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postpartum health

  • Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

    We all know exercise is important for our health, mind, body and soul. Some of us enter pregnancy in tip top shape and in no mood to slow down while others have had more of a sedentary life, perhaps due to the type of they work do and simply being busy. We all know we should take time to exercise regularly, but if you haven’t been an exercise buff before you were pregnant, chances are you are not super inspired to start exercising once morning sickness and/or pregnancy weight gain and fatigue set in.

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    The good news is that you don’t need to embark on exercise full throttle and begin extreme sports or sign up for marathons once you are expecting, but you can begin a gentle exercise regime that could do wonders for your health and energy. Pregnancy is a great time to try low impact sports such as swimming or water aerobics. Staying cool in the pool becomes a more attractive option as the weather heats up and with your basal body temperature naturally higher you are probably feeling even hotter than normal. The weightlessness of swimming and pool exercise can relieve achy joints and the back strains of a growing tummy. Even just a few easy laps in the pool if you are not a regular swimmer is a great way to start off. (BTW it’s a good idea to buy a maternity swimsuit if you plan to do any lap swimming. Don’t even try to squeeze into your pre-pregnancy swimsuit because it will not fit well and it’s not healthy for your body to be minimized or restricted while you are pregnant).

    Other low impact exercises include yoga and stretching. If you are doing yoga for the first time, then go slow and do not try a hot yoga class as they can crank the temperature up to as high as 106 degrees for 90 minutes which is not safe for pregnancy – your baby is cooking enough at your regular temperature as it is! Some gyms do offer a prenatal yoga class, so ask around for any local pregnancy exercise classes. Sometimes these specialty classes are advertised at your OBGYN office and of course you can google it for your zip code. Classes like these are fun as you get to meet other expecting women and you have the same body changes to work around and feel less self-conscious about exercising in a group class. You can laugh together while you stretch out the kinks and adjust yoga poses to your ever evolving pregnancy physique. These same women may end up being your stroller buddies and mom friends down the way after you have your baby.  (Do be careful to not do anything awkward or unusual that you are not comfortable with and take into consideration that your balance is altered with your shifting center of gravity).

    A new study showed that even light cardio (such as power walking) and hand weights in short bursts of up to five minutes about five times a day was even more beneficial than one long intensive daily routine and allowed for better recovery. Apparently this is a long held celebrity training secret that we just got in on! Simple five minute intervals up to five times a day can do wonders for lowering and regulating blood sugar which can climb during pregnancy and cause gestational diabetes. Regular light exercise can also lower blood pressure and resting heart rate which is also subject to rise during pregnancy.  Many women experience preeclampsia for the first time when pregnant due to the extra weight and physical stresses on their body as they progress in their pregnancy. Studies show that exercise can reduce the risk of developing complications such as preeclampsia and improve your overall circulation as well as reducing leg cramps, varicose veins and swollen ankles. Additionally, exercise helps strengthen back muscles that support your belly and helps alleviate aches and pains overall which is a huge benefit to your overall wellbeing and comfort.

    Although exercise can make you feel less energetic initially, if you stay consistent with it your body will adjust and you will eventually have more energy. Equally important, exercise will allow you to sleep better at night as your muscles will be more fatigued and that legitimate physical tired feeling will allow you to get to sleep faster. As a result of better rest you will feel sharper and more alert in the morning and less stressed so you can enjoy your day. It’s a complete 24 hour healthy loop cycle!

    Usually the first association many of us have to exercise is a means to sweat off extra pounds and rev up our metabolism so we can effectively lose weight without starving ourselves. While this is true and often a good goal for non-pregnant women, it is not the goal for pregnant women (although a slightly faster metabolism to help burn extra calories we are craving beyond the recommended weight gain is not a bad thing help keep weight gain in check). Pregnant women are supposed to gain weight and usually do so naturally without consciously trying to eat more. You definitely should not obsess over the scales while pregnant unless their doctor puts you on alert.  Weight gain during pregnancy is not always linear – you might lose weight in the first three months with morning sickness and food aversion and then find your belly has suddenly “popped” as well as your chest and appetite over the next four weeks in the second trimester. BTW expect a second “pop” in the last month of pregnancy, about the time you don’t think you can get any bigger, you do!

    One of the major ways exercise can provide an immediate benefit to everyone, but especially expecting women, is by increasing serotonin levels and balancing out mood swings. As we know hormones are in full swing when you are pregnant and often affecting everything from your diet and feelings of morning sickness to your self-image, mental outlook and emotions. By engaging in regular exercise you gain a sense of control over your body, emotions and positive emotional and mental outlook that may otherwise feel completely out of control. This sense of stability gives us a sense calm and balance which is priceless when you are experiencing daily physical and overall life changes at a breakneck speed.

    Achieving and maintaining a level of fitness during pregnancy also really aids in our postpartum recovery. The ability to stay within our healthy weight range during pregnancy and toning our muscles in the process with supervised light resistance training allows us to regain our energy much quicker postpartum and feel more like our pre-pregnancy selves. If you are tipping the scales with your pregnancy weight do not fear! Unless your doctor has prescribed bed rest or you have a high risk pregnancy then it’s not too late to start a low impact moderate exercise program from which you can continue to reap huge health benefits both during and after pregnancy.

    Do be sure to get your doctors sign off on any out of the ordinary exercise you plan to do during pregnancy (remember no horse riding, downhill skiing, bungee jumping, etc) and it’s recommended to run your exercise plans by your doctor in your prenatal visits, particularly if you have any elevated health risks. But, if you have the green light from your doctor, then get your blood pumping a bit and remember to hydrate!

  • Why the French Look so Fit so soon after Pregnancy

    Now we have new evidence not only why French Women don’t get fat but why they bounce back so quickly after having a baby compared to most of us in the United States and other countries.

    In most countries, the US included, women are often sent home ASAP after the baby, sometimes as soon as the next day following delivery. Once at  home women are left to fend for themselves for both caring for their baby, breastfeeding their newborn and recovering from birth both physically and mentally.

    In France, however, women see their gynecologist within the first month of birth for a full checkup and discussion session. They then routinely get twelve half hour sessions with a specialist in postnatal physiotherapy to rehabilitate their pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. This specialist also checks the abdominal muscles for any damage or separation caused during pregnancy and French postpartum women are then given exercises to tone them up.

    Many of us develop “mommy tummy” following delivery that oftentimes never fully goes away. This is the horizontal roll of fat along your stomach that hangs down in two sections if you bend over. The technical name for this is abdominal diastasis and it is often an indication that the abdominal muscles have not fully closed back together again after childbirth. This separation is caused during pregnancy when the front abdominal muscle that wraps around the baby starts to pull apart. In France this abdominal area is checked before women even leave the hospital and they are then given a set of exercises to heal the damage. In most places in the US, women are overlooked in this department and sent home fully oblivious to any damage caused to their abdominal muscles and pelvic floor during pregnancy nor are they given any instructions on what to do about it.

    Oftentimes women unknowingly exercise these stomach muscles too vigorously too soon after birth, like doing sit-ups or running (particularly if they used to be super fit before they were pregnant and are eager to resume their fitness routines), which further contributes to increased separation and damage of this muscle. In France women are shown how to strengthen their pelvic-floor muscles to close the gap and then introduced to more advanced abdominal exercises.

    Knowing this, it is a good idea to ask your doctor to check your abdominal muscles before leaving the hospital to determine if you have any separation and, if so, to understand the degree of it. It is common to have more of a problem if you have had more than one baby or if you had a big baby.

    If you do have a gap ask your doctor to prescribe for you some basic stretching exercises to help to begin closing this gap. Ask your doctor to show you how to feel the gap when you lie on your back so you can also monitor the progress at home.

    Even if we don’t live in France we can at least reap some of these postnatal benefits by educating ourselves on what they are doing so well. We can also speak up to our doctors for the same rehabilitation advice so we can be healthy and happy postpartum and lose the "mommy tummy" for good!

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