To exercise or not to exercise, THAT is the question!
Pregnancy and new motherhood are rewarding yet demanding times, both physically and mentally. The body is experiencing great change and the mind is adapting to a totally new way of life.
Carefully planned exercise during pregnancy offers multiple health benefits for mum and bump and eases the impact of these changes by strengthening the body and relaxing the mind to cope with what is to come.
Pregnancy is not the time to be running marathons, but rather a time to maintain fitness (or increase fitness if de-conditioned) while achieving controlled healthy weight gain. Most importantly, it is a time to focus on posture and both core and pelvic floor strength. The changing body shape, and implications of carrying baby, puts additional stress on these muscles. This can lead to a lack of balance, unnecessary ailments and aches and pains – especially in the back region.
Other factors must also be considered in a safe and effective ante-natal exercise plan. The hormone, relaxin, is released in large quantities when pregnant causing joints to become unstable so care must be taken with stretching and moving dynamically. An increase in the level of the hormone progesterone relaxes the tone of the vein walls. This can induce light headiness when standing still for too long – the lack of movement causes blood pooling in the ankles and wrists due to the additional effect of gravity. Exercising while lying on the back must be avoided from about 16 weeks as the uterus will press on the vein taking the blood back to the heart, again leading to dizziness.
Ante-natal personal training is a specialised, supportive approach to exercise and well-being. It takes into account an individuals specific needs at every stage of their pregnancy. Typical benefits of training with an ante-natal specialist include:
Controlled weight gain
Reduction of varicose veins, constipation and leg cramps
Better circulation for both mum and baby
Reduction of wrist and ankle swelling
Improved sleep patterns
Increased body awareness
Enhanced psychological well-being, self image and confidence
Better ability to cope with labour and childbirth
Quicker post natal recovery
Getting into shape after the birth is often greatly desired, but feels like a step too far when wrestling with the needs of a new baby. Personal training works around this new routine by offering mum the choice of where sessions take place. With the ability to also factor in baby’s sleep and feeding patterns, new mums can get some well earned ‘me time’ and have one less thing to juggle in their already very busy schedule.
The post-pregnancy body, and what is required from it, have changed once more. As with ante-natal exercise, a completely different programme is needed which a normal health and fitness regime will not address.
The pelvic floor and abdominal muscles require gradual training after the effort of carrying and delivering baby. The stress put upon the pelvic muscles during childbirth can often lead to stress incontinence, causing leakages when coughing, laughing, sneezing, jumping or moving suddenly. 1 in 5 women report bladder problems at the time of their post-natal visit with 63% still leaking three months postpartum (Source: Gallup poll).
A progressive toning programme targeting these weakened muscles is therefore essential. Strengthening of the abdominal muscles is also fundamental, not least for vital back care by offering support to the spine and correction of posture.
Functional exercises, replicating the repetitive movements, are now needed to tend for the new addition – squatting, lunging, lifting, holding – must be included in any post natal workout. This ensures the body is strong and able to deal with the new actions and demands required of it.
The recommended period to wait before introducing a structured post-natal exercise programme is after the six-week check, for a normal delivery, or 8 – 12 weeks for mothers who have experienced a c-section. The two recti sheaths of the abdominal muscles, which separated during pregnancy to accommodate baby, need to join before returning to a full exercise programme or the abdominal muscles are unable to work efficiently and support the lumbar spine. A qualified post-natal exercise specialist or midwife can help perform a diastasis recti check to ensure this fusion has happened. Bleeding or discharge must have also ceased for at least a week.
However, walking, pelvic floor contractions, static abdominal contractions and hip hitching followed by pelvic tilting and head raising (once tone can be felt in the abdominal muscles), should be started as soon as possible after childbirth.
Like ante-natal personal training, post-natal personal training is also a specialised approach to exercise that incorporates the individuals birth experience and subsequent complications alongside the impact of this on their fitness. The benefits to be expected from an individually designed post-natal exercise regime include faster results and:
Strengthened pelvic floor and reduced risk of stress incontinence
Strengthened abdominal muscles to support spine and regain figure
Improved technique in daily tasks, essential for back care
Raised endorphin levels to help battle post natal depression
Correction of posture
Increased muscle tone, strength and endurance
Increased energy and stamina and reduced stress
Enhanced self confidence
For further information or to book a free personal training consultation, please contact Shenda on:
Black and white photo by BonBon: https://www.flickr.com/photos/justbecause/323286273/in/photostream/