When you ask a mother what the most important moments of her life are, for sure one of her answers will be giving birth to her child(ren).
Carrying a growing, human life inside of her for several months and then bringing that precious baby out into the world is one journey that is both memorable and life-changing. And while a woman's body is designed for pregnancy and giving birth, it is still key to prepare it for these important events.
For this month's Q&A, we talked to Merritt Clubs Towson's Heather Jordan about the importance of exercise for helping to alleviate pregnancy pains, for labor preparation, and for postpartum recovery. Heather is an NSPA certified Postnatal Fitness Specialist and is a mother of two.
How did you decide to specialize in pre/postnatal fitness training?
The decision came mostly from my own experience being pregnant and postpartum. And I should say right away that I was not a lifelong “fitness person.” I had only joined the gym about a year and a half before I became pregnant. It was actually because of that that I felt like I needed to train so that I could have the confidence to go through labor. And once I did that, I realized how important it was. Now I see that I want to help other women grow in their confidence. So when I became a trainer I knew I wanted to work with that population.
And it’s also been a joy to share with the women in their journeys…to be able to walk with them in the early stages of labor or calm their nerves when they start to set in, visit them in the hospital, answer all sorts of funny questions about their body postpartum. It’s just an honor to be a part of that.
"Private time" doesn't look the same after having kids. Why would you expect your body to?
What is the biggest misconception about fitness during postpartum?
There’s not some magic date where you’re suddenly not postpartum anymore. Once you are postpartum, you are always postpartum. So that’s one misconception, that it’s a small window when it really is a lifelong window.
And then the second misconception is related to that, and that is just the cultural expectation around postpartum bodies. Somehow it’s the mark of success for women that they erase the physical signs of the biggest change that has ever happened to them. And some well-meaning people might compliment you and say, “Wow it doesn’t even look like you had a baby!” In the rare case that that is actually the truth, it doesn’t speak to all the other things that are going on: The hormones are still regulating, the sleep schedules are still erratic, you’re still healing muscles that you never knew you had until you went through pregnancy. So part of what I work on with women is helping them love and respect their postpartum bodies.
So what I’d like to see is just some better support for women postpartum and what the expectations are of them. To change what that mark of success looks like.
How do you help prepare a pregnant woman for labor and help ease common pains associated with pregnancy?
Labor is all about the three B’s: belly, back and butt. We strengthen the muscles needed for the pushing part of labor and we also strengthen what we call the deep core - the muscles that are closest to the baby. This is helpful for pregnancy but also for postpartum recovery.
As far as alleviating pains, many of the daily exercises I do with my clients will help ward off any of those pains, but if the inevitable discomfort does crop up, we’ll work on specific stretches for that woman’s body.
Believe or not, this is a core exercise! Keep everything "zipped up" while adding new ranges of motion.
How intense should the workout of a pregnant woman be? What’s the limit?
A doctor should always be the authority on workout intensity because it varies from woman to woman. But also the woman’s fitness history before being pregnant plays a factor. So it’s not the time to try heavy lifting for the first time, but if it’s an exercise that you’re comfortable with, you can continue it and modify as needed, which will constantly change throughout the pregnancy. Typically we avoid exercises that cause the belly to push out, as in the case of planks or crunches. And when we’re doing cardio we want to be able to keep a conversational level.
Any tips for women who (1) are pregnant, (2) just gave birth, (3) are trying to get pregnant?
For pregnant women, you wouldn’t want to run a marathon without prepping for it. So you should treat labor like an athletic event and actually train for it.
For women who just gave birth, my tip is allow yourself that time to heal and, going back to those cultural standards, remember it took nine months to grow another human inside your body. So just because your doctor clears you at six weeks doesn’t mean that you’re able to just go back to everything that you used to do.
In fact a lot of women try to work on their abs right away and the thing that’s more important to work on is the connective tissue between the abs. Because the connective tissue is what’s stretched to make room for the baby. So we’re really working on a cellular level. And when we’re changing your cells, that takes time. So just give yourself some grace and some time to work on these small daily movements.
If you jump into exercise too quickly, you might actually develop a pelvic floor dysfunction and you’ll end up having to back off the intensity while that heals. So just give yourself the time to naturally progress.
For women who are trying to get pregnant, it’s never too early to start on these deep core exercises to be able to put you a foot ahead for the upcoming body changes. But also if you never become pregnant, these exercises are important as you move into older age, for women and men.
Two out of three smiling is the best we can hope for!
Heather Jordan is a mom of two and a certified personal trainer who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum fitness. She trains one-on-one with women and runs quarterly information seminars for moms and moms-to-be. Get all the information and exercises you need for this phase of your life:
Saturday, September 15 at Merritt Clubs Towson
$40 for members, $50 for non-members
Postnatal: 9:00am, Pregnancy: 10:10am