Part Three: Exercise
I introduced the four key areas to support a healthy lifestyle in my blog Best Care for Women for Birth and Beyond. These important areas include:
While these elements are important for everyone, they are especially important for women who are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or have recently given birth. Last week, we covered nutrition. This article will focus on exercise and movement.
In our society, women are treated as fragile and delicate when it comes to pregnancy. The list of what you can’t or shouldn’t do seems overwhelming. Yet, we are expected to be up and ready to go, back to normal, back to work quickly after the baby is born. This blog will cover some frequently asked questions in regards to exercising during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Remember, when you have a baby, your body experiences major changes, and the postpartum information is important to keep in mind.
Can I exercise during pregnancy?
Yes, and in fact you should! Giving birth requires strength, endurance, and flexibility. Can we expect our body to perform how we want it to if it hasn’t been trained appropriately? Labor is unpredictable and can last hours, or even days. You wouldn’t work out for hours or days straight without training. The same should be true with birth. It will be a much easier process and recovery if your muscles are prepared for what is to come.
Can I exercise if I did not before I was pregnant?
Yes, absolutely. If you have a regular, low risk pregnancy and no restrictions from your doctor the answer is yes. You will need to listen to what your body is telling you and start slowly, but any movement and exercise is better than none. It is normal for you to feel slightly winded and out of breath during the first trimester. The amount of blood in your body increases to supply more for the baby. You will adapt over time. In addition, you may be feeling a little ill with nausea and fatigue. Getting some sort of exercise will release endorphins which will help you to feel a bit better. Take it easy at first and build up to your body’s tolerance. The key is to always listen to your body–if you need a couple rest days take them; if you are feeling great go for it! Not sure where to start? Check out my blog 5 Exercises You Should Do During Pregnancy.
What types of activities should I do?
You may participate in whatever exercise activity you would like as long as you are comfortable. It is safe to walk, run, bike, do yoga and lift during pregnancy. Our bodies are strong and are designed to carry a baby. When choosing a type of exercise think about how will this movement help me in my daily life? At work? How will this help me when I am in labor? Is this a movement that will help me accomplish something I need to do? Yoga and relaxation exercises can help you breathe through and help mentally during birth. Squatting and planks can help make sure your muscles have power for pushing. Ask your doctor about any restrictions, if you are considered a high risk pregnancy.
What types of activities should I avoid?
Refrain from any activity that increases pain or symptoms. If it hurts, don’t do it. Stop if it causes pain, numbness, tingling or any other abnormal sensation. Pain is your body’s signal to stop what you are doing to protect you. If you are experiencing any aches or discomfort, you should get checked. You may simply have an area of misalignment that needs adjusted.
How long does my body take to recover postpartum?
Every woman has a different birth experience, and it can vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. Your recovery depends on many factors including type of delivery (vaginal vs. C-section), interventions, pain medication utilized (such as epidural), and any complications. If you have had a c-section, it will take longer to heal. Give yourself time because your body experienced a major abdominal surgery. If you gave birth to multiple babies, take it slow. Your healing time frame might be different, as well. Be careful. Even if you had a natural or vaginal delivery, there is still a large wound where the placenta was that takes a minimum of 4-8 weeks to mend.
When can I exercise postpartum?
You are encouraged to wait until you have been seen and cleared by your doctor to begin exercising again. It should be a minimum of 6 weeks before doing anything intense because your body needs to heal and recover. Enjoy spending time with your new addition; it will go by so fast.
What should I avoid postpartum?
Did you know that you should avoid crunches and sit-ups for a whole year after having a baby? Many women can experience diastasis recti or separation of the left and right abdominal muscles and which creates the dreaded belly pouch. Crunches and sit-ups or flexion motions increase the separation and make it worse. This is a time to listen to your body and not overdo it. Be patient. You will get stronger and better every day, but ease back into your routine and give yourself grace.
Are there specific exercises I can do that can help heal my body postpartum?
Yes! Your core (abdominal and back) muscles and pelvic floor muscles can be weakened or have dysfunction due to pregnancy. These muscles work extremely hard during pregnancy and delivery and can become stretched out. The good news is this can be helped. These two areas may need special attention from an a doctor who works with women and has knowledge about prenatal and postpartum issues (we do here at Hartville Health and Wellness Centre). Each case is different so you will be examined and given exercises based on where you are at and your individual needs.
Can I lose weight and still have a good supply of breast milk?
Yes. This is doable as long as you are fueling yourself with the proper types and amounts of food and water (see the nutrition blog if you missed it). You need roughly your body weight in ounces of water to make sure you are hydrated, producing milk, and to make up for sweat loss while exercising. The weight will come off over time. Don’t be discouraged. You body has been on a beautiful journey. It is great if you want to lose weight but embrace your body how it is and know that if you are eating healthy and enjoying movement you are doing good things for you and your family. That is what really matters.
If you have any further questions, please drop them below in the comments and I will be happy to get back to you. Next week, we will be finishing up our series with the importance of thoughts and mindset.