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PRE & pOST NATAL
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Mar 14, 2017 - Keeping Fit During Pregnancy
I remember when I was pregnant with my second child my mother scolding me for lifting up a basket of washing “What are you doing Jacqueline? That is too heavy for you in your condition”. I was 35 years old and still being told off by my mother. I pointed out that I lifted my then 2 year old daughter up all the time and she was a lot more heavier than a basket of washing. Instead of giving my mum the reassurance I was hoping for, I think I panicked her even more. In her mind, I was doing Ninja Warrior every day whilst pregnant. In my mind, I was just being a normal mum. Toddlers don’t stop needing to be picked up, washing doesn’t stop piling up (unfortunately), Lego doesn’t stop being scattered across the floor at every chance just because I was pregnant. Life keeps going.
Which is why when it comes to the topic of exercising during pregnancy, my view is that we should start by looking at what our mum-to-be does all day long. Does she work? Does she have other children? What is her current daily movement pattern? Taking all of this into account, our mum-to-be may already be getting a lot more exercise than most. My approach therefore is to look at how exercise could be adapted to help her during her pregnancy, birth and beyond, instead of debating whether she should be exercising at all.
It is important to note that before you start any new kind of exercise programme you should seek advice from your doctor or midwife. If you are already participating in a structured exercise programme, whether it is personal training or a group class – you should inform your instructor that you are pregnant without delay.
Benefits of Exercise
The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2006) has confirmed several benefits of exercising during pregnancy, including maintaining fitness and flexibility, improving circulation and maintaining a healthy weight. There is also evidence to suggest that it can help make labour easier and shorter and reduce labour pains. Although try telling that to a woman during labour or who has just given birth and see how many teeth you have left. My husband tried to tell me once that giving birth is probably just as painful as running a marathon. I was happy to offer to kick him in the family jewels every 2 minutes during his next marathon to see if this was true!
Personally, I also felt huge psychological benefits from exercising as I felt more in control of the changes to my body. I focused on exercises which supported me through pregnancy and prepared my body for the challenges ahead, i.e. lifting heavy car seats, constantly bending over and breastfeeding.
Throughout your pregnancy, your body goes through different sets of physiological and biomechanical changes and challenges, in other words, your body has a whole new purpose now and its constantly making changes to help you grow a tiny human. Knowing what is happening to your body during pregnancy is important as it will affect how you exercise – whether you like it or not!
During your first trimester you may not see any physical signs of a growing baby but you will most likely feel different. Sickness and nausea are the most commonly associated change during the first trimester. I remember always feeling at my worst while on the train to work in the morning. A woman suffering from morning sickness on a train can easily be mistaken for someone that had had a few too many the night before!
If you suffer with morning sickness or any time of day sickness, be mindful of this when deciding when you want to exercise. If you always feel bad in the morning, then don’t go to an early class.
During your second trimester, as well as starting to see your bump grow, your body will get a surge in the hormone relaxin. As its name suggests, this relaxes and softens the body’s connective tissue and ligaments to help with the baby growing process as well as childbirth. As you can imagine, this means you need to take care when stretching and doing stability or balancing type exercises.
Another impact of a growing bump is in relation to exercising whilst lying on your back. Current NHS guidelines suggest to avoid such exercises after 16 weeks. This is because the weight of your baby presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back up to the heart.
In your third trimester, you will probably experience the most weight gain, your posture will probably change, you will feel more tired and even the simplest movement can prove tricky. Putting socks on when you are heavily pregnant is a workout in itself! During this time, try to stay as active as possible but don’t over do it. Be guided by your own body - if something no longer feels right or is too much then scale it back.
So Now What?
After all that, you might be thinking “so what’s left?”. It is important to understand that exercising in pregnancy is not about reaching any kind of peak fitness or strength. Instead we need to help your body stay fit and strong while it adapts to a growing baby as well as getting it ready for the types of movement it will be doing once baby is out, i.e. pushing, pulling, bending, extending and rotating. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely didn’t spend any time as a new mum sitting on a swiss ball. My youngest daughter was 10lbs when she was born. So I was lifting 10lbs from the start – more if you include the weight of the car seat!
Looking at it this way, you can start to see how doing both cardio (walking, swimming, etc) and more strength based exercises (squatting, lunging, etc) can be beneficial for you. Having a strong back, legs, glutes (aka bottom) and arms will make a real difference both during pregnancy and once baby is born.
Love Your Pelvic Floor From The Start
I can’t talk about pregnancy exercise without mentioning your pelvic floor. Now is the time to get to grips with your pelvic floor exercises as they are VITAL to your post baby recovery and your ability to regain your core strength. Your pelvic floor goes through so much during both pregnancy and when giving birth, so get used to doing your exercises now – when you have the time and the mental capacity to remember!
If you are not sure how to do pelvic floor exercises speak to your midwife or someone qualified in pre and post natal exercise.
A few key points to consider before you start:
- Before you start a new exercise programme, speak to your midwife or doctor. Certain medical conditions and injuries may mean some types of exercise are not appropriate for you.
- Avoid any contact sports where there is a risk of you being hit – so no kickboxing ladies!
- If at any point you do not feel well or experience pain when exercising, stop and speak to your doctor or midwife. You should also stop exercising if you experience any bleeding or fluid leakage, headache, chest pains and sudden shortness of breath.
- Make sure you take your time to warm up and cool down properly. Take longer than normal when pregnant.
- Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion or in hot or humid conditions.
- Stay well hydrated and wear breathable lightweight clothing.
- If you go to an exercise class or personal trainer let them know straight away that you are pregnant.
Finally, being pregnant is such a special time that you should try to enjoy it as much as you can. This is easier for some women more than others. But overall, exercise in pregnancy should be seen as something positive that can help your body cope with the changes it is going through and not just another tick on the never-ending list of things pregnant women SHOULD be doing.
If you are struggling to see the benefits of exercising or not sure where to start then speak to someone that can help – i.e. someone who is appropriately qualified in pre and post natal fitness.
If you would like to talk to me about either pre or post natal fitness then please feel free to get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.