Forgive me in advance. I tend to write mini novellas instead of blog posts, but this one is shaping up to be a full fledged novel. I just wanted to make sure I delivered on all the goods because there is so much, and it is an incredibly important topic about which I am pretty passionate. There is a ton of misinformation floating around on the internet in regards to exercise and pregnancy, and it kind of drives me crazy.
I get annoyed by antiquated advice saying you can only take a leisurely stroll while pregnant.
I get mad at trainers prescribing exercise regimens that are only going to exasperate issues for women postnatal.
I get sad for ladies that lose their confidence after baby and don’t know how to fix it.
I get frustrated that so much of this stuff is not discussed more often so that we can provide the best health to ourselves and our babies.
So I am blogging, dang it.
I need to start out by saying that you should ALWAYS discuss your exercise regimen with your physician whether you are currently pregnant or not. I am not a doctor. The thoughts, opinions and advice from this blog originate from my own personal experience in having three kids as well as working with many women before, during and after pregnancy. I am a certified trainer with seven years of experience, but I am not a medical professional. So have a chat with your doc. *Warning: S/He and I might disagree. Do your research, ask questions and trust your gut. You know your body better than anyone.
Now that the disclaimers are laid out, so let’s make like bookworms and get to work because it is practically an all out course. You might even want to take notes on this one. Too much? Ok sorry.
In order to streamline the content, I have broken it down into three sections: prenatal, pregnancy and postnatal.
If you plan on having kids some day or if you want to add another munchkin to your growing brood, GET YOUR BUNS IN GEAR. Seriously. I cannot emphasize this enough, and honestly, it is probably the most important advice in this entire blog. So many women think they can start thinking about these things when they get pregnant or even worse after the baby arrives. Of course, exercise at any point is a positive thing, but there are some things that cannot be corrected if you don’t start before you have that bun baking in the oven. I have seen this firsthand time and time again; so just do yourself a favor and take my word for it.
As I have previously mentioned, I have gone through three pregnancies personally and have had the privilege of working with many women before, during and after. I can say with 100% conviction that those that exercise regularly prior to becoming pregnant have the easiest time and most successful results at “getting their body back”. Now, I realize that birthing a baby is an incredible, miraculous feat for the woman’s body, and things are naturally going to be different, and we should place our focus and joy on that sweet babe. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t try and avoid some of the pitfalls that come along with the process. Who’s game for that plan? If you do, you will have less stretch marks, incontinence issues and problems with abdominal separation (aka the Mama pooch). These things in some cases can even be prevented completely! Do I have you convinced now that you should get after it?
So what should you specifically doing? If your first baby or more babies are in your future, work hard at staying functionally fit in general through a consistent exercise program, but also particularly concentrating on strengthening your deep core muscles. These muscle groups can take a beating during pregnancy so it is important they are at maximum strength so that they hold up better and repair quicker. These are the things that will help prevent the dreaded Mama Pooch and keep you from peeing every time you sneeze because I don’t know about you, but those aren’t a few of my favorite things.
Phew. I almost don’t even know where to begin in this section because there is so many important things to say, and I can get really fired up about it.
I guess let’s start with safety because that is THE MOST IMPORTANT piece. Obviously, it is imperative that the exercise benefits both you and the babe. Duh. So here are the absolute contraindications to exercise…the things that mean exercise is not even in the cards:
Hemodynamically significant heart disease
Restrictive lung disease
Multiple gestation at risk for premature labor
Persistent second or third trimester bleeding
Placenta Previa after 26 weeks gestation
Premature labor during the current pregnancy
Pregnancy induced hypertension
And here are the relative contraindications to exercise…the things that could be bad news bears, but may be ok:
-Unevaluated maternal cardiac arrhythmia
-Poorly controlled type I diabetes
-Extreme morbid obesity
-Extreme underweight (body mass index <12) -History of extremely sedentary lifestyle -Intrauterine growth restriction in current pregnancy -Poorly controlled hypertension/pre-eclampsia -Orthopedic limitations -Poorly controlled seizure disorder -Poorly controlled thyroid disease -Heavy smoker Safety is obviously number one, but I can say with complete honesty and conviction that most women can and SHOULD be partaking in regular exercise during pregnancy. It is beneficial both to the Mother and baby. I am not going to take the time to list the positives as I think it is common sense for the most part. I will almost always advocate that you remain active during your pregnancy, and let's take a look at what that looks like. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND TRUST YOUR GUT!!!!!!!! This is my biggest piece of advice, and I absolutely cannot emphasize it enough. It is very simple advice, but it will pretty much tell you everything you need to know. Your body is incredibly smart, and if you listen to its cues, you will know when you are in the zone and when you need to back off. If your instinct tells you to pull back the reins a bit, do it. If you feel good and strong, your most likely good to go. You know your body so trust yourself with it. Obviously, don't be a stubborn donkey because you want to get a "good" workout in. This is not the time to set new records and goals, and a good workout can look a lot different than what it did before. Generally, you can keep doing the same type of exercise that you participated in previously. I don't recommend starting a completely new exercise regimen unless you did not exercise at all before getting pregnant. In such case, start small with walking and strength training under the guidance of a professional. Don't be afraid of exercise; you can do it safely. And please do not listen to that antiquated advice that you cannot get your heart rate above 120 or 140 bpm. It simply isn't true. I did not follow this advice for any of my pregnancies or any of the clients that I work with. It drives me batty honestly. Again, don't be stupid, and if your body tells you to back off, do it, but you can still get your heart rate up. You will obviously scale down as your pregnancy progresses, but the first trimester is pretty fair game, and you can pretty much continue on as you were. In the second and third trimesters, you will want to avoid any exercise lying flat on your back as it can be a safety concern for you baby. In the third trimester, you will want to start modifying any exercise in the plank position so as to avoid problems with DR. Don't be stubborn about this even if you can still do it. Take my word for it because I was a hardass during my second pregnancy and had more issues with separation. It isn't worth it. Also, just avoid crunching exercises completely because those will for sure aggravate DR! Postnatal
So you have your beautiful babe, what now? This varies greatly from individual to individual. I am going to be controversial (and I apologize to any medical professionals reading this), I HATE the 6 week rule. I get that there probably should be a general rule of thumb as to when a woman can start working out again, but it is just plain silliness to say that at 6 weeks, every single woman will be ready to exercise and before that, no one could possibly be ready. I mean stop and use your noggin. Does that even sound logical?
Here are some factors that play a big role in determining whether or not you should start working out again:
1. Your exercise regimen before and during pregnancy: Obviously, a woman who has been consistently working out for years including her pregnancy will be able to start back up again sooner than someone who did some bicep curls every new year.
2. Your labor: This one makes a big difference…whether or not you tore, if you had a c-section, if you had any complications, etc.
3. Your mental and emotional state: This topic does not get discussed a lot because somehow I think we as women feel shameful about it (which is completely insane, but yet we do), but pregnancy is a very emotional time with crazy hormones. Post-partum depression is a very real and serious condition, and even if you do not have it all out, I think every woman would say they go through some emotional difficulties after having a baby. Exercise may be a benefit because of the endorphins, but it may also just be too much at the time, and that is ok.
So isn’t it kind of Captain Obvious why I hate the hard and fast “6 week rule”? I mean everyone is seriously sooooo different, and my best piece of advice here is to listen to your body and what it is telling you both physically and emotionally. If you truly are in tune to that, I believe it will guide you into the best possible decision. That is how incredibly God designed our bodies.
I do want to say this, however. Don’t feel like you HAVE to get right back to it. I think there is a lot of pressure from society and from ourselves if we are honest to “bounce back” beautifully and immediately after baby. Hog wash. Give yourself time and grace. Your baby is only brand new once, and it goes FAST (even if it feels like you are drowning in the midst of it) so soak up those smells, coos and snuggles. They fade, and exercise will always be there.
That being said, if you do want to get back moving and grooving because you feel better mentally and physically, don’t let other people shame you into thinking you are being a bad Mom because of it. YOU ARE NOT.
Once you have made the decision with your physician to start, again let your body be your guide. It will tell you what feels appropriate. Very generally, you can work towards getting back into the same routine that you had before pregnancy. Make sure to progress into it, however. I obviously don’t recommend an all out HIIT workout first time out of the gates or sitting on a bike for an hour because holy ouch. You will have to kind of play around with it to see what feels appropriate, but I generally like to start out with walking, deep core work and then some light strength training. After some time, it feels good to move into some higher intensity stuff and running. Again, everyone will be different, and it is going to depend on what kind of labor you had.
Don’t stress too much about milk supply and exercise as it is not typically something that hinders it. The key thing is that you are getting enough to eat and drink. Some women feel like their milk supply decreases with exercise, but I generally find that it is because they have not compensated by upping their water intake with the increased exercise. You lose fluids when you sweat so you need to replenish that by drinking more than what you usually do.
It is absolutely essential that you work on repairing your deep core because whether or not you had diastasis recti or stress urinary incontinence, these muscles still got stretched. If you have DR, make sure to avoid all planks and crunching type ab exercises as it will only make matters worse. You will want to focus on DR/transverse abdominis specific exercises. Even if you do not have DR, I still recommend doing these for some time after pregnancy just to get as much strength back as possible. This is what will help that Mama “pooch” go down. It will be tempting to do all the ab exercises – planks, crunches and the other, but JUST DON’T DO IT!!! It will make matters worse!
In the same way, make sure you are doing your kegel exercises because they also took a beating. Be diligent about these things. They are not exactly “hard”; rather, it is more about remembering to do them. I tell all of my clients to give your self cues as to when to do them. Examples include when you are at a red light, when you wash dishes or fold clothes, when you lie down at night, when you brush your teeth, etc. Try to do them every single day!
If it is has been a long time since you have had babies, and you are still struggling with DR or incontinence issues, it is NEVER too late to correct. So make like a beaver and get to work. You simply just need to be diligent about putting in the time. Disclaimer: Doing deep core work is not going to magically take away extra/loose skin or fat. It will help pull your abdominal muscles in and make them more tight and toned, but you have to eat well and burn calories in order to get rid of the fat.
Don’t give up or fall into complacency. You can make physical improvements to your body no matter how long ago you had kiddos. You don’t have to settle, and just deal with it. I am all for working hard and trying to be your best. Don’t let your excuses lead you into laziness. However, always just keep in mind that body after baby looks different than body before baby. Not worse, just different.
Which brings me to my final point (I know what you are thinking…thank goodness this is it). Pregnancy affects everything from our the hair on our head to the toes on our feet and everything in between (seriously). If you have had a baby, you get it; no explanation needed. If you haven’t, just wait, you will. I want to encourage you to embrace the changes with joy because it means you have at least one of the greatest blessings in this entire world. A child is a gift beyond compare, and every stretch mark, every bit of loose skin, every lost hair is now and always will be. Your stomach may not be as hard and tight as it once was, but your house is now filled with children’s laughter. You might hate your stretch marks, but you can play with your kiddos. You might have bags under your eyes, but you get to tuck your baby in at night and watch them sleep peacefully. I ask you, which would you prefer?