Transforming your pregnancy and post-pregnancy body, one safe move at a time.
Pregnancy transforms your body in more ways than one. Childbirth and parenthood are already an emotional rollercoaster: adding a changed body to this concoction can be quite dampening on that sweet post-birth elation. Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom and author of the acclaimed book ‘Exercise After Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best’ and the award-winning DVD “Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning’, speaks to Dreaming of Baby on the importance of appropriate exercise after delivery and the benefits of being fit.
Daniela GS: Good morning Helene, and welcome to Dreaming of Baby! We’re looking forward to discussing prenatal and postpartum exercise with you and to also get some tips on how to feel our best, as well as be fit, after birth.
Helene Byrne: Happy to be here.
Daniela GS: You are the founder of BeFit-Mom and also author of the acclaimed book ‘Exercise After Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best’, and the award-winning DVD ‘Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning’. What led you to pursue this career with determination?
Helene Byrne: The birth of my son was the catalyst. I discovered that even though I was very fit before and during pregnancy, that after delivery, I needed to go back to the very basics of physical conditioning. I took what I knew about Pilates, Dance, Yoga, and classic fitness training techniques to develop a system of rehabilitation for new moms.
What most people don’t realize, is that reconditioning after pregnancy is a lot more than doing ab exercises, and that most traditional ab exercises are actually dangerous after delivery. All new moms should start with exercises that realign the spine, and develop core strength and stability.
Most traditional ab exercises are actually dangerous after delivery
Daniela GS: Knowing which exercises are safe both during pregnancy and after is definitely of utmost importance. For those women who did not really follow an exercise routine prior to getting pregnant, are there any exercises that they can safely pursue?
Helene Byrne: Yes. With a low-risk pregnancy, moderate level cardio, like fitness walking is very beneficial. Studies show that walking just 20 minutes daily can offer measurable health benefits to both mom and baby. Basic strength training, as well as modified yoga and Pilates are great too. Pregnancy causes specific muscle groups to shorten, and opposing groups to weaken. So the best strategy, no matter what kind of exercise you might like best, is to choose exercises that counterbalance these changes. You can find out more about this at http://befitmom.com/how-pregnancy-changes-the-body.php
Daniela GS: And how does exercise during pregnancy help with labor and delivery?
Helene Byrne: Fit moms tend to have shorter labors with far fewer complications and interventions and bounce back a lot faster too.
Fit moms don’t experience nearly the same rates of C-section, tearing, episiotomy, etc. and so are ready to resume an active lifestyle much more quickly.
Daniela GS: So in connection with this, does being fit in pregnancy lead to a shorter recovery period post-birth?
Helene Byrne: Fit moms gain less fat during pregnancy so that’s a big plus as there’s no need to “diet” once baby is born. Fit moms don’t experience nearly the same rates of C-section, tearing, episiotomy, etc. and so are ready to resume an active lifestyle much more quickly.
Daniela GS: That’s very positive to hear. So in a way, being fit can also prevent incontinence issues later on? Are there any specific exercises that moms-to-be can do to prevent this?
Helene Byrne: Absolutely. To prevent chronic urinary stress incontinence, women should build both strength and elasticity in their pelvic floor muscle during pregnancy, particularly in the 3rd trimester. It’s much easier to connect with these muscles, and learn how to contract and release them during pregnancy, then after childbirth.
Right after delivery, the pelvic floor muscles are weaker and often traumatized. Remember, your abs get 40 weeks to stretch out, while the pelvic floor undergoes significant strain in a matter of just hours. So in the first weeks postpartum, it can feel as if there’s “no there, there” when new moms try to resume Kegels. Runners and others who enjoy high impact/high intensity exercise are at much higher risk for developing urinary stress incontinence and even uterine or bladder prolapse if they go back to these types of activities too soon. It’s very important for every new mom to gradually ramp up the intensity of their workouts after pregnancy.
Daniela GS: Very true; for a new mom, it can feel as if there’s a whole new anatomy to deal with! For those suffering from sciatica pain during pregnancy, what would be your advice for easing discomfort whilst at the same time trying to stay fit? Experiencing sciatica can be quite limiting, so I’m sure our readers would appreciate some tips.
Helene Byrne: Most injuries of this sort are due to a lack of dynamic stability, which is the inability to maintain proper form during movement. After pregnancy, all women have a weaker and longer abdominal wall, and most importantly, have laxity in their connective tissues and ligaments (due to pregnancy hormones). Laxity can last for up to 6 months postpartum.
All new moms should resume exercise with postpartum stability exercises that build core strength and realign the spine.
This makes the postpartum body inherently unstable, and yes, it is like having a totally different body. That’s why all new moms should resume exercise with postpartum stability exercises that build core strength and realign the spine. Then once this foundation has been re-established, they can progress to exercises that challenge the core muscle to function properly (again) as stabilizers. Best yet, this is the quickest way to flatten the abdominal wall and close the mid line after pregnancy too.
For pregnant women dealing with sciatica, other types of back pain, or pelvic instability, there are two very effective prenatal core stability exercises that can be done up to delivery on page http://befitmom.com/diastasis-recti.php
Daniela GS: The famous mid-line! Are there any ways by which diastasis recti can be prevented? Are there any specific exercises that moms-to-be can do during pregnancy or is it something that cannot really be avoided?
Helene Byrne: To prevent diastasis recti, also called abdominal separation, women should build and maintain as much strength as possible in their deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis, or TvA. The TvA is our body’s internal “corset” and when contracted compresses the abdomen, which reduces mid line strain.
Also critical is to avoid all moves that place tensile (stretching) and shear forces on the mid line in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. This means no moves that flex the upper spine against the force of gravity, like crunches, moves that twist the spine (this places shear forces across the mid line), and all moves that make the bump bulge away from the spine. So this rules out many common fitness, yoga and Pilates moves, including yoga style “belly breathing.”
When rising from the floor or getting out of bed, all pregnant women should use the “log roll” technique to prevent mid line strain. The diastasis recti link above has a video demo of how to do a “log roll” during pregnancy, as well as a lot more info on diastasis recti during and after pregnancy.
Daniela GS: I’m sure our readers would greatly appreciate this advice as abdominal separation is a concern for many. A final question if I may, for those moms concerned with their weight gain during pregnancy, and the feelings associated with seeing your body change so drastically, do you have any words of wisdom for them to relate to, now and in their postpartum?
The best strategy for managing prenatal gain is to eat a high-quality diet that matches your individual metabolism.
Helene Byrne: Seeing the scale rise and rise is tough for most women, regardless of their starting weight or fitness status, and is particularly hard for those who have struggled with weight and food issues. The best strategy for managing prenatal gain is to eat a high-quality diet that matches your individual metabolism. If you do this, then you will only gain a few lbs. of extra energy storage, which will be utilized during breastfeeding. For women who start with a BMI between 18.6 and 24.9, matching metabolism is ideal. For women who start with a BMI below 18.6, then you want to eat slightly above your metabolic balance point, and start right away, in the first trimester. For women who start pregnancy with a BMI above 25, then eating slightly below their metabolic balance point (this is NOT going on a ‘diet’) will dramatically lower a range of risk factors, and significantly improve maternal and fetal health.
Metabolic formulas are tricky during and after pregnancy, as you need to track rate of gain with starting BMI and week of gestation, which is why I published the Perfect Pregnancy and Postpartum Pounds App, so that all women, no matter her size and fitness level can gain the ideal amount of weight during pregnancy, to ensure the best start for baby. You can find out more about prenatal weight management at http://befitmom.com/perfect-pregnancy-pounds.php.
Daniela GS: Thank you for your time today Helene, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and gaining indispensable insight into exercise during pregnancy and after; your advice will be helpful to many.
Helene Byrne: Thanks for the opportunity.