a refreshed, happy, fit mommy who had the energy and strength to chase after him all day long.
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