By Wellness Contributor Andy Broadbear (@yoga_bebe)
Exercise, pretty much like every other aspect of pregnancy, comes with a lot of conflicting advice. Incorporate exercise into your routine, but don’t start anything new. Improve your fitness, but don’t raise your heart rate. Build stamina, but not your core temperature. Increase your flexibility, but don’t overstretch. So, where do you start?
Depending on your level of fitness before falling pregnant, this will vary. For the relatively inactive, it’ll be about building an exercise regime that is gentle and gradual. For the highly active, it might actually mean pulling back. I found the latter quite challenging. I’d only recently discovered a love of jogging and having worked to reach a certain level of comfort (not marathon worthy I might add, but a milestone for me) I found the prospect of giving it up for a year, and potentially starting from scratch, frustrating to say the least. That’s not to say you couldn’t continue to jog through pregnancy - many do - but it felt weird for me.
So, what to do in its place? I have to admit that initially I was under the misconception that pregnancy meant everything had to be 'gentle'. Ironically, I’ve heard childbirth likened to running a marathon and you wouldn’t run a marathon without training! But no amount of what I considered 'gentle' exercise is going to prepare you for the equivalent of a 42km run. What I did discover, after two pregnancies, is that we women are tough, our bodies are tough and we were built to give birth. However, we need to give ourselves a helping hand and, like training for a marathon, it can be a hard slog.
Ideally, your routine should include activity to build strength, stamina, flexibility, breath control and emotional support – all the essentials for going the distance. Fortunately, these are all elements that yoga can offer.
Like any form of exercise in pregnancy, it’s not a good idea to start something new, but a prenatal specific yoga class is perfect. A class run by a qualified prenatal teacher should include all of the above elements, be suitable for beginners but support a strong level of fitness, and cater to all levels in the room. The added benefit of yoga is that you can start at any stage and continue all the way through pregnancy.
At 40 weeks, I had my gear ready for a 6am class and if it wasn’t for my water breaking on DDay I would’ve been downward dogging! If you happen to already have a strong yoga practice, there’s no reason why you can’t continue with a regular class provided your teacher knows you’re pregnant and is comfortable giving you modifications, so check beforehand.
In addition to your prenatal practice, the postnatal benefits are just as strong. Firstly, a regular yoga practice before giving birth sets you up for a potentially faster and more effective postnatal recovery. Plus, you can return to a gentle practice soon after birth, there are even exercises to support you within the first six weeks postpartum (look out for future blogs on this!).
I didn’t truly appreciate the benefit of a pre and postnatal yoga practice, despite my background and training, until I experienced it myself. It was this experience that essentially led me to specialise in prenatal yoga, to share this amazing secret with all mamas and mamas-to-be!
Whether or not yoga is your thing, the approach to your prenatal preparation should be the same. Listen to and get to know your body, and remember - what is good for you is good for baby.
For your postnatal recovery, slow and steady wins the race (apologies for the continued jogging analogies!). It took your body nine months to create a human, and it'll take some time to recover from this, so build up gradually. Some pre and postnatal approaches are below, and stay tuned next week for my fellow yogi Kate’s perspective on a complicated pregnancy and birth.
· If you're starting something new, make sure it's a prenatal class and work up gradually. In general, small regular sessions are far more effective than longer intense sessions.
· Monitor your energy levels, rest when you need to.
· Increase your hydration and eat smaller regular meals (helps with morning sickness, and blood pressure, or any issues such as dizziness, gestation diabetes and regulating energy levels)
· For the inactive, start gradually and build up slowly. For the highly active, pull back slightly and work to about 70-80% intensity – your goal is to maintain your fitness, not reach a peak.
· Find a balance between strength, stamina, flexibility and rest. Get to know your pelvic floor! (more on this later)
· Work both your body and mind because both will be challenged in pregnancy – breathing techniques and meditation provide valuable tools for labour and motherhood.
· Honour your first six weeks with bubs. Small amounts of exercise, like gentle walking, will be enough to get the blood flowing and promote healing, but allow yourself this time to enjoy precious moments with your newborn. If it’s your first, you’ll be overwhelmed. If it's not, then running around after a toddler as well will be exercise enough!
· Rest when you can – if you experience increased bleeding, back aches or pain, it’s a sign you’re doing too much. Call in all favours and lie down.
· Slow and steady is the key, if you try to fast track you’re likely to create unnecessary complications.
Follow Andrea on Instagram - @yogabebe