With the recent return of Spring, I have felt my energy coming back to me. YAY! I have sudden urges to go for a run and can’t wait for biking season to start. My relationship to exercise and my body has always been tricky. I often wonder if my renewed energy and active ambition around this time of the year are because I really feel more motivated to move or because summer is around the corner and I have been so conditioned to think I must get ‘’bikini’’ ready.
I am always careful about how I talk about exercise with folks who are pregnant or recently had a baby. The body might have changed during the process and it can be a sensitive topic for some people. With that being said, exercise is great and encouraged during pregnancy and after birth once you have rested and recovered. But be mindful to listen to your body – rest until you feel ready, take it easy – you do not need to bounce back or reach a specific goal. I can’t stress enough how this ‘’bounce back’’ culture can be detrimental and doing too much too soon might just end up creating more struggles in the long run. Focus on exercises that you are familiar with during pregnancy. It should make you feel good – it’s not a competition.
I compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of 5 reasons why you should exercise during pregnancy and postpartum that have nothing to do with weight:
1 – To ease birth
If you watched my Instagram live with pelvic floor physiotherapist Nancy last weekend, you know that it’s important to tend to our pelvic floor during pregnancy. You want to optimize your pelvic floor as it will help you when it’s time to push if you deliver vaginally. And don’t think that a caesarean section can’t be supported by a healthy, strong pelvic floor too. First, as mentioned by Nancy, the pelvic floor goes beyond the muscles you squeeze when you do kegels. It will be affected by the incision performed during the surgical procedure because it is in fact a surgery. (This isn’t meant to diminish surgical births – they are just as powerful as vaginal births) Being active before birth can help you recover faster.
2 – Help your posture & make room for baby.
During pregnancy, you want to make sure you focus on keeping a nice posture. If you sit a lot or tend to slouch forward, it tucks your pelvis and creates less room in there for baby to move and engage in the optimal position for birth. Baby goes through a series of movement when they engage in the pelvis (called the cardinal movements) which they need room to be able to do. If you need suggestions, Spinning Babies is a great place to start moving with optimal fetal position in mind.
3 – To help postpartum recovery
The first thing your body will need after a birth, whether vaginal or caesarian is sleep, rest and nourishment. As you transition and settle in your new life with your new baby, maybe you will start noticing discomforts or pain that are persisting. Maybe you leak when you cough, you’re afraid to have penetrative sex again, you have diastasis recti, etc. Maybe you think this is normal and that’s what life will be like from now on….well, it is not! If you are experiencing any discomfort, I would suggest consulting a pelvic floor physiotherapist or professional who can help you. Your body deserves to heal and there is exercises to treat all kinds of postpartum conditions.
4 – For your mental health
Whether in pregnancy or postpartum, moving your body can be good for your mental health. It is not a cure-all and I encourage you to seek professional support if you experience peri or postnatal mood disorder. But a healthy routine that includes exercise can be beneficial for your mental health. It can be a great opportunity to get some alone time to focus on yourself after baby’s here. Again, it’s not about achieving a specific goal so listen to your body and focus on things that you enjoy doing. Exercise during pregnancy and postpartum should feel good, not add stress.
5 – To connect to your body
Pregnancy, birth and postpartum are miraculous things that your body does. Maybe you are not used to your body changing so fast. Maybe you can’t do some things you were able to do easily before. Or, maybe it doesn’t feel like your body belongs to you anymore because it’s used to nourish another being during pregnancy and to nurse. Perhaps, you’re overwhelmed by the new sensations. Exercising is a great way to reclaim your body, ground into the physical experience and get used to stay still even when experiencing uncomfortable sensations. Be creative with your movement practice, dance, include nature, etc.
Remember, exercise during pregnancy and postpartum shouldn’t feel like a punishment. Have fun with it and keep it simple – yes short walk and slow yoga counts! Seek out some help if you are unsure of where to start or you need support. You don’t have to endure leaking or pain forever. And your body is amazing just the way you are. Your child will not care if you are ‘’bikini’’ ready but they will notice if you prioritize yourself and model self-care.