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Not Your Mom's Prenatal

My mother was a prenatal yoga instructor in the 1980s. As a child I remember quietly watching her teach from the next room. She led women through gentle stretches, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques. It was SUPER GENTLE. There was no sweating, no grunting, and no muscle burn. While I think a little TLC is beneficial and necessary for the pregnant body, I am glad times have changed!  Pregnant woman can now exercise at a more vigorous level and it is not only proven safe, but beneficial for mother and baby. Pregnant women are now encouraged to continue with moderate cardiovascular and strength exercises throughout pregnancy. It is a great way to stay strong, manage weight gain, decrease stress, and grow a smart and healthy baby!

A study conducted last year discovered that woman who exercised for 20 minutes, three times per week during pregnancy gave birth to newborns with higher brain activity. Another study in 2011 showed that mothers who continued regular cardiovascular exercise throughout pregnancy gave birth to babies with stronger hearts (slower heart rates with more variability). More and more mothers are deciding to stay active not only for themselves, but for baby as well.

This winter I had the privilege of working with an exceptional group of women.  My prenatal Mind Body Mama class was full of mamas who were not afraid to break a sweat. In fact, they were asking for it!  We tackled everything from circuit training to kick boxing to yoga. I never saw a group of pregnant mamas so committed to staying active. It was inspiring, and a clear sign that times have changed since my mom's approach to prenatal fitness.

Melissa, one mom in the group, caught my attention as she executed military push-ups with perfect form… 30 plus weeks into her pregnancy. Melissa is a prime example of an active woman who is keeping her fitness level in check safely and effectively throughout her pregnancy.  I had to ask her a few questions about her approach to exercise.

Here is what Melissa had to say:

What was your fitness routine like before pregnancy? 
Before pregnancy I worked out 6 days a week, with usually one day of rest or light cross-training, such as yoga.  Most days I would run for 45-60 minutes and incorporate 10-20 minutes of a light arms and shoulder work out.  I also tried to have 1-2 days a week of high intensity circuit training or a kickboxing class.

What your fitness routine like now that you are pregnant?
I am 32 weeks pregnant and I am still running (well, jogging about 2 minutes slower that my pre-pregnancy pace) 45 minutes 4-5 days a week and doing 10-20 minutes of a light arms and shoulders.  I also practice prenatal yoga once a week and participate in Meghan's fantastic prenatal fitness class once a week!

Did you have a similar experience during your first pregnancy?
My first pregnancy was a lot harder, I wasn't used to carrying the extra weight while running and I wasn't as strong.  Although I was able to keep up running and working out until the week I delivered, I had to cut my distance and time a lot earlier in the pregnancy and I struggled with sciatic back pain.  This time around, I spend a good portion of my day chasing and carrying around a 26lb nearly two-year old -- which has definitely helped to keep me in overall better shape. 

What do you feel are the benefits of staying active while pregnant? 
The biggest benefit is how much it improves my mood.  If I wake up feeling tired, nauseous or emotional -- running and working out always leaves me feeling 100X better and with great energy to keep up with my day and my toddler son.  Additionally, staying active helps manage my weight gain throughout my pregnancy.  I never see unexpected weight gains at my doctor visits and I manage to stay within the recommended healthy range.  I also found with my first pregnancy, the "baby weight" came off pretty quickly.  I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight within 4 months.

How do you stay motivated while dealing with the physical changes happening in your body?
Since I have stayed active during my first pregnancy, I know how much exercise benefits a woman during labor and delivery.  Keeping my legs and core strong throughout my pregnancy probably played a big role in my relatively quick delivery of my son (25 minutes!)   Whenever I'm feeling lazy or want to skip a work out I just think of this and power through at least some form of activity every day.  I also don't beat myself up when I have days that I need to listen to my body and skip a work out or take it extra easy.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for other pregnant women in regards to fitness?
No matter what form of exercise you choose, just find something you enjoy and can do for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.  It's a wonderful escape from the various emotional and physical pains we feel being pregnant.  And keep reminding yourself -- staying fit can really help lead to a healthy labor and delivery for both you and your baby!

Great words from an experienced mama! I agree: aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. If you were NOT active prior to pregnancy, you may want slowly integrate it into your lifestyle, or find a trainer with prenatal experience to guide you. Don’t be afraid to break a little bit of a sweat! And always honor your body when you need a rest. Happy exercising, mamas!:)

25 Mind/Body Tips for the First Year of Motherhood

My baby turned 1 last month. (Sigh) I look at her and cannot believe how fast she has grown from a helpless newborn to a curious little person… It is pretty awesome to watch her figure out the world.
Here I am, 31 years old, and I am still figuring things out! When I look back at the last year I realize that motherhood has sculpted me into a more powerful, focused, and driven person - A healthier person. I have learned a lot about my physical strength, as well as my mental capabilities. Motherhood is quite a challenge! I thought I would share some things I have learned over this last year in hopes that it may help others on a similar journey.

1.  My body is more powerful than I thought.
2.  Kegals work if you actually do them.
3.  Breastfeeding does help take off baby weight. Especially if you do it on demand.
4.  Nap times are prime workout times.
5.  Working your transverse abdominis is the best way to flatten your belly post pregnancy.
6.  Just 20 minutes of exercise can make you feel less tired when you are sleep deprived.
7.  Its okay to say "I'm too tired to work out today." Just don’t say it every day.
8.  Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) is not something to mess with! Avoid deep twists, back bends, and uncontrolled ab work. Hire a qualified trainer if you are unsure what to do…that would be me.;)
9.  Make a priority list, and put exercise towards the top.  The things at the bottom of the list seem to stay there for a while. Organizing your closet can wait.
10. Babies love doing squats with you. Include baby in your workout.
11.  Having a good jogging stroller is key. You can work out AND keep baby happy.
12.  Having a supportive partner makes a huge difference, but even the most supportive partner cannot read your mind. Speak up when you need something.
13. When you are feeling overwhelmed step out of the room and take some deep breaths. The moment will pass.
14. Keep only healthy snacks in the house. When hunger strikes at least you can eat gilt free.
15. 20 minutes of yoga before bed can make you sleep better... even if baby wakes you up 2 hours later.
16. Get outside for a walk (with or without baby) even if it is cold. Staying in all day is not good for the soul.
17. Find ways to be with other moms and babies. Knowing you are not the only one in "baby world" can give you strength. Try my Mind Body Mama class!
18. Read your body. If something hurts don't do it.
19. Whenever something seems challenging remind yourself what it was like to give birth (and/or recover from it).
20.  Upper body strength increases as your baby gets bigger. Welcome to the gun show.
21.  Don't focus on the weight for the first year. It's all about eating healthy and staying active. Your body will respond accordingly.
22.  Just when you think you have it figured out your baby will change things up, so don’t get too attached to any one routine.
23.  Take moments to pamper yourself.  Something as simple as a long hot shower can go a long way.
24.  When you want to give up think of your baby. Can you do it for them? Regular exercise means mommy is happy and healthy. Plus it sets a good example for the little one.
25. You CAN return to pre-baby body.  You have to believe it to achieve it.

Ladies, meet your Pelvic Floor

Let me just preface this by saying this is for ALL the ladies out there! Young, old, single, married, mamas, and grandmamas…

In the past, I hated using the words “Kegel” and “pelvic floor.”  When I was teaching classes I would get a little embarrassed when I had to talk about the pelvic floor and I could feel my students tense up because they were feeding off my energy.  The only thing I hated more than talking about Kegels was doing them! I could feel my pelvic floor contract, but I didn’t know if it was actually helping in any way. I am the type of person who wants to see results.  I need to see my arms become more defined or my tummy shrink.  With pelvic floor exercises there is nothing to see.  It is all about feeling. 

When did my perspective on pelvic floor exercise change? After I had a baby… sometime between the treadmill and the bathroom...I noticed my pelvic floor was not holding up the way it was supposed to, and I realized I should have been doing these funny little contractions more often.  My midwife was SO right when she told me I should be doing 150 a day.  So I started doing them, and now at 9 months postpartum, exercises like running, jumping jacks, and burpees are no longer a problem.

Don’t stop reading if you are not on the baby making journey! Performing Kegels (named after Dr. Arnold Kegel who was a pioneer in pelvic floor work) has helped women, with or without children, improve incontinence at various stages of life… as well as improving the frequency and intensity of orgasms. Score

The pelvic floor muscle is like a hammock that holds your organs in place.  Running, jumping, and giving birth can cause these muscles to weaken, allowing your organs to shift around. This puts undue pressure on your bladder. No one wants shifting organs or pee-pee pants, right?  Below are a few exercises you can do anywhere to help keep everything “down there” in great shape.

Before you begin, let’s find the pelvic floor.  Imagine you are stopping the flow of urine mid-pee (Don’t try to do this when you are actually going to the bathroom. It can cause urinary tract infections!). That pulling up sensation is what you are looking for.  Another helpful way to think of it would be to imagine an elevator rising up from the space between your urethra and your anus.  The elevator is lifting. Not lowering! You should not feel your thighs or abdomen working while you perform these exercises.

The Hold
Sit in a comfortable position. Take a big breath in.  On your exhale pull up and in on your pelvic floor muscles.  Your hold may only last for 3 seconds when you are starting out, but with time you should be able to hold the contraction for a 10 count. Repeat 5 to 10 rounds.

The Sprint
Sit in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath in.  On your exhale contract your pelvic floor in short pulses 10 times.  Repeat 5 to 10 rounds. 

I'm Not Fat...Just Pregnant

“I'm not fat...just pregnant...” This became my mantra over the last 9 months. What happens when a personal trainer who works almost exclusively with weight loss clients faces her own pregnancy weight gain challenge? Like many women, I struggled with the idea of gaining weight during pregnancy. Seeing my body change was stressful at times, but alas, I knew it was a necessary part of motherhood.

Maybe I was lucky to have the added pressure of being a trainer. I had an image to uphold. Gaining too much could have been bad for business. I didn't want to let my clients down, BUT ultimately it was not my work life that helped me stay on track. It was the health of my baby girl that seemed to keep me motivated...even when all I wanted to do was sleep and eat ice cream.

I'm due any day now, and by maintaining healthy eating habits and exercising regularly I gained 30 pounds with this pregnancy (not too little, not too much). This moderate gain is good for baby too! Studies have shown overweight or obese mothers tend to have larger babies, and larger babies (over 8lbs 12oz) have a greater risk of developing diabetes and obesity later in life.  In addition, a mother who exercises has shown to have a fetus with a lower heart rate and greater fetal heart rate variability, which is a very good thing!

If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant here are some tips from my personal experience that may help you stay on track...

My Approach to Healthy Eating:

When you are pregnant you are eating for two, right? Um, not so much... More like eating for 1 and a tiny fetus... But, of coarse, many of us have been programmed to believe that as a pregnant woman we are entitled to eat as much as we want when we want it, and everything from ice ream to pickles are fair game. In reality you only need about 300 extra calories a day. That's the equivalent of a small afternoon snack. I really had to fight against the misconception that I was "allowed" to indulge every step of the way.

The other factor working against me was hunger. I was definitely hungrier than my pre-pregnancy self who could get through a work day living on coffee, fruit, nuts and salad. During my first trimester I found myself ravenous every couple of hours, and specifically craving things like bagels and cookies. I even felt nauseous and weak if I didn't eat often.

How did I end up staying on track even when it felt impossible? I kept my focus on what was best for my baby. And what do you know, it turned out to be the same things that were best for me! I concentrated on intake of protein and nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. I tried to stay away from foods that had no direct benefit to my growing baby, such as processed foods, sugary foods, or anything with ingredients I couldn't pronounce. When I had a craving for something bad I would ask myself- "How does this help my baby?" and most of the time it worked. Not to say I never indulged. I definitely had my fair share of Ben and Jerry's, but I often opted for the frozen yogurt instead of the ice cream.

I aimed to eat the recommended 70 grams of protein a day (25 grams more than the recommended amount for a non pregnant woman). Protein is a building block for human tissues, so knowing that each meal was making my baby bigger and stronger was extra incentive get those 70 grams. Greek yogurt, protein smoothies, nuts, tofu, fish (in moderation) and lean meats where staples in my house. Every meal revolved around the protein. Just to give an example – one chicken breast has 30 grams of protein, so you can imagine that fitting 70 grams per day could take some extra thought and planning. Bagels are not a high protein meal, and therefore there was no room in my day for a bagel!

The next step was adding in the fruits and veggies to make sure I was getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. I started using what experts are now calling the “rainbow approach” to my fruit/veggie intake. With the rainbow approach the goal is to eat a colorful assortment of produce each day, from strawberries to eggplant, and spinach to sweet potato. Because I am not a nutritionist and am not always sure which foods contain which vitamins, the rainbow approach was a good way to insure the my baby was getting a little bit of everything.

My Exercise Routine:

Because I am someone who really enjoys staying active, it was not hard to make it to the gym or a yoga class. I know that is not the case for everyone, but I have to say, even when it was the last thing I felt like doing, I always came out of the gym feeling re-energized and free from the pregnancy blahs. I truly believe it helped to make my pregnancy go smoothly with minimal discomfort, making mommy and baby happier all around. I worked out 4 to 6 times per week during my entire pregnancy, with at least 4 days of 30 to 40 minute cardio sessions. Other days I added moderate strength training and/or yoga to the mix.

Please note: After the the first trimester it is not recommended to lay on your back, do extreme back bends, high impact exercises, intense core work, exercises in which you could easily fall, or perform any deep twists, so I made the appropriate modifications.

When I found out I was pregnant my heart rate monitor became my best friend. 140 bpm is the recommended maximum heart rate for pregnant women. For most people this is a moderate max heart rate in which you can break a little sweat and feel slightly out of breath. I highly recommend using a heart rate monitor for exercising while pregnant. That way the guess work is taken away, and you can get the optimum benefit out of your workout while insuring that your baby is safe.

While strength training, I kept the workout moderate by using light weight and high repetition sets (12 to 15 reps). That way I could keep my muscle tone without over straining my body and putting stress on my baby. As I got bigger and my balance began to falter, using the machines in the gym felt safer than using the free weights. Keeping my muscles strong greatly decreases the time it will take to get my pre-baby body back. I see it all the time. Women who stay toned during pregnancy take less time shedding the baby weight postpartum.

Like many women, yoga helped me to stay calm and focused throughout my pregnancy, but on a physical level it helped me maintain my core strength. The breath work is great for calming the mind and body, but is is also a key component to strengthening the transverse abdominis (the band of core muscle that wraps around the torso like a big thick belt). Keeping the transverse abdominis strong throughout pregnancy can help the pre-baby belly come back sooner, and can help prevent and repair a diastasis (separation) of the abdominal muscles. So taking deep yoga breaths on and off my mat has hopefully kept my core intact.

Looking back over the last 9 months I feel a sense of pride. I think of this experience as the first test of motherhood. Could I put my baby's needs before my own? Could I take care of my body to keep her healthy? Yes I could! Was it completely selfless? No it wasn't. There were definitely moments of frustration as my body changed, and my patient husband had handle many “I feel fat” situations. I will admit that I want to fit in to my pre-pregnancy jeans as soon as humanly possible. BUT overall it was the growing love for my baby that kept me on the healthy path. I could not have done it without her tiny presence.

And hopefully all this exercise and healthy eating will make for a easy labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery...Stay tuned for the postpartum blog post!

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