I have been in the fitness industry for over ten years, the last three years focusing on pre and postnatal rehabilitation and fitness in particular. Through my experiences I have noticed there is a significant lack of information available for women during this time, (or perhaps more a lack of direction on where to get trusted information), and as a result a lot of confusion around safe exercise.
The physical benefits of exercise include managing weight gain during pregnancy, increased stamina to help with labor and better breath connection. Strengthening the core (Pelvic floor, TA and glutes), knees, back and chest to help with the shift in weight load, reducing the risk of back pain and injuries. Postpartum fitness can significantly improve recovery.
Exercise can be such a powerful tool to help manage moods and depression. I believe even more so during pregnancy and postpartum when women are often lacking in self esteem while experiencing changes with their bodies. There is also often the additional pressures of pelvic floor dysfunction and other health issues, and a feeling of ‘lack of control’ over their bodies.
Safe exercise has the ability to empower women.
I see postpartum women who have complications that could have been prevented or minimised with the right information, such as diastasis recti (exaggerated ab separation) which often leads to pelvic floor dysfunction and or lower back pain, significantly effecting their quality of life. Some of these women have not done any exercise, perhaps for fear of doing the wrong thing or lack of knowledge of the benefits, and unfortunately some have been doing incorrect exercise. Despite their best intentions, this has actually caused problems or made their symptoms worse.
The '6 week check up' postpartum should not be used as an indicator to get back in to pre-baby workout routines. Every pregnancy and recovery is different and 6 weeks is not a realistic time frame for most to have regained core strength and function. Without adequate time to heal our core we put ourselves at significant risk for injury.
I note there is no need to be qualified in pre and postnatal fitness as a personal trainer (or group fitness instructor) here in NZ and I consider this very concerning for our community.
It is really important that we keep the conversation moving. Safe pre and postnatal exercise is so beneficial. One of the difficulties in giving broad guidelines is that every pregnancy and recovery is different and the individual experience and abilities are varied. The research on appropriate exercise pre and postnatal is constantly changing as womens fitness becomes more of a focus. In the three years I have been dedicated to this niche, opinions on specific exercises have changed dramatically and what was largely considered unsafe before (for example a plank) is now more about managing symptoms and finding an effective way to perform the movement or modification. Individual connection is the key.
Removing fear and confusion is the first step in making pre and postnatal exercise accessible. Basic guidelines are available - although they are not ideal, and of course can't be right for everyone, they are somewhere to start! There are plenty of trainers, like myself, that are dedicated to changing how we approach pre and postnatal fitness. Pelvic floor health is gaining more and more attention in the fitness industry and we are becoming more open about sensitive issues. I hope that we are able to empower women to have the confidence and courage to ask when they have questions or concerns and the knowledge that they are not alone.
If you are experiencing any leaking, any concerning pain especially in the core, or not feeling a connection with your core in your current exercise postpartum please seek advice - there are classes available specifically to help you!
Lisa is a new mum to a beautiful baby boy. Her experience in pregnancy and postpartum has allowed for a greater understanding of the role pre and post natal fitness has in ensuring a quicker recovery. She is very knowledgable in safe exercise to promote a healthy functioning core (including pelvic floor and diaphragm) and a maintained quality of life postpartum.
Registered 'Pelvic Floor Safe Fitness Professional' (Incontinence NZ, 2018).