The Ins and Outs of Exercising During Pregnancy and Postpartum

My name is Lorna and I am the founder of Ur Mama Strength, Pre and Postpartum Fitness. I am a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach qualified in Pre and Postpartum Fitness and dedicated to empowering women through these chapters. I specialize in educating women about women’s health during pregnancy and also guiding them in their postpartum recovery. 

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We all know that exercise and movement is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle for long term health. During pregnancy, exercise is recommended and encouraged, and can be a huge outlet for some women. It is recommended to aim for 150mins of moderate intensity exercise a week, including two muscle strengthening activities. If you are not active prior to pregnancy, of course you can start exercising during pregnancy, but be sure to start slowly (i.e. a daily 10 minute walk) and gradually build up (i.e. to a daily 30 minute walk), provided you have your healthcare provider’s clearance to do so. Walking and swimming are both great ways to start, and then you can introduce resistance training under the guidance of a qualified prenatal coach. Regular exercise in pregnancy can help to manage excessive weight gain, reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, decrease the risk of high blood pressure, decrease the risk of low back pain, reduce postpartum recovery time, maintain physical fitness and improve mental health and overall well-being during pregnancy.
However, sometimes women are unsure how to safely approach exercise during pregnancy (and how to return to exercise after the baby arrives). Women worry if an exercise or movement is safe for them and their baby, and worry that they might push themselves too much, and often this can lead to them not exercising at all. Furthermore, some recommendations around exercise in pregnancy can be vague or misleading. Being told to “continue what you have always done” is not very helpful. If, for example, you are very active, run long distance, enjoy CrossFit or strength and conditioning classes, play football or camogie, then continuing what you were doing prior to pregnancy isn’t necessarily the best advice. “Listening to your body” is important but what should we be listening for? 
In general, exercises to avoid include activities with a risk of falling (i.e. skiing, horse-riding, gymnastics), contact sports that carry the risk of receiving a blow or falling (i.e. field sports), exercises that could cause abdominal trauma (i.e. Olympic lifting or activities that involve jarring motions or a rapid change in direction), exercises with extensive hopping, jumping, skipping and running, over stretching and traditional abdominal exercises (i.e. crunches, leg raises and twisting movements). Otherwise, during pregnancy and in the 4th trimester (the first 4 months after the baby is born) there are strategies you can incorporate into your exercise regime that will support your pelvic floor and core. Awareness of pelvic health and how your body is coping with the exercise you are doing should be at the forefront of pre and postpartum exercise (as opposed to just doing “what you have always done”). Gym classes can still support you and your pregnancy, but it is important to know what you are looking for in your body. Just because you physically can do something doesn’t mean that you should, and it’s important to keep in mind that what we do in pregnancy can support or hinder our postpartum recovery - “pregnancy is temporary, postpartum is forever”. What I try to teach my clients is to look at the WHY behind their training, assess the risk versus the reward and look at HOW they do an exercise and HOW their individual body copes with that movement, rather then what to do.
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Although it’s important to me as a coach to educate women about the changes in their bodies during pregnancy and teach them how to adapt their training to support that, it’s also important that I educate them about what to expect postpartum. Firstly, I strongly encourage all of my postpartum clients to have some patience and respect for their healing bodies and the amazing job it has done in carrying and delivering their little one. If approached the right way, women can eventually fully return to the exercise they love, but long term function is key and taking your time with your recovery will support that. Getting the all-clear at the 6 week check-up does not give you the green light to go back to how you were exercising pre-pregnancy. If all is ok 6 weeks postpartum, then it’s time to slowly start rehabilitating and rebuilding your body. It is gradual and progressive. Give yourself that time. Slow is fast in postpartum rehab and recovery! With regards to a return to impact sport, the current guidelines is 3-6months postpartum, but that can be longer for some women, depending on their delivery and recovery.
A lot of women also struggle at times during and after pregnancy with very common issues such as low back pain, pelvic and hip pain, toileting issues, pain or urinary incontinence and think they need to put up with it as a result of pregnancy or giving birth, but these symptoms are actually not normal and are not something you should just live with. I recommend all women to get a full mummy check postpartum with a women’s health physio. This will include a pelvic assessment, guidance on pelvic floor exercises to suit you, assessment of abdominal muscles, how they are functioning and a guideline of how to move forward. 
Overall, the best way to support your body during the chapters of pregnancy and into your postpartum recovery is to seek guidance from those qualified in the area. Knowledge is key and putting yourself and your body first is important for you as a woman and a mother. There are many fantastic qualified coaches and women’s health/pelvic health physios that can support you. I am always happy to chat and answer questions so feel free to contact me any time on Instagram or Facebook. 
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Contact Lorna via:
Instagram @urmamastrength
Facebook @urmamastrength