Carrying, birthing, and caring for babies takes energy and physical strength. Prenatal and postnatal exercise can be beneficial: 1) to help stay emotionally balanced; 2) to prepare for the physical endurance required for birthing; and 3) help one’s body to recover more quickly after birth. Exercise post-birth can be an especially great way to keep energy levels up to care for a new baby and to help stay positive. However, I know it can be particularly challenging as a busy mom who frequently travels with limited access to gyms and/or agreeable weather conditions to keep up a work-out routine. I miss my lake front path that is one block from my domicile in Chicago.
When I went into labor with my first pregnancy, I felt strong and prepared. It was very fast (my water broke, and the actual active labor to birth was about three hours long). I spent the little time I had before active labor walking, stretching, and breathing. In the end I had an all-natural delivery and felt healthy and well enough to go home the following day, and to help my husband prepare dinner at home for us and relatives that had come to meet Veda. I truly believe that by exercising during pregnancy, particularly focusing on prenatal exercise, I felt flexible, limber, confident, and healthy throughout my first pregnancy and after birth. I also experienced no joint or back pains throughout my pregnancy.
I would have loved to join a prenatal yoga or fitness class when I was pregnant, but was not able to as I am usually not in one place for more than a month or two. So, I had to figure out an exercise routine that I could do anywhere in the world. Before I conceived my first baby I ran a 5K every morning and did gentle stretching. I continued running into my early third trimester, after which my belly just became too big and cumbersome, so I opted for continued yoga, pilates, and stretching. If I was in a place with access to gym equipment, I did gentle jogging on an elliptical, and I worked out on the elliptical the morning that I went into labor. I find the prenatal work-out DVDs listed below particularly useful during travel, which I did frequently during both my pregnancies. I can watch these DVDs on my laptop or an ipad, and can do yoga and stretching anywhere I have floor space and without requiring too much equipment (some exercises call for yoga blocks or some light jump ropes- they can be packed or exercises can be modified to not use it). I generally like to mix up the DVDs of different intensity to avoid boredom.
The book Maternal Fitness: Preparing for a Healthy Pregnancy, an Easier Labor, and a Quick Recovery I find to be really useful and helpful, including exercises that are easy to do anywhere and on the go that helps strengthen all the muscles you need to prepare for birthing (the author compares preparing for labor to preparing for a marathon). It really focuses on strengthening the core and ab muscles, which are important for helping to push baby out and to keep them in use so they bounce back after birth.
It’s really difficult to find time to exercise with small babies and children whom require full-time attention. I’ve found this especially challenging as I travel frequently and do not always have reliable child care I can count on to escape for an hour to work-out. After my daughter was born, I simply did not have time to exercise between working and breastfeeding my baby around the clock. However, by the end of the third month after my daughter’s birth, my body was back to my pre-pregnancy state without working out, and I weighed less than what I did when I became pregnant. I think a combination of my prenatal exercise, vegan diet, and exclusive breastfeeding did the trick.
However, now as I am traveling three weeks after my pregnancy with my son ended at twenty weeks, I am finding it useful to get back into an exercise routine. It helps me keep my energy levels up and to stay positive during this difficult time so that I can continue being a good mother to my daughter, as well as to lose the pregnancy weight I had gained carrying him so I can feel like my self again. I am finding that it’s not coming off as easily since I am not breastfeeding a newborn baby around the clock; I still breastfeed my 14 month old, but mostly just at night in morning more for comfort for her than anything else. I try to get some running in here in South Africa if I am able to break away during nap time when my husband is around. There are also some great postnatal DVDs that can be used by moms during nap time anywhere floor space is available:
Additionally, there are some great resources online with lots of different and fun exercises that can be done along with baby. This is especially helpful when it’s difficult to find time alone, and can be equally fun for baby. There are lots of different fun exercises that can be periodically throughout the day while playing with baby anywhere one might be in the world.
A few important notes on safe and healthy exercise during and after pregnancy:
1) Every pregnancy is different, and every woman should to consult with her midwife or doctor regarding appropriate physical activity for her during and after pregnancy, of course. There are different recovery times after pregnancy, particularly in cases of C-sections, for example, and different conditions during pregnancy that may require. Pregnant women also need to make sure they do lots of stretching before and after exercise to prevent injury since everything is extra loose when prego!
2) Pregnant women need to drink lots and lots and lots of water as is- it helps keep momma’s body functioning well, and makes sure the placenta is getting enough oxygen to deliver to growing baby, and to help keep the amniotic fluid at good levels for baby to thrive, grow, and be protected in. Exercising can dehydrate us, so its important to drink lots of water when pregnant, especially before, during, and after exercise. Nursing mommas also need lots of hydration- it helps keep energy levels up, and helps keep the milk flowing for baby!
3) Exercise should not be used to lose weight while pregnant (unless that’s been recommended for some reason by your midwife or doctor), which can be dangerous for baby and mom. Exercise should be used to stay healthy, keep energy levels up, and prepare for the birthing process. Extra burning of calories in a normal, healthy pregnant woman means she needs to replace the calories she is burning to make sure baby and the placenta are getting all of the nutrients they need. So, that means if a pregnant woman is already eating an extra 300 calories because she is pregnant, burning another 300-400 calories through exercise means she needs to eat 600 extra calories per day- that’s a whole meal! Breastfeeding mommas nursing around the clock need about 500 extra calories each day to make sure her and baby are getting the nutrition they need, so even if you are trying to lose pregnancy weight after having baby, make sure you are eating enough nutritious food for you and baby, especially if exercising.
Please reply to this post with comments to continue a discussion about challenges and experiences of exercising and staying fit and healthy during and after pregnancy, whether traveling or not!