Exercise Do’s and Don’t’s during the Ante Post Natal period
By award winning Fitness and Exercise expert Helen Carpenter–Waters
There are many old wives tails surrounding pregnancy and no matter how well meaning they are, they can often confuse and upset a new Mum or Mum to be – leaving her uncertain as to what is best for her and her baby.
Exercise during the ante post-natal period is no exception and everyone seems to have an opinion. Let me begin by saying that each pregnancy is a unique experience, every time. Other people’s experiences are never the same and rarely
relevant – indeed each time a women is pregnant each pregnancy will be different from the last. She will be older, certainly, and have had been through the ante post-natal changes both physically and psychologically once or several times previously, plus she might now have small children to care for so life is very different.
I have had the honour and pleasure of working with pregnant ladies and new mums for so long now that not only do I have their offspring in my classes but also their grand children and it’s an absolute joy. I also have the pleasure of teaching other exercise and fitness practitioners about how they can work safely and effectively with their ante post-natal clientele via my teacher training courses. Research is 100% supportive of ‘Mums to be’ getting fit before pregnancy, staying fit during and getting back to pre pregnancy fitness levels (or even better) after delivery. Indeed, it is recommended, and with the relevant qualified guidance and monitored well-informed practice the benefits are far reaching.
Some of the (research supported and documented) benefits of relevant exercise and fitness (although not guaranteed) are as follows.
Benefits To Mum
Reduced risk of excess weight gain – affects mental and physical health
Maintain and promote pelvic floor strength and control
Maintain/improve aerobic conditioning, muscular strength and endurance as well as flexibility
Reduced incidence of back pain and general aches and pains
Increased tolerance of labour and delivery (there is some evidence of reduced length of labour)
Reduced incidence of pregnancy complications
Reduced incidence of sleeping difficulties
Improved circulation (can reduce risk of varicose veins and haemorrhoids)
Improves digestion (can reduce risk of constipation and indigestion)
Reduced swelling of extremities (oedema)
Reduces risk of gestational diabetes
Reduces risk of pre-eclampsia
Reduced problems with breathing
Quicker return to former shape and fitness, post partum and more likely to return to exercise post partum. All of the above help in improving the feeling of well being and increased self-esteem which reduces possible depression, anxiety and stress. Evidence suggests that exercise provides a protective effect against coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and hypertension with reduced risk of colon cancer and perhaps breast cancer.
In my view (supported by research) all ladies who want to get pregnant would certainly benefit from getting and being as fit as possible before hand. Additionally I recommend that she maintains an excellent diet and balanced life style (factoring in stress levels, work, rest and play too). So when ladies find out they are ‘expecting a happy event’ those who already exercise regularly can continue maintaining their exercise and fitness levels throughout. Of course they should make relevant (informed) adaptations as they progress through the three trimesters. If you run, keep running whilst it is comfortable for you to do so, the same goes for dance, aerobics, Pilates and so on. It isn’t, however, a time to take up new activities without qualified advice or supervision. I have many 100’s of clients and fellow fitness professionals who kept up their usual fitness activities throughout their pregnancy, with some modifications made as required. I have also had clients who had to switch to alternative activities but kept doing some fitness maintenance activity.
Should there be pregnancy complications she might need to adapt further, change activity and so on. Very rarely is total rest prescribed, in fact it can be detrimental. Support from, combined with, open communication between Mum to be, her maternal care giver and exercise professional, plus any other relevant professional is essential, especially with challenging pregnancies.
Often ladies become interested in their fitness when they fall pregnant, even when they have not exercised regularly (or at all) previously. It is possible, and recommended, that she aims to gradually build her fitness levels throughout pregnancy. Seeking advice from a skilled fitness professional, specifically trained, who is regularly updating their knowledge and are qualified in the field is essential for the mother to proceed with confidence and safety.
So it is strongly advised that women who are already fit and exercising regularly maintain their current fitness levels (with some modifications) and for previously non-exercising mothers to build her fitness, both for the benefit of mother and her baby. Doing so will make for a more comfortable pregnancy, effective and less stressful labour (there is evidence of shorter labour) and the challenges of mother hood.
Current guidelines from the RCOG (Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) and their American colleagues, ACOG include that Mums to be should aim to include 210 minutes per week of activity which can be daily 30 minute sessions or sessions of moderate activity of 60 minutes duration. These bodies also suggest that certain activities are not recommended when pregnant, they include, but are not exclusive to: horse riding, martial arts or contact sports, activities which have increased risks of falling or collision such as cycling, ice skating, (and alike) motorsports, netball, hockey, boxing, wrestling, deep water diving, high board diving, water skiing, mountain climbing.
Additionally, pregnant women should avoid exercising in hot or very humid conditions or if suffering from an elevated temperature.
Current (most updated guidelines) tell us that women should avoid exercising or resting when flat on your back after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
I will add that the pelvic floor is under a great deal of pressure during pregnancy and so any activity that increases intra-abdominal pressure, such as high impact cardio training, high intensity conditioning (including some gym based exercises, some pilates or yoga postures, or lifting weights such as kettle bells etc) can strain the pelvic floor – the effects of which often go beyond pregnancy and can plague women for the rest of their lives.
Often ‘Mums to be’ worry about excess weight gain or lengthened abdominals and continue with their regular high intensity training and ‘Core’ programmes, often resulting in strained abdominals, weakened pelvic floor and pelvic girdle/back dysfunction. It’s only 40 weeks, why not focus on pregnancy relevant activity and go back to hard core training, if that’s what you enjoy, afterwards. I will add that taking it too easy will not provide the necessary training effects desired either, Exercise during
Pregnancy – it isdefinitely something that should be individually prescribed, rather than following a generic program.
When exercising or lifting, carrying etc. check that you can contract your pelvic floor and hold (with an effort of about 3 out of 10) throughout the movement. If this isn’t possible the strain on the pelvic floor is too great and the intensity should be reduced and appropriate pelvic floor training should be undertaken.
Modern pelvic floor training goes beyond ‘kegals’ and up to date trainers will teach their clients to develop excellent strength, endurance and control within the pelvic floor, pelvic girdle and maintain spinal stability. This is important to ensure pelvic and spinal stability, and continence throughout pregnancy and post nataly, plus assist with possessing control and (being able to relax) the pelvic floor during labour.
This is a huge subject area and there is a great deal of advice to be given, far more than I can cover in this article. I welcome your questions and should you require assistance with getting and being fit for pregnancy, labour and mother hood then please feel free to book a consultation. I offer one to one appointments, small group sessions and will accommodate ante post-natal clients within my group exercise sessions following an initial consultation and if I deem attendance to be safe and appropriate.
I can be contacted on 01252 621280
Facebook: Helen Carpenter-Waters or DYBO Health and Fitness
Instructors can contact me on the above for advice and information about Teacher Training.
Helen is an award winning international educator and presenter in the Fitness industry (recipient of the UK Fitness Leader of the year award). Following a career in Dance, Gymnastics and Sports Aerobics Helen combined her skills with an extensive education in Health and Fitness (College Lecturer and Course Director for 13 years) including Master Practitioner of NLP, Advanced Life Coach and Ericksonian Hypnotherapist. She is a practicing Sports Injury rehab and pre-hab therapist in addition to personal trainer and group exercise/dance teacher. Helen is a regular contributing author of industry articles and the creator of several Instructor Training Programmes including ‘Ante Post Natal Exercise Instruction’ for instructors. She is an Ambassador for My Group Fit and is the Director of DYBO Health and Fitness and DYBO Academy.