By Victoria Soroczynski
There’s a wealth of scientific research on the physical and mental benefits of regular exercise. The advantages of the right type of movement can endure throughout pregnancy, as well as help to prepare your body for all types of birth, and bolster baby’s development to boot.
When you’re exhausted, nauseous, or haven’t seen your toes in a few months, exercise can feel tough, and the physical and hormonal changes you’re going through will no doubt demand some adjustments to your usual workout routine.
As a new mom and a certified pre- and post-natal movement specialist, I’ve been exploring some expert-backed tips for movement during pregnancy and postpartum…
Benefits for mom and babe
Regular movement is a proven stress management tool, lowering blood pressure, improving quality of sleep, and even contributing to the reduction of potential complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Babies benefit from it, too! Research suggests that the placenta is healthier in moms who exercise, and that babies whose moms exercised regularly throughout pregnancy had more advanced motor skills and reduced risk of childhood obesity.
Movement in pregnancy is there to help you feel good, maintain energy, facilitate the health of your growing baby, and prepare for labour, delivery and recovery.
Starting with the foundations is key...
Breath of life
Learning how to breathe optimally is the most important decision we can make for our own health and that of our babies. We want to move away from ‘chest breathing’ (common in today’s high-stress, fast-paced lifestyles) and get back to our natural way of breathing, which is diaphragmatic. Watch a baby breathe - you will see how the belly and the ribs naturally expand with every deep inhale and exhale.
Practising diaphragmatic breathing
As you breathe in, imagine the air not only expanding the ribs out to the side, but also gently inflating the lower belly and spreading down into the pelvic floor, allowing the breath to lengthen and open the pelvic floor. As you exhale, allow the ribcage, belly and pelvic floor to come back to their natural state. There is no active contraction here.
Core is key
Whether you’re planning a vaginal or C-section birth, having a strong core is key. It can reduce pushing time, decrease the risk of unplanned surgical interventions, and help you get back on your feet sooner postpartum.
But this is not about crunches or sit-ups (unless they are functional, like ‘sitting up’ off the couch). Instead, making sure that you are engaging your core correctly can help you to avoid injury-based diastasis (the separation of your abdominal muscles).
Many people think about their abs when they think about the core, but it is actually made up of the ‘inner unit’ (what I refer to as the ‘deep core’) and the ‘outer unit’. Think of your deep core as a box of four muscles: the pelvic floor makes up the base; the diaphragm is the top of the box; your transverse abdominis (TVA) make up the sides as they wrap around the spine for stability and run horizontally across the abdomen like a corset; and the multifidus are your deepest back muscles.
Practising Mana’s ‘Deep Core Connect’
This is one of the key foundations of all the programmes at Mana, an online platform that provides movement for all stages of motherhood. Start with diaphragmatic breathing as described earlier, except this time, actively contract on the exhale.
- As you exhale, visualise drawing the four points of the pelvic floor (a diamond shape) together as you lightly connect and lift the pelvic floor, zipping up the lower belly as if you’re trying to draw your hip bones together.
- Inhale, let the belly go, and image filling the ribs, back, lower belly and pelvic floor with air.
- Exhale – this time with an audible ‘shhhhh’ sound, as you lightly connect and lift the pelvic floor. Imagine that you are lightly drawing a blueberry up the vaginal canal – connecting to the lower belly, and drawing the hip bones together. Continue this way for a few breaths.
Think of your ‘Deep Core Connect’ as having levels - light, medium and strong. As you turn and bend over to pick up an empty car seat from a coffee table, you may only need a light activation of your core. But if you’re squatting down to pick up a 10 kg baby, you’ll need to ramp up that connection. Mana’s key foundations teach the various types of core connections for daily functional movements.
As your belly gets bigger, you’ll be glad you prioritised your core connections earlier! The weight of the belly pulling forward puts strain on the lower back. A connected core doing its job properly helps to hold some of that weight, and will go a long way in preventing common pregnancy dysfunctions such as incontinence, lower back pain, prolapse, injury-based diastasis recti, and more.
Prioritising your core before, during and after pregnancy is key, but don't worry if you're already far into your pregnancy reading this - you can still learn to activate your core correctly for postpartum recovery.
Fit for each stage
If you feel too ill in your first trimester, focus on diaphragmatic breathing and working on lightly connecting to your deep core. If you do two things during the first trimester, let them be breathing correctly and finding your deep core – both of these can even be done in bed!
Many women feel better during the second trimester, so it’s a great time for strength training to prepare for the demands of parenthood, like lifting baby and car seat, rocking baby to sleep, and breastfeeding, which can really take its toll on your posture.
Your third trimester requires modifications as pregnancy aches and pains may be ramping up and everything just starts to feel a lot harder! Now is the time to bring more awareness to your pelvic floor in preparation for birth. Supported deep squats are a great way to facilitate the release, softening and lengthening the pelvic floor as your due date draws nearer.
A common complaint at this point is feeling as if you’re not able to get enough air in, what with your organs shifting to accommodate the growing child. Try to breathe into your sides and back, and lift your arms up overhead while seated on a chair to help create a bit more diaphragmatic space and make breathing easier.
Listen to your body
Each pregnancy is different, as is every body. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, and modify or skip exercises that don’t feel good. Be mindful of how you move throughout your day, rather than just during those 30 minutes or so when you work out. And remember to take it easy: a little can go a long way during your pregnancy, and you don’t need to work out hard in order to feel and receive incredible benefits!
Note: Make sure to consult your doctor before starting an exercise regime, especially when pregnant.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victoria Soroczynski is the founder of Mana (Movement for Motherhood), which she created to help women prepare their bodies for a stronger pregnancy and faster postpartum recovery using the power of movement and breathwork. Visit www.movementformotherhood.com for more information or to get in touch.