Congratulations on your pregnancy! Pregnancy is a time when a woman reassesses her values on every level. At this time, many opt for a more holistic approach to taking care of yourself – body, mind, heart and spirit. It can be a magical transformation.
For many expatriate women in Japan, one of the first things they encounter is a stern lecture at their clinic about how they should only gain a ridiculously minuscule amount of weight. This causes of a lot of stress for women worldwide, especially now in the era of the media-hyped celebrity pregnancy. Check out FitPregnancy.com where amongst other tidbits of advice, you can get tips from a ballerina about prenatal workouts. I studied yoga and ballet for years, but I groaned at the cover photo of her doing a perfect arabesque while 9 months pregnant!
Putting aside a woman’s general desire to be healthy while she creates new life, sometimes there can be physical complications hindering the ability to exercise. It’s vital to get the ‘ok’ from your doctor before undertaking any physical activity, and many teachers will not allow pregnant women to attend class without a doctor’s note.
Once you do get that note though, hop to it! Exercise while pregnant is essential both for your physical and mental states, and farther down the road, your future health. A recent WSJ article, titled, “Bigger Postpartum Challenges Than Just Baby Weight”, delved deeper into the types of physical challenges that might creep up on a woman years after she’s given birth. Because many women are choosing to give birth later, spacing their children much closer together, and having twins more frequently (common for older mothers and in vitro pregnancies), it’s vital to take care of those interior abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. Or, as my prenatal Pilates teacher Hitomi called them, the “elevator muscles”.
After a woman gives birth, there are multiple issues—mental, physical (not to mention, oh, the baby to care for) that are compounded by the difficulty of finding time or energy to be active. It’s also very important to be careful to wait to do anything physical, especially if you have had a C-section or a split diastasis recti. It takes four to eight weeks after giving birth for this gap to close. Please check with your doctor first!
I asked a panel of local experts to share their expertise about how they work with women during and after pregnancy.
How can practicing yoga, Pilates or mindful movement help during pregnancy?
Yoga teacher Yuki Ganapaty, Manhattan Yoga Studio: During the first trimester, a pregnant woman’s body changes, primarily internally, and there is exhaustion and morning sickness. But when this finally passes, women can get back into doing light exercise for the remainder of their pregnancy. Practicing yoga is a very safe way to energize the body, and lighten the mental load. A major benefit of yoga is the emphasis on breathing exercises, which improve circulation of blood to organs such as the uterus. This helps deliver nutrients to your growing baby, not to mention the relaxation benefits that come with deeper breathing.
Pilates teacher Hitomi Matono: Pregnancy hormones loosen the joints, so it’s not time to work on flexibility nor intensify a workout. Pilates and yoga exercises help pregnant women strengthen their pelvic floor, which continues to weaken as baby and water weight increase, and helps stabilize loose joints in a gentle way.
Trainer Ryan Hurst, Gold Medal Bodies: During pregnancy hormones erupt, and practicing conscious movement through breathing, and mindful movements can help in both calming, and resetting some of those hormones. We were born to move, and continuing to focus on breath work, strength and stamina work through these movements during pregnancy, can help during childbirth and thereafter.
How can physical practice help after childbirth?
Yuki: Strengthening your pelvic floor and staying active during pregnancy helps women heal faster after the birth. I’m living proof that this works. After having twins, my doctor was shocked to see that my uterus was back to normal in one week! A more physically healthy mom, means a much quicker postpartum recovery, better breastfeeding, and a quicker connection with baby.
Hitomi: Since exercising produces endorphins, physical practice keeps the baby blues at bay.
Ryan: When you focus on creating a good habit of moving your body in a mindful way when you’re pregnant, it will allow you have a bit more energy for when Junior comes along. It can be difficult after childbirth to try and return to a particular state of health and body composition. We all know that when your little bundle of joy comes into your world, things often aren’t so joyful. Breastfeedings at all times of the day and night, and endless crying (from both your baby, and husband) don’t allow for proper sleep and abundant energy. Believe it or not, mindful movement can help reduce stress during those first couple of months, which will have flow on benefits for baby.