Pregnancy is a time of real excitement but also anxiety and change in your body. Things that aren’t usually a problem can suddenly become one. One way to ensure you keep your body strong and functional is to include regular exercise with a specially trained teacher advising you. Why? As the body changes your normal exercise routine will almost definitely need to be adapted. It is also a good idea to add in movements that will build movement patterns for motherhood. The ideal time to prepare for postural changes, lifting, feeding and moving about with a baby is in pregnancy. It may not feel like it, but you have more time and head space when pregnant than after baby comes!
Top areas to focus on:
- Your core. This includes your pelvic floor, lower back, lower abdominals, waist muscles. Now you don’t need to be doing hard-core ab workouts (stay away from those) but you do want to strengthen these muscles in a kinder way. They need to be strong enough to support the growing bump, your posture changes and to support your pelvis. They also need to be able to relax for labour.
- Shoulders are the number 1 complaint I see in classes. Whether it is from desk working or carrying another child, now is the time to tackle it. Get some release work or massage in to complement the strengthening work. Start to work out where normal should be for your shoulders so you can listen to your body. Move within it’s range to prevent further issues. The moves we use in pilates are all about working within your normal range but also strengthening and improving it.
- Supporting your pelvis. Yes working on your core will help with this, but there is more to it. Your gluts and inner thighs are also key. So make sure you have some exercises to target these areas.
- Getting up and down to the floor. This is something you will need to do a lot with a baby so it is time to get practicing. Bending over is going to hurt your back. So instead lunging, hinging and squatting are your friends.
- Breathing. It destresses you, it helps your pelvic floor heal, it strengthens you. There are so many benefits, getting someone to watch you breath and correct you, could be the best thing you do!
Here are some simple core strengthening and shoulder focused moves you can do on a stability ball, chair or stood.
Diastasis Recti is also known as abdominal separation. Sounds pretty scary but it is actually very common and some research suggests it happens in all pregnancies, but for some ladies it may heal up before it is noticed.
Why does it happen?
The rectus abdominals are the tummy muscles that run down the front of the tummy, from ribs to pelvis. I like to think of these are being like a zip. There are 2 bands of muscles that run down with connective tissue called the linea alba in between. When you are pregnant this area has to expand to accomodate the growing baby. This means the tissues and muscles are stretched, hence this separation can occur. For some it may occur sooner in pregnancy than others which can be due to a whole host of factors. Your pre-pregnancy muscle tone, your collagen type, if you are hypermobile or not, your nutrition and your current exercise routine can all be factors.
What can I do to help in pregnancy?
During pregnancy itself there are things you can do to minimise this seperation.
- Keep your core strong. Pilates is an obvious option! Do make sure that any exercise classes you attend or DVD’s that you do at home are suitable for pregnancy and taught by someone who knows what they are doing. A weekend pre/postnatal course is not enough and yet that is often the level of qualification fitness instructors have. So it is worth having a chat to check their knowledge base out and question any moves you are not sure about.
- Breathing is a great way to activate your core and practice the skills you will need postpartum to help with the healing. Breathing into your ribcage, your back, your tummy and pelvis. Letting the breath expand you and your muscles relax. Then exhale from the pelvic floor upwards and your core should engage.
- Don’t overload yourself. Loaded moves like lifting or anything that makes you strain should be reduced. This can lead to pressure on that abdominal area. Always exhale on exertion.
- Log roll like a pro. When you get up from lying always log roll onto your side rather than sitting up. In fact any sit ups, planks, or intense core work should be stopped.
What can I do to help after baby?
Initially you need your rest, so don’t feel the pressure of bouncing that body back or jumping into exercise. Exercise is the last thing on the list for healing, read here for why. Instead here are 3 things to do:
- Deep breathing. Use that core breathing to help your core fire and relax (the video below has breathing tips), your pelvic floor engage and relax and to chill our your nervous system, read more on that here.
- Nutrition. Eating a diet with plenty of fibre to help your bowels work without strain, fluid to keep things moving nicely, protein for the connective tissue and muscle healing and fruit and veggies for those micronutrients and antioxidants. It all makes a difference.
- Posture. Keep on top of where your ribs, pelvis, shoulders and neck are. It is key. When breastfeeding, nappy changing and sleep deprived your body will start to round forward. Yet these rounded shoulders and slumped postures mean those tissues are saggy and it is harder for them to heal up. So take time in your day to correct your posture. Ribs over pelvis, shoulders down, neck tall, pelvis in neutral.
- Abdominal massage can be helpful. It is good to know how your abdominals feel and to give them some love! Check out my video on this here:
If you need some help then I offer a postnatal package of massage, assessment, breath work and nutrition tips, possibly movement if it is appropriate. You can contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org or book a slot in my diary here.
A session may include:
- Some yummy massage to release those tight areas in maybe your neck and shoulders.
- Some abdominal massage too to allow those muscles to let go and heal.
- A diastasis recti assessement.
- Teaching you about core breathing.
- Nutrition tips if wanted.
- Movement advice.
- Home care tips for what to do to help you heal.
Modern life is stressful. Fact. One of the questions on our screening forms is “If your life stressful?” I’m always amazed if anyone ticks no. I actually need to change that question as it does not really matter how much stress is in your life, the important thing is how you are dealing with your stress?
When we are stressed our sympathetic nervous system is working full on. This is the system that responds to a threat or when something big and scary comes along and the body needs to go into “red alert”. For example a car is hurtling towards you and you need to move, you have a huge deadline to meet or the children are shouting and you are trying to get out the door fast! It is often call the “Fight or Flight” response.
The sympathetic nerves arise from the lower and mid-upper back spinal cord. When it is switched on there can be tension all over the body. Some of the main responses that occur in the body are:
- increase in heart rate
- dilation the pupils in the eyes
- need to breath faster and more shallow breaths as the bronchioles dilate
- contraction of muscles – pumped and ready for action
- release of adrenaline from the adrenal gland causes you to feel on edge but ready to react
- conversion of glycogen to glucose to provide energy for the muscles
- decrease in saliva production: the stomach does not move for digestion, nor does it release digestive secretions.
- decrease in urinary output, no need to wee as often!
Other processes that are not critical to survival may shut down in the body, so the whole body functions differently. Now whilst this is absolutely needed in a moment of danger it is not a way we want the body to be working long term. If you are living under stress long term then it could affect your breathing, your digestive system and your muscle.
Whilst modern life is indeed stressful and you may not be able to change that… what you can do is to build in techniques to help your mind and body let go of the stress. I think this is vital to do and it’s certainly something I’m working on myself. I’m 100% lucky as I get to practise what I preach daily. Pilates is very much a way I destress. The breathing, mindful movement, the calm space and the concentration needed really calms me and grounds me.
Other great ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous are mindfulness (you can check out apps like Calm, Breathworks and Headspace), meditations (check out free ones online or try a class), a bath, massage, deep breathing and just more resting and crafting. How do you get your chillout time in?
Running is great for mental health, being outdoors provides fresh air, a new perspective and the pounding of your feet in a rhythm can help your thought processes.
However it is also known that the impact of running can elicit symptoms of stress urinary incontinence. That little bit of leaking that you get when you run, or the need to wear a pantyliner/pad is not how our bodies were designed to function and is a symptom that there is a bigger issue.
So should you run whilst you leak?
A review of 28 studies on continent and stress incontinent women showed the timing of pelvic floor activity in relation to movement was key. What does this mean? It means that co-ordinating your pelvic floor with your movement is crucial. This is something that comes with practice. Like any muscle the pelvic floor is one that needs training, but not just on it’s own via kegels. Don’t get me wrong, kegels are definitely useful and have a big role, but these need to be integrated into movement. So if your pelvic floor is not functioning properly when you run, it’s all about practicing moves to prepare for running using pelvic floor cues as well.
Does this mean you may need to stop running whilst you train your pelvic floor? Yes it may do, for a short period of time. Now whilst I completely understand that it is so hard to stop doing an exercise that you love and that is so helpful to you, there is a bigger picture to be seen. If you have the symptoms of leakage then continuing to put impact through a weak muscle can lead to it worsening. This could lead to prolapse, a condition where the pelvic organs descend… and you having to stop running for longer.
Think about it this way, if you had an injury in another muscle, such as a hamstring, then you would seek advice, possibly have some physio, work on exercises to rehabilitate and take time out from running whilst it healed. So why is the pelvic floor any different?
I’m running some brilliant courses that will help you get your pelvic floor up to speed.
Everywoman is a 12 week course with 6 weeks of in person classes and homework, then 6 weeks of online classes. Full support provided including some help with nutrition and stress regulation.
Next course starts in November
Athlete 12 is for you if your pelvic floor is already ok (no leaks) and you have already done come core work first. If you want to get stronger and fitter, it is a brilliant aid to improving your performance and having coached support without paying for a PT each week. This is a 12 week online course with workouts delivered to you and support from myself.
Want to sign up? Drop me an email email@example.com
Achey hips is something I’m often asked about. There are so many reasons why your hips can be hurting. If the pain is severe then you definitely want to go and seek medical advice. If it is a lower level muscular ache then check out my tips and video below.
The impact of sitting for long periods and standing out of neutral posture all adds up to extra pressure on the hips. Hip pain on the outside of your hip, upper thigh or bum is usually caused by problems with muscles, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues that surround your hip joint. Something is tight and out of balance. The body likes to be balanced and there are fascial lines that show us how it is all connected. A tightness in your hip could be related to how you sit and stand, but it could also be related to your shoulder. So it is worth making friends with your local sports massage therapist to get a good assessment and then you know what to work on. Having the area worked out in massage can then free it up for you to strengthen the surrounding areas and keep the tight part mobilised yourself.
So here are some yummy release moves that you can use to find those tight areas and start to work on them yourself. Or use these at the end of a busy day, before you get into an exercise session or between massage and pilates classes.
To book in for a sports massage do also get in touch.
Do some practice at home. Pilates is like learning a new language, the more you practice, the more you learn.
Now it is common sense that the more often you practice something the better you become at it. Therefore doing some Pilates practice between classes will help you massively. If you can practice lying in neutral and breathing, correcting your posture and a move that you enjoyed in class it will help. Check out our youtube channel for videos and sequences you can try.
Slow down and breathe, breathe, breathe. Pilates is a marathon and not a sprint.
Breathing is obviously something that we do all the time but we don’t always take the time to do properly. Focus on the breath going into your ribs, so they expand out to the side. The breath also expands your tummy and your back too.
I always talk about rib cage placement. In all posts avoid the ribs flaring out, instead bury them down towards your hipbones so the abdominals engage.
If your ribs flare up when you lift your arms or legs, concentrate on there being a heaviness on your chest and your core engaging more. It may also be you need to reduce the range of movement in your shoulders and legs.
Check in with yourself from time to time through your day. How are you standing or sitting? Are you shallow breathing? When you can only attend one class a week, it’s these daily tweaks that really help to make a difference”
A focus on your posture is so key. What you do in class is a tiny fragment of your week, so finding the posture cues you need to work on is totally crucial. Whether it is adjusting your head position or bringing your pelvis into neutral more often. It all makes a difference.
Self care is the new buzz word. Personally I love it. It is something I know I need to do more of. I work my body hard in the week running from clients to classes to clinics. I don’t always build in enough time to relax, never mind time to look after my body in the way it needs, but I’m working on it. One of my new years aims was to have a spa day this year. My older girl actually laughed when I said that… as in “that won’t happen mummy”, but thanks to a lovely friend turning 30, I’m booked on a spa day with some girls – YES. Jokes aside, I am totally lucky that I teach Pilates and can incorporate some self-care into the sessions I teach. Pilates has been shown to help with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety – why? It centres and focuses the mind in a similar way to mindfulness. I swear Pilates keeps my body working and my mind sane. Here are some tips on how you can make self-care part of your Pilates lifestyle.
Seen by some as a luxury (including myself for many years) I’m not meaning that spa aromatherapy style massage (though bring that on too). Instead it’s the the dig deep and release the tight areas kind of massage that helps fix your body. We all get certain, recurrent tight spots in the body. Often these are due to posture or over-using the body in certain ways. Either way a decent sport massage can make a big difference. When the tight muscles are released you can move your body in a new pattern. I know I have certain areas that would benefit from a course of massage treatments (hint hint) – you only get one body.
I’ve totally fallen in love with breathing this year. A lot of time devoted to studying this deeply has impacted my practice as a teacher and my own day to day practice. I find myself pausing at points in the day to breath and reconnect. Just 10 minutes of deep breathing can help calm your mind, work your core and ground you. My personal preference is to teach people to lie down in neutral posture and breath as it helps you relax into it with good posture, however this isn’t always possible in the middle of the day! So sitting on a chair with a high back, breathing into your back, sides and tummy with a relaxation on the inhale and engagement of the core on the exhale.
We all know too much sitting is not good for us. So building movement into your day is key. This doesn’t have to be a massive workout. Move your body in the way that feels good. I don’t think there need to be any rules, the rules confine people. Instead just know that moving is good for your body, your mind, your soul. Stretching after a busy day, changing postures at work, a 15 minute walk – it all helps.
There are times my body is just too darn tired to do a teaser and thats ok. On those occasions it is good to listen. It all depends on how in tune you are with your body. Is it your head telling you not to bother moving today and to sit on the sofa or is it your body letting yoou know it is tired, it needs a rest? We all need a rest day in our week, even God took time to rest in creating the world. I have weeks as a teacher when people turn up to class and they all look tired out. Those weeks we change the pace and although there will still be plenty of core work and a sneaky teaser, there will also be plenty of stretching and release work built in too.
Not something I’ve managed to do much of over the past few years, for which I blame my children 😉 There is so much research now showing us how important sleep is. To be fair it’s pretty obvious isn’t it. When we sleep it’s the time our bodies renew, replenish and restore themselves. So it’s a time of new growth but also a time part of us gets to unplug and switch off. If you are not asleep at night then your body can’t do all its jobs, you are just making it extra hard work! So commit to getting to bed and resting.
I cannot emphasis enough how key getting good nutrition into your body and nourishing it is. I’m totally biased, confession I’m a dietitian too… which means I have seen first hand how nutrition plays a vital role in healing and in health. Simple things like ensuring you eat plenty of fruit and veggies, stay hydrated and have your cupboard/fridge stocked with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, yoghurt, oats, nut butter to keep you out of biscuit tin on some occasions. I live by the 80/20 rule which states you eat healthily 80% of the time and you relax your approach 20% of the time. There is always room for cake!
However self-care works for you, try to build it into your week, your day, your life.
I want to woman to be able to breathe properly In a full 360° breath.I want them to be able to connect the pelvic floor, lower abdominals and feel their back expand as they breathe.In order to correct your posture work is going to need to be done.This is going to involve some release moves, possibly some soft tissue work.It needs to be a daily approach. What you do in a class needs to spill out into your daily life.It’s also really important to focus on you. Self-care cannot be underestimated. Finding ways to make yourself out of that highly stressed fight/flight state into the calm zen like parasympathetic nervous system is absolutely 100% important. This could involve meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, along path, or otherwise of chilling out. However you do it it’s important. If you are living in stress and tension you’re not going to be able to heal your body.
Since starting specialising in postnatal womens recovery I feel like I’ve discovered a secret sect. An un-talked about condition that is just normalised by ladies and it shouldn’t be. It has become something these ladies accept and life their life around. Why? Often I think life is busy, most of these ladies are mums and when you are a mum you are no longer at the top of the pecking order. The children come first, there is a lot less time for focusing on yourself and you learn to put up with those annoying niggles and problems.
Incontinence, leaking and those accidental moments should not be a normal part of life. Whether it be having to avoid the trampoline, “sneeze pee”, not being able to wait until you get in the door for the toilet or needing to wear a pad when you run, it is not how your body is built to function and it can be improved upon.
Maybe you have had some help in the past and it has not worked? Or you have squeezed your lady parts over and over with no improvements? Well it’s time to start over. Yes those kegels/pelvic floor exercises are important but if you are not doing them correctly they won’t work and there can also be other muscular imbalances in your body that are the sticking point. Our bodies are connected from head to toe, this means that your foot position and your neck position impact your pelvic floor! So if you feel you need a fresh approach then here are my tips:
- If you have any heaviness or dragging in your pelvic floor region go and get checked out by a womens health Physiotherapist. Yes this costs money but it is well worth knowing what is happening in your body. I recommend a Mummy MOT for ladies who want a once-over post baby.
- Be committed. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles like any other in your body and it takes time to see progress. However after a few weeks you should be noticing improvements. It takes work all of your week and not just the session you work with someone. I encourage people to do daily, focused work using the exercises we do in a session and to also focus on their posture as much as they can in the day, plus some dedicated breathing time. So you need to carve some time into your day to do all of this.
- It is NOT all about the work however. For some people it is all about the RELAXATION. Over-working a muscle leads to it being tight and weak. So if you live life in your stressed place the relaxation phase can be the key.
- Get your breathing assessed. Oh my days, so many of us do not breath properly and all kinds of funky things go on connected with this. It could be you are pushing down on your pelvic floor when you breath out and it needs a re-train.
- If you aren’t a fan of lying on your back doing Pilates moves then it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to incorporate your pelvic floor rehab work into variations of the exercises you like.
- Find a practitioner who you can work with, someone you like, who really knows their stuff, who has worked with lots of ladies with success and who you be open with. Facebook can be a great place to get recommendations. I work with women on a 1-1 basis and via the Holistic Core Restore courses.
Get in touch if you need to chat or to find someone who can help. Most importantly do not suffer in silence and get some support.