Having a baby is one of the biggest life changing events that can ever happen to a woman, both emotionally and physically. It is one of the most wonderful experiences but can also be very demanding on your body.
Luckily during my pregnancy I was fit and healthy and able to train throughout the duration of the training, (see my blog on exercising during pregnancy). I trained up until 36 weeks, both cardio and weights, and stopped at 36 weeks due to pure discomfort as baby was fully engaged and I was finding sitting and walking difficult let alone anything else! Prior to this I felt great whilst exercising in my pregnancy and due to this I had no back pain, swelling or joint pain and I am adamant this is down to exercising. As a fitness instructor myself I exercise for a number of reasons, mainly for health benefits, emotional and physical and also as it is my job. I like to be a positive role model for my clients and I was desperate to exercise again once I had given birth.
Initially once I had given birth I was in immense discomfort (understandably), and as I had to have an episiotomy the stitches were a lot more uncomfortable than I anticipated and although I was keen to get back to exercise as soon as possible I was fully aware that I needed to allow my body to heal first.
I got out the house the day after I came home from hospital and having a dog that needs regular walking ensured I got off my backside and remained active. I began with short walks on flat terrains and gradually as I began to heal, I lengthened the distance and tested myself a bit on the terrain and ensured as I walked I was out of breath and increased my heart rate.
Happy baby, happy doggy and happy mummy as the endorphins were pumping allowing positive emotions rather than any negative ones which a lot of mums suffer from after giving birth. Luckily I did not suffer from any of this and again I put a lot of that down to remaining active and allowing those endorphins to flow.
I took photos of my body the day after I gave birth so I had a target to work towards. As a breastfeeding Mum I was very aware that I needed to eat regularly and graze throughout the day. Luckily I anticipated the madness of becoming a new mummy in advance and had cooked and froze some healthy meals in advance which I found extremely helpful. I have a massive sweet tooth and love cakes and pastries and I found for the first 4 weeks I was eating cake pretty much every day and although I was eating healthy meals I had massively relaxed on the ‘healthy eating’ with regards to the snacks. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t eating crisps or chocolate back to back but I was having a slice of cake pretty much on a daily basis. After about 6 weeks I decided I was ready to get back on the ‘healthy eating’ regime.
On week 4 after birth my husband was working away so I had to deliver our bootcamp session. Although I didn’t join in fully by any means, I did however do some light exercise with some squats and lunges. The next day I felt great and enjoyed feeling that my muscles ached slightly. I grew in confidence after this as I felt no contrary indications and my stitches felt fine so 3 days later I tried again and pushed myself a little bit more. Unfortunately this time I pushed myself a little too far and to say the least I had definitely done too much and internally I felt like I had done some damage to my stitches. The following week I rested totally to allow my body to rest and I tried again on week 6 and was just very careful to listen to my body and to take things steady.
I was very surprised at how weak my pelvic floor was, especially as I had done a lot of work on it during pregnancy, but I think my forcep delivery left me with damaged nerve endings. This but a massive spanner in the works with regards to my pelvic floor that I had worked so hard on making strong. I ensured after delivery that I continued training it and every time I fed my baby I performed some pelvic floor exercises which helped me to remember when to do them.
Gradually I upped my exercise and started on body weight exercises before introducing additional weights and started with a 5k run and tried to increase my pace each week. I found the more I exercised, as long as I listened to my body, my pelvic floor strengthened through leg and glute exercises as well as pelvic floor specific exercises.
By listening to my body and pushing myself very gradually and increasing the intensity by the week I was back participating in all my regular activities before I knew it. This however is not to be misunderstood by everything was as it was pre baby! Things are very different anatomically! Pelvic floor is still weak so jumping and bouncing exercises are a challenge! It is important to empty your bladder before attempting any type of exercise I found! Gradually as the weeks went on my pelvic floor has strengthened but still 5 months down the line it is still not as it was pre baby!
It is not just the pelvic floor muscles which have changed! As a breastfeeding mum it is crucial to drink plenty in order to keep up the supply and this is even more prevalent when sweating during exercise. I found it was a lot more comfortable to feed my baby before exercise and to ensure that I wore a decent sports bra! Very important to look after your boobs now more than ever before! Exercise can also increase your milk flow so ensure that you don’t wear a grey t shirt and ensure that you wear breast pads!!!
Hormones are a crazy thing and as well as how you feel mentally they also affect how you are physically. Relaxin is a hormone which is released during pregnancy and can stay in your body after birth for a while, in particular stays longer in breastfeeding mums. Relaxin does what it says on the tin and ensures that your body relaxes anatomically in preparation for birth. This includes your ligaments and tendons holding your joints in position. It is really careful that whilst relaxin is still present in your body that you are careful not to over stretch and careful during bouncing (ballistic) type activities as there is a slight risk of dislocation.
I have found there are plenty of excuses that I could find not to exercise pre baby, but I can guarantee there is plenty more to be found post baby! This being said one of my favourite sayings is, ‘you will never regret a workout’ and you always feel better afterwards! If your baby is anything like my baby and sleeps during motion, exercising with your baby is one of the best ways to ensure that baby has a good nap. For me it is a fail safe way to get my baby to sleep. On an evening before bedtime when baby can tend to be cranky, I have found a home work out entertains baby as well as ensuring I get a sweat on!
The pros will always outweigh the cons when it comes to exercise!
Training during pregnancy has many benefits to both mother and baby which have been scientifically proven, yet a lot of people still have negative feelings towards expectant mums exercising.
Lets look at the benefits,
Labour and delivery can be easier,
Decreased chance of gestational diabetes
Decreased chance of pre-natal depression
Decreased fluid retention
Increased blood flow to baby
Soothing sensation of the motion of running can help to relax the baby and send it to sleep
Decreased chance of weight gain for mum
Healthy weight for baby
Lower risk of aches and pains for mum
Less chance of becoming constipated
There is no question of a doubt if pregnant ladies have exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant than exercising during your pregnancy can only continue to benefit you and baby further.
With all this positive scientific research to promote continuing to exercise during pregnancy, a lot of women may find they experience some negative comments from over protective friends, family or complete strangers. I myself have experienced some but generally have a really supportive family network and friends who understand the importance of fitness within my life. It is my job, my business and my biggest stress relief and without exercising I am more likely to cause damage to my body and mind. With this in mind I do get funny looks when I run round the park or the streets with a big bump and have been told to “be careful” more times than I care to remember. There is nobody on this earth who wants to protect and nurture this unborn baby more than the mother, so to be patronised and to be told to be careful and look after yourself can become infuriating.
Miscarriage and loss of a baby seems to be such an elephant in the room and is very often swept under the carpet and not spoken about. As horrendous and heart breaking as it is, unfortunately it happens. Mother nature is the only person who has control over the situation and the majority of the time absolutely no matter what the mother does, unfortunately nature takes it course and fatalities happen. I was astounded to hear that as many as 1 in 4 ladies suffer a miscarriage. This ratio is far too high and it is not until you start talking about it that other women open up and share their experiences. With this in mind it is important to remind yourself of this during pregnancy and to not panic and wrap yourself up in cotton wool! Far too many women become sedentary and inactive during pregnancy due to scaremonger tactics and potentially an excuse to be lazy. It is really important to try to maintain your normal daily routine as much as possible. What will be will be and it is extremely unlikely that your exercise regime has any effect on miscarriage at all, the biggest danger when exercising during pregnancy is for mum, not for baby (much to contrary belief).
With all this in mind exercise does have to be adapted to cater for the mum to be to ensure that all safety precautions have been considered. It is important that whatever training you undertake that you consult your medical professional whether it be your GP or your midwife and also that any exercise classes you may attend are aware of your pregnancy and that they are qualified in pre and post natal exercise. During the different trimesters of pregnancy the exercise should be altered and it is down to the qualified exercise professional to inform mum to be of the anatomical and physiological changes that are occurring and why the exercises are being adapted to compensate these changes. I myself have trained clients during their pregnancy prior to becoming pregnant myself and although I am fully qualified and have participated in copious amounts of research, it is really difficult to truly grasp how mum is feeling until you’ve been in a similar position. I’m going to elaborate and explain how I felt during my trimesters.
It is important to note that all women experience pregnancy differently but this is how I felt.
I was lucky in the fact that I found out I was pregnant very early on but my symptoms seemed to start almost instantly. First of all I was petrified that I was going to harm the baby and became totally obsessed with protecting this unborn child. Regardless to all the evidence that has been produced I was just so desperate to reach that 12 week scan and find out that everything was ok. I think this is a normal response and every expectant mum will feel similar but I really had to try to promote the concept of what will be will be and to try to carry on with life as normal as possible.
From 4-7 weeks I felt pretty much fine just exhausted all of the time. I found I slept a lot, and had to nap for a minimum of 1-2hrs on an afternoon after work. I did however feel dizzy if I stood up too quick and in particular certain floor based activities and standing up quickly afterwards could often make my head spin.
From 7-15 weeks the sickness kicked in! It is really difficult at this stage and to be honest I was not enjoying pregnancy one bit, and I hated myself for saying that and felt horrendous that I felt that way but in all honesty I have never felt so ill. The worse part is no-one other than our immediate family knew I was pregnant so leading such an active lifestyle especially for work and our business was really difficult. I was vomitting not just in the morning but all day long. I was having to run out mid lesson at work to vomit and to make excuses. Coupled this vomiting with the extreme lethargy was a combination of hell! I really really struggled to exercise during this stage. The last thing you want to do when you feel nauseous is to do a burpee or a jump squat! I did however listen to my body and if I felt ok I would up the ante a bit and if I felt rough I would do the easiest option where possible. Along with the vomiting and the lethargy my blood pressure had dropped to a ridiculously low level (this is totally normal during pregnancy) however it did mean that I would keel over and faint. Fainting is generally more scary for the onlookers than for the patient themselves. The best thing for me is to lie flat on my back and elevate my legs and when I start to come round a bit to get some food in me as soon as possible, I carried a cereal bar or flapjack around with me everywhere.
The other symptom which I was surprised about was the intense hunger! I did however go totally off my food and could not eat meals. I found that the only way I could keep food down was by eating little and very often. If I didn’t eat every 2-3 hours then I would vomit. I was craving high sugary foods as my body was craving energy but as we know with quick released sugar, there is a high but then the dip afterwards makes you feel twice as bad. Realistically ideally eating solid meals would have helped but I was in no state to eat a meal. When exercising it is crucial that you are replacing the calories that you are losing through exercising especially during pregnancy.
During this stage I experienced some growing pains which is totally normal but can be scary when you feel lower abdominal pain during pregnancy. Luckily I had my 12 week scan which to my immense relief showed that the baby was fit and well and that the baby was growing perfectly well. This helped to relax me knowing that the baby was fit and well even though I had continued to train and the occasional pain that I felt was round ligament pain which is your body expanding and adapting to the changes occurring inside.
I finally stopped vomiting around 15 weeks and I haven’t fainted since this stage too. The lethargy has reduced and I no longer need to take naps. In fact I feel pretty damn awesome, and I can actually start to enjoy my pregnancy. I’ve upped the intensity of my training and feel brilliant. The negatives of this trimester are the rapidly increasing breasts which have cost me a fortune in buying new sports bras to help to support them. I now feel the baby moving around and at about 16 weeks I started feeling tiny baby flutters now at 27 weeks I am feeling big sometimes painful kicks.
Quite often in particular when I have been running the baby would stop moving, when I spoke to my midwife and did some more research it turns out that the momentum of the running motion was actually sending the baby to sleep. I am hoping this may happen once baby is actually hear and we go out running in our running buggy. (Ever the optimist)!
At 27 weeks my belly has rapidly grown and from being a size 8 previously it has taken some getting used to having a big belly. I have had to adapt certain exercises in the gym to accommodate my ever expanding belly. I have also had look at different training clothes or wear the ones i’ve already got a lot lower. Along with this big belly I have experienced unpleasant sensations of the weight pushing down on my bladder. From day one I have done pelvic floor exercises twice a day without fail and luckily I have not had any accidents up to date and I can only put that down to working my pelvic floor exercises. I’ve had to shorten my work outs as I’m struggling to hold my bladder for long periods of time now.
During this trimester I also had my 20 week scan, this was so lovely to see the baby in a lot greater detail and see that everything was ok and that the baby was growing perfectly well.
I have struggled with potentially overheating which is a common issue during pregnancy especially in higher intensity exercise so I have adapted by wearing minimal clothes and layering so I can strip down when necessary. I’ve also focussed the majority of my training outside as the gym environment can be very warm. When I have been to the gym on a weekly basis I have had to go and stand outside the fire escape after each set and tried to take my free weights outside and trained outside.
The other thing I have experienced during this trimester is the reduction in oxygen as baby is taking a lot of the oxygen I inhale. I was finding myself out of breath walking upstairs, getting up off the sofa so exercising I found I was very out of breath. I just reduced my intensity of the exercise and ensured that I took plenty of rest in between.
I have friends at a similar stage of pregnancy as I am who are feeling uncomfortable and have started experiencing aches and pains. I am lucky to say I have not experienced any of these aches and pains yet and I put that down to training my muscles to compensate for the anatomical changes occurring in my body.
I am now in my final trimester 3 I am still planning on training and exercising throughout. I am feeling fit and well and scans and regular movements from baby I know that baby is fit and well and can not promote training throughout pregnancy enough.
Get in touch if you want to get involved! Pre or post natal both are extremely beneficial to help Mum and baby. Relaxed mum equals a relaxed baby.
Are you struggling keeping to the changes made of eating more healthier? Remember like millions who embark on a lifestyle change, you're not alone. In a world where food (especially the unhealthy and highly processed kind) is so readily available and cheap, it can be tough to change your unhealthy eating habit.
Since injuring my knee (twice), I have struggled to maintain my healthy lifestyle. Time out, recovering meant that I went from being very active to being sedentary over night, which had a domino effect on the way I started to think. It was crazy to think, but whilst being chauffeured around, I would see people cycling, jogging etc and get jealous, which led me feeling sorry for myself and emotional, which resulted to making bad choices with food. I would was talk myself into thinking that whilst I was unable to be active I would enjoy food without restraint and make it up when I was fully fit.
Healthy Hearts 4 All Staff
Healthy Hearts 4 All specialise in Fitness, Nutrition, Weight Management and Health improvement. We deliver fitness, exercise, nutrition, weight management and health improvement programmes and advise for people who want to achieve and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle.