By Lucy Hodgson
Ive heard a lot of people say that labour is like a marathon. This implies a certain amount of cardiac fitness is required. I always had this is in mind when I became pregnant, thinking cardiac fitness should be my main focus for a healthy pregnancy and labour. But then, a good friend of mine said she wished she had more strength when it came to her labour, and indeed her recovery.
There is an awfully strong focus when women are pregnant on their labour and how it will go. Whilst important, this is a relatively short part of the whole journey, which also includes pregnancy, and then looking after a newborn, infant, toddler, child etc.
Regular exercise, including strength work, is a great way to prepare your body for the changes associated with pregnancy, and will help with your recovery and the ongoing demands placed on your body. During my own pregnancy I completed regular pilates training, running (up to approx 24 weeks) and rode my bike every day. Whilst there are no guarantees, regular exercise should help prepare your body for labour.
Pregnancy is an extremely dynamic state, meaning the loads and demands on the body are ever changing. Some women (approx 20-50%) do experience pain, particulary around their pelvis and low back. This is not something to be scared of but equally should not be considered normal. Women should seek early advice. Often changing simple movement patterns and postures, getting some treatment, and improving general strength can alleiviate these symptoms, enabling a more comfortable pregnancy.
We are often asked about exercise during pregnancy. During pregnancy it is safe and advisable to continue to exercise at the level you are used to for as long as you can comfortably do so. Think of Serena Williams competing at the Australian Open during her first trimester!
If you are new to exercise, build up at a moderate pace, avoiding high impact activity. There are, however, a few things to consider specifically when pregnant.
– high intensity sports with risk of collision or falls
– extreme temperatures i.e. hydrotherapy pools or bikram yoga
– lying on your back for prolonged periods of time (most yoga and pilates classes will offer alternative postures)
STOP if you experience –
– vaginal bleeding
– nausea or vomiting
– feeling faint or light-headed
– strong pain, especially from your pelvis or back
– reduced movement of your baby.
There are a few conditions with which you should avoid physical exertion; including –
– your waters have broken (ruptured membranes)
– uncontrolled high blood pressure
– pulmonary or venous thrombus
– low lying placenta (placenta praevia) in late pregnancy
– intra-uterine growth retardation
– incompetent cervix
– uterine bleeding
If you do experience any pain during your pregnancy, early interventions are the key. Women often think that pain is a normal part of pregnancy but left unchecked it can become debilitatating, especially if this is not your first pregnancy and you are already trying to wrangle another child. As the body prepares itself for labour, the ligaments do become softer allowing more motion to occur. Exercise, particularly well targeted strength work, enables the muscular system to better control and stabilise general day to day movements.
Overall, regular exercise and strength training has many benefits during pregnancy. It helps your body adapt to the changes associated with pregnancy and readiness for labour. It also helps with your overall health and well being, and prepares you for the new loads and demands that will be placed on the body (and the mind) as a new parent.
But what do you do, when pregnancy is finished?
After pregnancy the best thing you can do in the early days is to focus on your pelvic floor. Daily!
For more things you can do as a new mum – stay tuned.