baby body

When I first started on the pregnancy journey, I was highly motivated to do the right thing – both for me and my baby.

But a few setbacks, interruptions and OK, laziness, have meant that the healthy eating, daily power walks and resistance training have made way in favour of the of the couch, cake and kicking back.

In a bid to get my health and fitness mojo back, I turned to Amy Mitchell, mum of two and a qualified personal trainer with a focus on pre- and post-natal health and fitness, for some much needed advice and inspiration.

Why is it important for women to exercise during pregnancy, and after childbirth? What are the benefits of exercising during pregnancy and after childbirth?

A small percentage of women are unable to exercise during pregnancy for specific medical reasons (such as myocardial disease or incomplete cervix) but for the vast majority, exercise can provide myriad benefits during pregnancy.

These include:

  • Maintaining fitness levels: this makes it easier to resume exercise after giving birth and can also contribute to an easier labour (and who doesn’t want that). 
  • Muscular strength and tone: helps protect against injury, and can also assist with an easier labour. When done correctly, with the advice of a fitness professional, resistance training is a fantastic way to stay fit and healthy during your pregnancy (and come out of it looking great!) 
  • Preventing excessive weight gain 
  • Great stress release
  • Promotes feelings of wellbeing

Postnatally, returning to exercise (when your doctor says it is safe to do so) also has a huge number of benefits, such as: 

  • Helps to strengthen joints and repair pelvic, abdominal and uterine muscles, which are all weakened during pregnancy 
  • Increases energy levels (and let’s face it, with a newborn we need all the energy we can get!) 
  • Helps you lose the baby weight 
  • Improves mental wellbeing and can minimise post-natal blues

Do you have any tips for staying motivated?

Probably the most important thing to remember is you’re not only looking after yourself when you exercise, but also your baby, and exercising during and after pregnancy (unless you have a specific condition that makes it unsafe to do so) benefits both of you.

Listen to your body, by all means, and if you’re exhausted then rest, but even walking regularly will make a difference to how you look and feel.

Also, don’t see pregnancy as an excuse to sit on the couch and eat what you like for nine months – it might seem great at the time but your body won’t be thanking you after your baby’s born! Maintain a healthy eating regimen and continue exercising and you’ll look and feel much better for it.

What types of exercise would you recommend during pregnancy/post childbirth?

It depends on the woman and her level of fitness, and if you have specific issues or concerns then it’s best to talk to your doctor and/ or a qualified fitness professional about what is safe and appropriate for you.

Walking is a great exercise that most women can do throughout their pregnancy and resume soon after giving birth (gently at first).

A Swissball is a great tool to help pregnant women exercise and can be used for things like squats against a wall, or pelvic tilts. And pelvic floor exercises are obviously a must both during and after pregnancy.

Swimming and water-based exercises are great during pregnancy because they’re non weight-bearing.

What types of exercise should be avoided during pregnancy?

Again it depends on the woman and her level of fitness and any specific issues she might have, but as a general rule during pregnancy it’s best to avoid:

  • High-impact exercise and contact sports. Relaxin, the hormone released during the first trimester, softens muscles and tendons and makes women more prone to strains and dislocation, so exercise that involves twisting and rotation or fast changes of direction are best avoided. It’s also important not to overstretch muscles. 
  • Exercises that require prolonged standing due to the extra weight load through the hips – think of seated alternatives.
  • Prolonged, strenuous exercise. During pregnancy women’s resting heart rate is increased so limit activity to a perceived rate of exertion level of “somewhat hard”. 
  • After the 16th week avoid exercises that involve lying on the back as it restricts blood flow to the heart and body. 
  • Most of all, listen to your body, stay well hydrated and cool. If you are concerned about anything or don’t feel right, then stop.

Postnatally, women’s ability to return to exercise will depend on a number of factors including their previous fitness level; what sort of birth they had (caesarean/ vaginal/ long/ short); health complications etc.

It’s always best to start gently and work your way back into it. Relaxin is still present in your body for up to 12 weeks after the birth so take care as you can still be susceptible to injury. Avoid jarring/ jumping exercises.

For women with weak pelvic floors, I would also avoid running/ jumping activities until pelvic floor is strengthened.

If you’ve had a caesarean birth, avoid sit-ups until about 12 weeks.

What areas do you like to focus on in your classes?

With both pre and post-natal women I like to focus on enjoying exercise and building muscle tone and strength, especially in the key areas of the pelvic floor, abdominals, glutes and quads.

Many women focus on weight loss, especially postnatally, but if you’re exercising regularly and eating well, that will come.

The main thing is to make exercise fun (ie not a chore!) and it can be a great way to bond with your baby, or just get some “me” time – both before and after bub is born.

Do you think babies like being involved in the exercise?

There are tons of exercises you can do with your bub and they usually love it – they’re with their mum, after all, what’s not to love?

The most obvious exercise you can do with your bub is to walk/ run with them in the pram, but I also love doing things like squats and sit-ups with my baby, too.

Even if they’re not involved in the exercise they’re usually pretty fascinated just watching mum exercise!

Thanks for your advice Amy – you’ve inspired me to dust off those walking shoes and get moving!

Amy runs mums-and-bubs classes, as well as one-on-one and small group sessions in Sydney’s inner-west. For more information, contact amymitchellfitness@hotmail.com.

You can also read more about exercising during pregnancy and beyond at BabyCenter.

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