Pregnancy fitness questions answered by Dr Joanna Helcké
As part of my review for the Dr Joanna Helcké pregnancy fitness programme I was given the chance to ask Jo some pregnancy fitness questions.
It was great to be able to ask Jo questions and get answers from a real expert! I thought I’d share the answers as I’m sure there are some who have wondered the same thing! Hope you find them as useful as I did!
Does having had a C-section in the past affect how I should exercise when pregnant second time round? And is there anything I can do to prepare myself for a second caesarean section?
Having previously had a caesarean section won’t require you to modify your antenatal exercise regime per se. However, what it does mean is that you have insight into what it feels like having to both heal after what is effectively major abdominal surgery all whilst looking after a tiny baby. Add a toddler into the mix and things will be even harder.
With this in mind I would be thinking back to those early postnatal days and weeks last time round to remember what felt really tough and then seeing whether you could incorporate certain exercises into your current fitness regime which will “proof”your body and help you through a second round of healing.
Keeping the body generally strong throughout pregnancy is bound to help with recovery. Pregnancy affects posture, of course, but after a C-section the pain caused by the incision is liable to also affect the way you stand – it is only natural to hunch the shoulders forwards when experiencing pain. So working on keeping the back muscles strong in pregnancy will also help when recovering from a C-section.
In the early weeks you will need to take things very gently and your stamina will, no doubt, be adversely affected – that’s when a flight of stairs feels like a mountain! So maintaining a reasonable level of cardiovascular fitness right up to the end of pregnancy – think swimming and power walking – will help tide you over the healing period and hopefully you’ll be able to bounce back more quickly when the time is right.
Last but not least, although having a caesarean means that the pelvic floor muscles (PFM) don’t undergo the trauma of a natural delivery I’d definitely encourage you to get used to doing pelvic floor exercises correctly and through a full range of movement. What I mean by this is that you need to not only be able to draw up on your PFMs but also relax them fully. Once you’ve had your C section you can start up with the PFEs immediately and this encourage the flow of blood to the area, thus helping with healing.
I live in a tropical climate: should this have an effect on exercise in pregnancy?
General advice is that it isn’t a good idea to get overly hot when pregnant as this can, according to some research, have an adverse impact on your growing baby. If you’ve been living in the Seychelles for many years then perhaps you have acclimatised and don’t find yourself getting quite so hot in the tropical weather there..? Or perhaps it still feels pretty hot and sticky to you (I spent all my childhood in Italy but I never got used to the boiling temperatures and high humidity in August!). Either way, I’d bear this in mind when exercising: don’t overheat, make sure you drive lots of fluids and don’t do your workouts in the full sun. Think cool shade or when outdoors stick to swimming – the water will help take away excess heat from your body.
What is your most recommended exercise for pregnancy?
OK, well I am a great one for believing that there is no such thing as a one size fits all approach. So instead of telling you about the wonders of swimming, aquanatal, pregnancy Pilates (which is what I specialise in), walking or pregnancy yoga, I’d rather say to you that you should do what you genuinely enjoy and what makes you feel HAPPY. All those types of exercise are, indeed, really great options in pregnancy but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything else is out of bounds.
Now I’m going to add a few caveats to that, the first one being that you should always listen to your body. So if, for example, running has always been your passion and if jogging during pregnancy leaves you feeling energised, positive and niggle-free, then by all means, make that your exercise of choice. But if, on the other hand, you find that you are forcing yourself to carry on (perhaps for fear of losing your fitness levels) then you are doing the wrong thing. You need to stop and do something else that suits.
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So, in short, although my gut instinct is to tell you that pregnancy Pilates is particularly beneficial for a whole host of reasons (back pain, posture, keeping the abdominals toned…) I also feel that on condition that you listen to your body with honesty, then there are many other options that will keep you feeling happy, healthy and fit.
Are there any pregnancy exercise myths you’d like to dispel?
Oh my goodness, where shall I start?
-That “moderate exercise” means the same thing for all woman – of course it doesn’t! We all have our individual baseline fitness from which we should measure “moderate”.
-That weight training is somehow dangerous to perform in pregnancy. If you have excellent technique and were already lifting prior to pregnancy then by all means, carry on!
-That the pelvic floor muscles are best worked in isolation. Nope! Recent research by Dr Bruce Crawford (of the Pfilates technique) highlights that the pelvic floor actually works much more effectively if contracted alongside certain movements such as squats, cat stretches and lunges.
-That yoga is THE ultimate exercise to do in pregnancy. No it isn’t. There are lots of forms of exercise which are equally excellent for pregnancy and which all provide their own unique benefits. Yoga is great for posture, breathing for labour and relaxation; walking is fantastic for stamina; Pilates is amazing for back pain and rehabilitating the post-pregnancy tummy muscles; and swimming is a total godsend in the last trimester.
Do you want me to carry on….?!
Dr Joanna Helcke is an expert in pregnancy and postnatal fitness, winner of the UK’s most prestigious fitness award – the 2014 FitPro Award for Excellence in Fitness – and creator of the UK’s first week by week online pregnancy and new mum Pilates programme. www.joannahelcke.com
Thanks Jo for answering my questions!