There is a lot of conflicting advice out there for pregnant and postnatal mums. Here, birth and yoga expert Rozy Kalliabetsos and fitness and yoga teacher Kate Coulson tell it like it is.
It is important to be fit when you are pregnant
Yes, but birth fitness is different. Being ‘fit’ to give birth involves training body and mind to soften and open, so we can let go during labour. That’s why pregnancy yoga is more helpful than exercise that focuses on building strength, which may in fact hinder postnatal recovery. Pregnancy exercise should respect your changing body – even walking with big strides or vigorous breast-stroke can cause painful pelvic instability. And cardiovascular training over-stimulates the adrenal glands, leaving you hyped and prone to anxiety.
Doing ab work in pregnancy is good for you
We do need to focus on our core muscles during pregnancy, but sit ups and crunches that strengthen and shorten the rectus muscles are not helpful. The aim should be to build elasticity into abdominal and pelvic muscles. This will ease your body through the different stages of pregnancy, prepare you for a better birth experience and enable a quicker postnatal recovery. The best way to do this is through belly breathing, which tones the deep muscles and calms the mind.
Toning your pelvic floor helps you give birth
As your baby needs to ease gently through the pelvic floor, it is more important to build elasticity than strength and tone into these muscles. An over-toned pelvic floor can prevent the cervix from dilating and the baby fully engaging in the pelvis. Much more helpful is to learn how to isolate different muscles and use breath to relax them. An elastic pelvic floor also helps the baby rotate through the pelvis.
All yoga is beneficial in pregnancy
Yoga which supports pregnancy and birth is different from normal yoga. Many yoga postures are contraindicated for pregnancy – inversions, prone, deep twists, lunges – and some styles of yoga, like hot yoga, are not advised. Many pregnancy yoga DVDs are designed for people already doing yoga, making the practices too strong for beginners. Pregnancy yoga should focus on alignment and avoid over-toning the core muscles. Look for a teacher who will help you prepare for a positive birth outcome. We recommend Birthlight classes.
If you have an established yoga practice, you don’t need a special pregnancy class
Having a regular practice definitely helps when you’re having a baby but simply adapting your normal practice is not enough. A pregnancy yoga class will guide safely you through the different trimesters, enabling a comfortable pregnancy and better birth experience. You will already know how important the breath is, but pregnancy yoga will teach you how to use it for birth and beyond. And the best bit? Meeting and sharing with other expectant mums and maybe making friends for life.
Your priority is to get back to normal asap after birth
Celebrity magazines tell us that the most important thing is to get back into your jeans. No. Your priority is your baby, and to take care of your baby you need to take care of yourself. Ideally, you should stay in bed for as long as possible – enjoying your ‘baby moon’ – but there are things you can do to start your safe postnatal recovery. Breathing techniques will help you relax and tone your deep muscles and stretching will ease any aches and pains. When your bleeding has stopped, you can begin gentle exercises that will help your body close and recover.
You should start working your pelvic floor immediately after birth
Women are often given a leaflet just after giving birth, advising them to start working their pelvic floor. But you should not even think about it while you are still bleeding or sore. During this time, you can use a technique called reverse breathing (part one of the reverse breathing sequence on the Rozy&Kate Postnatal Yoga DVD). As you breathe out, gently draw your belly towards your back and up towards your chest, helping to bring your uterus back into shape and prevent prolapse.
Your 6/8-week GP check means you can resume pre-pregnancy exercise
Most postnatal fitness programmes state that it is safe to resume exercise after your 8-week check. However, GPs use this check merely to ensure that there are no post-birth health complications and to screen for postnatal depression. There are things you can do from birth but it will be very different from your ‘pre-pregnancy exercise’. Appropriate postnatal exercise focuses on closing and realigning the body, breath and relaxation. You will progress to strengthening as you rebuild your core, but always working from the inside out.