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July 26, 2016

Exercise is often put on the back-burner in winter, but when pregnant or recovering from birth it’s important to keep it up. We look at three different low impact classes sure to get you excited about moving again.

As the cold, damp weather sets in, the motivation to head out for exercise can become scarce, especially when running on a baby’s schedule means just getting out of bed is an achievement in itself. But given the  benefits exercise has on mood and general wellbeing, it’s well worth mums making the effort. There is a range of low intensity exercises perfect for pregnancy and postpartum, and for those times when you just can’t face heading outside. Often, classes will involve your new baby, and some even incorporate a coffee group post-exercise. We talk to three specialist exercise practitioners about the benefits and positive effects of yoga, Pilates, and aqua aerobics.

Yoga

“Anyone can do yoga, regardless of their current fitness levels and prior experience,” says Gabriel Shannon, a specialist yoga teacher at Auckland Pregnancy Yoga. After she experienced the benefits of pregnancy yoga in the birth of her second child, Gabriel trained in pregnancy yoga to share knowledge and the great experience she had.

She says yoga is the most effective exercise in creating “birth fitness” and benefits mums both physically and mentally. The positives of this low impact exercise can include stronger back muscles to avoid back pain, the opening of the pelvis and can even aid in the positioning of baby ready for birth. But one of the most important aspects is the creation of pelvic floor awareness. Gabriel says it is one thing to be able to lift and hold these muscles, but another to be able to release them during birth, and yoga helps you to learn this difference.

With its gentle and conscious exercises that unite breath with movement, yoga practice can create many psychological benefits too. The focus on breath is incredibly calming, and aids in better sleep as well as the regulation of your mood. “Day-to-day we only use around 30 per cent of our breath capacity,” says Gabriel, “and yoga encourages you   to use your breath to the fullest.” The unity of breath and movement practised in class will become instinctive, and allow you to use your breath to its full benefit during labour.

In the period after giving birth, low impact exercise becomes even more important as pregnancy hormones are still present and this makes your body more susceptible to injury, especially if doing the wrong type of exercise. Gabriel suggests returning to yoga roughly around six weeks after birth, or closer to eight weeks after a Caesarean.  Some postnatal exercise will often focus on returning to your pre-pregnancy body shape, but with yoga there is a focus on healing and “toning the body from the inside out”. Gabriel explains, “Yoga will tone from the pelvic floor outward to the abdominals, with conscious and slow movements of the muscles.” Many postnatal classes, including Gabriel’s, welcome baby and toddler as well as mums with two little ones or those pregnant with their second. This creates the perfect opportunity to bond with your baby while doing something that’s just for you.

Pilates

During pregnancy your body undergoes a massive amount of change in a relatively short period of time and this can cause a variety of problems as well as a lot of niggling pain. Rebecca Dodson is a physiotherapist who co-runs LETO, a Pilates and physiotherapy clinic specialising in pregnancy and postnatal exercise, with business partner Stacey Law. The classes at LETO aim to help women understand the changes going on in their body, and equip them with the skills to minimise potential problems and pains.

Before taking a class, mums will undergo a general antenatal assessment to check for any pregnancy-related issues. If they’re experiencing any difficulties with their pregnancy they will receive a special screening. This is so the instructors can create a safe exercise plan that will also work on healing their problem issues.  Pilates and physio classes are a great general form of low impact exercise, but are still incredibly effective in targeting common issues with pregnancy. Stacy says, “Women come to classes at LETO with anything from back and upper neck pain, to carpal tunnel syndrome.” She says most often experience great relief from these issues. The low impact exercises tone and strengthen the body while teaching how to use the muscles needed for birth, especially the pelvic floor and abdominals.

 

They need to take some time out to heal their body and create that fitness; not just for themselves but for their whole family

Rebecca says getting back into exercise postnatally is all about timing. “It’s waiting for the abdominals to knit back together and finding your old muscles again.” Some people, in their enthusiasm and haste to get their body back, can start before the body is actually ready. Rebecca emphasises that it is really important to take your time at the start. Postnatal sessions can often focus on creating a strong correct posture as constant feeding, and picking up and holding a growing baby can throw out your posture and  strain your back.

Often, mums can feel guilty for wanting to exercise after baby, but Rebecca says it is really important that they don’t. “They need to take some time out to heal their body and create that fitness; not just for themselves but for their whole family.”

She emphasises that far from being a luxury, exercise enables you to keep up with all that new motherhood brings. As with many postnatal classes, those at LETO welcome mums bringing their new babies if they don’t have childcare.

Aqua Aerobics

Exercising in the water offers a great low impact option for expectant mums. Carmel Barnao is a registered nurse and owner of Aqua Natal, and has been teaching aqua aerobics for over 20 years.

After training as an aerobics instructor, Carmel was frustrated with the large class size format, (numbers of up to 70 per class) and decided to start a class with much smaller numbers. Six months pregnant at the time, she wanted to create an antenatal aerobics class that used the benefits of exercising in water, and Aqua Natal was born.

“You don’t need to be able to swim to do Aqua Aerobics,” says Carmel. She says anyone can do it, regardless of their skills in the water. She has mums attending classes at all stages of their pregnancies, from 16 weeks right up to 40 weeks, and has even had some mums give birth on the day of class!

The water creates a very safe environment for exercise, unlike some regular types of exercise that can become unsuitable during pregnancy. The water is especially beneficial with the changes in balance a pregnant mum can experience, and the increase in the relaxin hormone that loosens the ligaments in preparation for birth. “Mums-to-be also experience a great weightlessness, which comes from the buoyancy of the water and this is obviously a great benefit when pregnant,” says Carmel.

The pressure of the water itself is also a great help during pregnancy. It can assist with swelling by pushing the extra fluid back to the veins and kidneys, as well as freeing up back or joint pain by releasing pressure on the joints.

Carmel says it’s important to listen to your body while exercising. “Something that might work for you one week may not the next; no antenatal exercise should ever twinge or hurt.”

Carmel’s classes also have a big focus on networking, with all the mums who attend welcome to go out after class for a hot drink and a chat at the local café. This interaction with other mums is especially important, as both new and experienced mums attend and have the chance to share advice, tips and information.

Carmel says the mums get a lot of support from their classmates, and some of her past participants have been friends for over 20 years!

Once baby arrives, there is a wide variety of aqua aerobic classes you can take together, usually once baby is a few months old. These incorporate the benefits of postnatal aqua exercise for you, and begins the swimming journey for your new baby. 


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