I’ve wanted to share this supremely exciting news on the blog for, well, just over 6 months now. Things are changing, FitnessOnToast is quite literally expanding; I am pregnant (not just gluttonously engorged)! Amidst the COVID lockdown and what can only be described as an ‘atypical yet unforgettable’ year, I found myself wanting to withdraw from the stresses of this deeply unnerving world, (quite literally by switching off the TV around the house, and escaping the social media maelstrom in my hand), and instead simply focus on pouring all the best ingredients into the little miracle growing inside me. Whilst I gained professional qualifications in the ‘pre-and-post-natal’ space a decade ago, I’d never been that ‘baby person’ who simply loves holding, cuddling, looking after babies. In fact, in my youth they once seemed rather monotonous to me – eat, sleep, nappy, repeat. My view has long since changed, and during this time I’ve been reading books on babies voraciously, and it turns out they’re actually pretty remarkable little contraptions! (I’ll share some of my favourites from the reading list at the bottom). This post is intended to share just a few of the key reasons as to why I believe it is worth continuing your training into pregnancy & beyond, and is relevant for both women considering starting a family, and for their partners to be aware of too – it’s a team sport! Click MORE below for the thoughts, and do feel free to ask questions in comments if there’s anything I can help with…
Pre & Post Natal
One subject which has however always fascinated me is the way in which the female body carries a baby. This is no trivial undertaking, the changes that take place throughout each trimester and the body’s ability to revert to ‘normal’ afterwards is truly amazing. Having worked with dozens of women as a Personal Trainer throughout their pregnancies, it’s clear that everyone I speak to experiences a different story and journey; pregnancy is far from a cookie-cutter, forecastable process. Some fall pregnant as soon as they start trying, whilst others navigate long and complicated journeys. Some had planned it, others were uncertain. One thing they all had in common is an overwhelming want to do the best and provide the best for their babies; to optimise the pregnancy process! I’m often surprised by how little women, in general, seem to know (or want to know) about the changes that growing a life inside of you bring, both anatomically and emotionally, as the different stages of the trimesters unfold. Often some women I’ve seen appear torn – on the one hand, they want to train, but they’re gripped with fear that training might adversely harm their baby. When I embarked on this journey for myself, I wanted to share with other women what I know, and help others stay healthy and confident in their own training. However, it was the first time I could really relate to the fear I’d had described to me over the years…
Parking that fear (for now at least), there are countless benefits for training during pregnancy – everything from mental health boosts through the dopamine and serotonin production of a gym session, helping with the delivery and of course with recovery. I’d love to share how you can make that journey confidently too. To help arm you with the knowledge of what’s happening to your body every step of the way. So, this is a first little post listing some of the many benefits of training during pregnancy, with a few pregnancy shots we took on a long walk in Kenwood to memorialise this magical time for me…
Benefits of training during pregnancy?
I’ve often been told by people to ‘take it easy’, to cut back on or avoid exercise during pregnancy. However a substantial corpus of research and strong evidence now exist to suggest that not only can exercise be safe during pregnancy, it can actually have a positive effect on the health of both mother and baby. But when you hear the ‘take it easy’, ‘don’t train’ by people and it can feel confusing. Ultimately you have to listen to your own body, and operate within the envelope of your personal comfort; if you produce heaps of cortisol for days on end by fretting about having harmed your baby from a set of gentle lateral raises, then adapt your activity down to comfortable yet useful levels; a long aerobic walk will still yield serious benefits. So why train at the prenatal stage?
Prenatal benefits include:
1) FITNESS LEVELS: Training during pregnancy maintains general fitness levels and improves cardiovascular fitness, whilst there are countless bodily changes occurring (for instance, mother and baby’s circulation systems are inter-mixed through the placenta). Blood volume running through your system increases by up to c.30% near term, as well as stroke volume and cardiac output – all changes to bear in mind and tailor training to accordingly, staying active will keep up you cardiovascular fitness which will help you through delivery as well as post-delivery recovery.
2) BLOOD PRESSURE: It can reduce the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), as by keeping active and doing some physical activity each day, your body better regulates its blood pressure within the normal range. Complementing this with a balanced diet and keeping your salt intake measured will also help to regulate the risk of high blood pressure.
3) WEIGHT GAIN CONTROL: during pregnancy the body will exhibit an increase in fat storage and therefore weigh gain will unfold naturally, due to the growing baby within. How much weight you should gain during pregnancy will be based on your body mass index (BMI) which will be measured before pregnancy and should be calculated by a qualified midwife.
4) REGULARITY: Training eases constipation – during pregnancy the levels of progesterone increase which relaxes the smooth muscle tissue in the walls of the digestive organs, leading to an impairment of their function. All of which can affect digestion, heartburn and constipation. Training has been shown to alleviate this effect.
5) SLEEP & MOOD: Personally I’ve always found that when I’ve been active during the day, my mind and body are both more likely to fall into deeper sleep more easily. I’ve written extensively on the importance of sleep here and here. During pregnancy, where many people find their sleep patterns interrupted by the baby kicking and moving (myself included), I found days when I’ve exercised that I sleep far better. Needless to say the serotonin boost from exercise does wonders for the mood too, even if your training for the day is a simple walk through a park.
6) POSTURE & MUSCULAR PAIN: Training when pregnant will help to improve posture and can reduce back pain too. Aside from enlarged breasts (as the body prepares for lactation) which can lead to rounded shoulders, the body is also experiencing the increased weight of the bump and the forward-shift of the centre of gravity. This is pretty radical, as you’ve spent your life learning to balance in a certain fashion, and that is now out of date information for your brain! On top of this, the effect of the hormone relaxin creates laxity of the ligaments in the vertebral column and the weak abdominal muscles which are able to give less and less support the back/core with each trimester. It’s therefore especially important to train correctly and help ensure correct postural training.
7) RISK REDUCTION: Training during pregnancy may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and caesarean delivery – Gestational diabetes is usually improved by exercise as the exercise improves the body’s insulin sensitivity and therefore increases the muscular and other tissues uptake of glucose.
8) PERCEPTION: It increases body awareness and generates an improved self-image, as well as leading to renewed energy, a sense of euphoria and a boost in the ‘feel good’ factor. Some women worry they might lose their bodies through the changing demands of pregnancy, but training is proven to help maintain and renew it, so keep on going!
That’s just a start, there’s plenty more to discuss around the postnatal period too. More to come over the following months as we dig into this fascinating topic a bit more, from a health and fitness perspective, flavoured with a little Swedish-style insight into this domain!