Health & Fitness in Pregnancy & Beyond
Exercising in pregnancy is hugely beneficial but it seems that, like everything in life, it's all got a little bit too complicated! Guidelines such as 'not lifting your arms above your head', 'not sweating', 'don't start anything unless you've done it before'. As a specialist prenatal trainer, I've heard it all! I also see first hand the benefits of starting, or continuing an exercise programme during this special time. As long as you get good advice and guidance through your pregnancy, most mums to be will benefit from moving more and eating well.
Pregnancy fitness has evolved over the last few years, with all sorts of fitness programmes popping up. Fitness during pregnancy is known to improve maternal outcomes and positively affect both mother and baby.
Becoming pregnant can often be a 'catalyst for change' for many women. It makes you sit up a bit and take notice of your health. You want to be healthy as an expectant mum and a new mum. You know that you will benefit from regular exercise and healthier eating. Whether you are already exercising or want to start, look for a fully qualified traininer to guide you through. Your current training will need to be modified, depending on what you are doing, and everyone needs help with that. Whether you choose Yoga, Pilates, Fitness, Aqua-Natal, the gym or regular classes, be sure to check that your trainer has valid insurance and up to date training and experience with pregnant mums. Also, make sure you tell anyone who is instructing you! They might not want you in their class if they are not qualified to teach you, and rightly so.
In the past, women were encouraged to rest, like delicate wallflowers, so that the baby would grow healthy and strong. Of course, times change and we have careers, other family members, houses to manage, after school clubs and a million other things to focus on! Resting for the day isn't an option. Rest and relaxation are important though and I'll talk about that later.
So what is important? What should you be doing as a mum to be, to help you maintain a level of fitness? I always tell my clients that labour is called labour for a reason! It's blooming hard work and literally one of the most physical experiences your body will go through in your lifetime. Not enough time is spent on recovery in the Western world either so having good health in the first place will help you with recovery so much. My key training points are:
Pelvic Floor Awareness & Training
Pelvic floor training is often a neglected area for most people. Yet, it is possibly the most important area of the body to train before, during and after pregnancy! We've all heard of the horror stories from women who have been left unable to jump on a trampoline or go back to running or intensive exercise. It really does not have to be that way and, contrary to popular belief, pelvic floor dysfunction does not go hand in hand with a woman's health.
The pelvic floor muscles are like any other muscle group. They can be trained just as you would train your arms or your legs. Your pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened and they can be released. There is such as thing as an overtight pelvic floor which causes different problems than a pelvic floor that is weak. Your pelvic floor muscles protect against leakage and help you to enjoy a healthy sex life. By training this particular set of muscles, as part of your routine, you will be protecting yourself for the future. Once you understand how to do the exercises properly you can do them every day, without even really thinking about it.
Core training is different during pregnancy and is one area that definitely needs modifcations and attention to the breath. By using the correct breathing techniques, not only can you enhance your movement to incorporate pelvic floor work, you will be protecting your back and helping to use your core effectively. A common complaint during pregnancy is back ache and this can often be alleviated by strength exercises and stretching. After the first trimester, it isn't advisable to lie on your back and do crunches or sit ups as this can create too much intra-abdominal pressure, potentially leading to increased diastasis (stomach separation) and pelvic floor issues. Modifying exercises such as planks and press ups (ie taking you knees to the floor), will ensure you protect yourself yet are still exercising this area. I really prefer to do most 'core' exercises standing up if possible. After all, you are not often lying on your back looking after your baby, so it makes sense to train standing up most of the time!
Cardiovascular training relates to the heart and blood. Elevating the heart rate to maintain or improve your fitness levels can continue through pregnancy but I always like to make sure that everyone can hold a conversation during the sessions so that I know that my participant's heart rates are not too high! You are, after all, your baby's oxygen supply so keep your training within a sensible range. Walking, jogging, spinning, aerobics, weight training and swimming are all forms of exercise that will raise your heart rate.
Strength training is hugely important during pregnancy! I add this to almost all of my sessions to ensure that clients maintain their muscle tone and strength. Carrying babies and children requires strength and mobility and working with weights and bands will help you achieve this. Pregnancy weight training is easily adaptable for all trimesters and is essential, in my opinion, to prevent you becoming weaker during pregnancy. I particularly like to train the glutes; bottoms can get really flat as the body changes shape so be sure to work those bottoms with squats, lunges and resistance bands.
Yoga & Relaxation
I regularly teach Pregnancy Yoga and really love it for it's ability to relax mums to be and just allow us to have an hour for ourselves. I enjoy a strong fitness yoga practice, with lots of focus on Pranayama (breath work) and also guided meditation to help relax and soothe. Everyone attending yoga would always remark on how they slept really well the night following yoga practice so is worth it if only for that!
Keeping yourself fit and active is so important and can really make a huge difference to your labour and especially your recovery. So often, the focus will be on the baby postnatally, so it helps so much if the mother is already in good physical health. Babies are a wonderful gift, yet demanding and wow, they are tiring! Getting prepared for the physical side of labour and the early postnatal weeks is invaluable.
For more information and to book Fit4Birth or Fitness Pregnancy Yoga, contact Sam Wilson on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 07947 581180.
Sam Wilson is a fully qualified pre and post natal wellness specialist and founder of the FitMum Club. Sam is mum to two rapidly growing boys and enjoys dance, travel, music and all types of movement.