The Do’s and Don’ts with Exercise and Pregnancy
Can I run straight after having my baby?
Should I do Pilates while pregnant?
How soon is too soon to exercise?
How do I work my pelvic floor?
These are just some of the many questions we are faced with at The Studio on a daily basis. Since there seems to be so many mixed messages out there about the safe way to approach exercises both pre and post pregnancy I decided to try and tighten up this info up for all the expectant or post preggies out there! We recently teamed up with SRC Health and spoke with many expectant parents at the Pregnancy, Babies and Children’s Expo, we were overcome with how much we take for granted how little the average punter is taught about both pregnancy and exercise, this further fueling our fire to better educate women on how to best prepare for and recover from pregnancy!
Firstly should you exercise whilst pregnant? Most of the time the answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY! It’s obviously very important to consult with your obstetrician/mid wife/GP in regards to the nature of your pregnancy. No two women experience the same pregnancy path and certain complicated presentations will require close monitoring during exercise and may potentially require periods of rest if the baby so demands.
If you have been given the green light to get that body moving please consider the following:
Maintaining strength from the inside-out will stand your body in the best stead to manage the late stages of pregnancy and your early post-partum period. This means pelvic floor and deep abdominal strength comes first! Seek guidance from a Women’s Health Physiotherapist or a Physio specialising in pre/post natal care who will be able to advise you about the correct ways to activate your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles
Avoid heavy lifting (especially in an upright position)! As your baby and subsequently belly start to grow we want to protect this area, along with your pelvic floor. Heavy lifting places these structures under strain which can result in avoidable abdominal separation (the splitting/spreading of the front part of your abdominal wall) and various pelvic floor injuries such as prolapse and resulting incontinence.
Maintain good posture! As your pregnancy progresses the load on your lower back starts to build as your belly grows. It’s important to establish good habits early in your pregnancy as this can be the difference between a back pain troubled 3rd trimester or a smooth transition to delivery. During exercise (and daily life) try to avoid excessive arching of your lower back; focus on maintaining length by gently tucking your tail down towards the ground and lifting your belly. You should also avoid crossing your legs and leaning on one leg only when standing.
As a rule of thumb, when challenging your heart rate with cardio style exercise stick to an intensity that allows you to maintain a conversation.
Listen to your body! I’m always being told ‘I looked online and it said I shouldn’t do this…’ or ‘When my friend was pregnant she couldn’t do…’ Remember 'One Size Fits All' does not apply to pregnancy in the slightest. Some women are comfortable jogging in the second trimester while others might find this uncomfortable throughout their entire pregnancy. Every day might feel different so don’t set too many expectations for yourself and take each day as it comes.
When considering appropriate abdominal exercises your main focus should be protecting your belly and maintaining space for the baby. To be really sure you are on the right track this is where Pilates with a health professional becomes important and helps take the thinking and stress out of it, you’ve got enough going on! As a general rule your abdominals should be worked in a lengthened position (ie. On all fours or in a plank position) as opposed to ‘crunches’ or ‘ab curls’ which increase the pressure around the middle of your abdominals and can lead to separation of these muscles which can have the long term consequence of back pain and pelvic floor overload and weakness.
Don’t take on a dramatically new exercise regime in your 1st trimester. Your body is going through a lot so this is the time to consult with a health professional about the best movement approach encouraging safe activity.
Stretching and self release of the gluteal/buttock muscles (self massage with a foam roller/spikey ball) is a great habit to take up to release the poor overloaded areas around your hips and pelvis. As your body starts to change the muscles around your pelvis are put under strain and in a position of stretch which can cause them to spasm/tighten up! Such spasm can result in back and pelvic pain which can be well managed with the assistance of a physio’s elbows or alternatively a tennis ball or spikey ball which you will find at most physio clinics. An appropriate stretching program is important and can be a life saver for those women working in a sedentary job throughout their pregnancy.
Returning to Exercise post baby arrival!
Following the birth of your child you must allow yourself time to recover initially then as soon as you can get yourself out of the house we strongly advice you seek early advice and potential intervention before you get back into your previous routine!
Pelvic floor dysfunction and rectus diastasis (abdominal separation) are best managed in the first 3-4 months postnatal so let’s tackle these issues early.
My general recommendation for women is to seek assessment with a women’s health specialist or physiotherapist approximately 6 weeks after birth. At this point an appropriate management plan can be made for you depending on your body’s needs. Some women are lucky enough to be assessed while in hospital however this isn’t often the case and at times even when attended to this time can be quite a blur so follow up assessment is definitely recommended. A physiotherapist can assess the state of your abdominals and take a measurement of any potential abdominal separation that may have occurred during the pregnancy. Pelvic floor activity can also be measured and retrained if necessary.
At The Studio we utilise Real Time ultrasound, a similar technology used for your regular scans during pregnancy, to assess the strength and endurance of your abdominals and pelvic floor. We recommend women then commence a course of Clinical Pilates under the guidance of a physiotherapist who will advise you when it is appropriate to return to exercises such as running and lifting weights etc.
If you’re pregnant, post natal, thinking about having a baby or had your last baby 20 years ago, pop into The Studio and we can chat about any concerns you may have and help you return/maintain a safe exercise regime!
At The Studio we work closely with SRC Health who provide garments specifically made for women to wear during and after pregnancy. The garments from SRC provide relief of various painful conditions experienced during pregnancy (back and pelvic girdle pain and varicose veins) and help women to recover as best as possible postnatally providing external support during daily life and in the return to exercise and assisting in the coming together of the abdominal region. We have no hesitation recommending these garments to any women who may be suffering during their pregnancy and ALL post natal women (pain or no pain!). Pop into The Studio if you’d like to see/try the products. You can be fitted for recovery shorts/tights in the last few weeks of your pregnancy, a great thing to get out of the way and be prepared for post delivery! Most health funds provide a rebate on the purchase of these products, even more reason to stop second guessing and put your body at ease.