Exercise and Pregnancy: the last 9 months

So here’s another pregnancy post. I know, I’m sorry, I’m aware this is a running blog, and I’ve tried to keep it that way! But this huge thing has definitely impacted my running, and I thought perhaps that now we’re at the end of it all I could give you a run down of how I’ve found it….

 

Months 1-3: I could run as normal, and it took effort to slow down as I didn’t feel pregnant. In fact, because it was the tricky weeks 1-12, I made sure to implement the ‘run-walk’ to make extra sure that everything was fine before I ran properly.

 

Months 4-5: I could run almost as normal. My standard distance was 7-10kms, so not as far as I was used to, and my pace had slowed by  approximately 30-40 seconds per km. I still implemented the ‘run-walk’ to make sure I wasn’t pushing it, and towards the end of this period I could feel the little bub bouncing around at the start, only to settle into the rhythm. It was lovely to feel it, but as a sensation on it’s own it wasn’t pleasant (I never ran too far away from a bathroom!) and it didn’t make for easy running.

 

Month 6. Still pretty small, and running regularly.

Month 6. Still pretty small, and running regularly.

Month 6: Last month of outdoor running. I reduced the distance to 6kms at the most, with fewer stops, but a slower overall pace (it had increased by 60-90 seconds per km). There was a definite bump, and by the end of month 6, the start of each run was so uncomfortable that I didn’t want to go. Even though it was the middle of the UK Summer, which is suuuuuch nice running weather. The weight of the bub was increasing, and I could feel it on my pelvic floor. I started doing kegels like a crazy person.

 

Month 7-8: Gym time! I started my love affair with the gym, and totally cheated on outdoor running. My specialty was leg and arm weights (very light as they hadn’t had a proper workout since November), and the cross trainer for 25  mins. I went swimming as much as possible as it felt lovely and cool on my bump, and I knew that once the bub arrived, I wouldn’t be able to swim (or exercise) for 6 weeks at least.

 

Month 8. Working on muscles in my legs again, and getting my swim on.

Month 8. Working on muscles in my legs again, and getting my swim on.

Month 9: Aqua aerobics, the light weights, and cross trainer for 15 mins max. The bump was big, but not overly heavy, and it felt great to keep active. I noticed my hips were getting very stiff after a day at work, and exercise really helped loosen them up. Plus at this stage, I thought labour could still be an option, and the thought of going into it without ‘training’ terrified me! I wouldn’t run a 10 mile race without training, so why wouldn’t I prepare for labour too?

 

Month 9 and looking perplexed...

Month 9 and looking perplexed…

Looking back, there’s a gradual decline in activity, which makes complete sense. But at the time, because of the extra weight you’re carrying around, you don’t feel like it’s a decline, and I came into the latter months with fewer unpleasant side effects. Cankles only arrived three weeks ago, my hips started to ache only four weeks ago, and I never felt too tired to stop doing things that were part of my usual life. Mostly, this involves going to coffee shops and walking a lot. Walking from coffee shop to coffee shop 😉

 

Ellie B

Exercises for New Mothers

I was at a wedding the other week, and a friend had her gorgeous 5 week old daughter there. Whilst I was coo-ing and talking like an idiot to the child, my friend mentioned that since she had the bub, her core strength has disappeared.

 

I can only imagine how short-changed all you new mothers must feel. I mean, you grew a human child for 9 months and then pushed it out, and now suddenly you feel like you cant even run a few steps properly? So, like a good little blogger-friend, I have gone and done some reading, and will summarise my findings for her, and anyone else who is reading who has recently had a child and wondered where the hell their muscle strength has gone. At a time when you need to rally to keep it together. Thanks, evolution, thanks a bunch.

Darwin: the recipient of all evolutionary gripes.

Darwin: the recipient of all evolutionary gripes.

 

First of all, new mums should feel comfortable easing back into exercise as and when they are ready. Those who had an un-complicated birth can start light exercising right away, but remember that the child took 9 months to grow, so be kind to yourself in getting back to shape!

 

If you start to exercise, and you feel worse the day after, then you are pushing yourself too hard. Please always consult your doctor: I have done some research, but this is meant as a few suggestions rather than anything else. I am not a medical doctor. In spite of how many medical shows I have watched.

 

Pelvic Floor

It seems that the first muscle that should be worked after pregnancy (and during) is the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor stretches from the pubic bone at the front to the base of the spine, and acts as a sling to hold the bladder, bowel and uterus. This is the muscle you’d use should you stop your pee mid-flow (not recommended as being a good thing to do!).

 

Kegels are the way to make sure your pelvic floor stays nice and strong. Basically, imagine that you are stopping your pee mid-flow, and you should feel your pelvic floor contract. In the first few weeks after giving birth, do these on your back or on your side. Hold for 5 seconds, relax for 5 seconds, and of 5 reps. You can also try pelvic tilts:

  • Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent
  • Round your pelvis back so that your lower back touches the floor, and gently suck your belly button towards your spine
  • Hold for a few seconds, and do 10 reps per session, three times a day.

 

As you increase your strength, you can build up these exercises, holding them for longer each time. Your kegels can be done in various positions such as standing, sitting, and when you’re stronger, when doing other tasks such as walking. Some websites suggest using prompts to remind you to do your kegels: when boiling the kettle, or feeing your bub. The good thing about these is that they can be done very discreetly, as Samantha from Sex and the City taught us all many moons ago:

SATC

 

Core Strength

 

During the first few weeks of your child’s life, there’s no need to worry about strength. Give yourself a break! You’re already getting no sleep, and trying to fit in kugels around the feeding schedule.

 

However, by week week two or three, or even four, if you’re up to it, you can start to look at your core. A good beginners exercise for your stomach is this:

  • Lie on your side, and let your stomach relax
  • As you breath out, draw in your stomach like a corset and tighten your pelvic floor
  • Hold for 10 seconds and release

This is kind of like the pelvic tilt, but you’re giving your abs a bit more of a workout. You can also start to plank for short amounts of time to really wake that core up, and incorporate gentle push ups as well. If you experienced Diastasis Recti, then you shouldn’t do any stomach work, and please consult doctor before trying it!

 

The Plank. Great for your core.

The Plank. Great for your core.

 

From about week 2-3 you can start to do gentle push ups to get your arms engaged. As you pick things up off the floor, try to squat rather than bend from the waist. This will start to engage your quads.

 

To get your hamstrings and butt into gear, you can try floor bridges:

  • Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent, arms by your side
  •  Lift your butt off the floor by squeezing your glutes and engaging your core. Push your heels into the ground
  • Do a kegel, and hold for three seconds, at the top
  • Release and return your butt to the floor
  • Repeat 10 times and do 1-2 reps

 

Floor Bridge

Floor Bridge

 

Cardio

 

And now we can talk about cardio!! When you return to activity after pregnancy, cardio is the last thing you should jump in with. Work on the above muscle groups before you try anything crazy.

 

Immediately after the birth, you can start walking gently – maybe for 20 minutes at a time. Again, this is only if you feel up to it. As your strength and stamina increases, you can also increase the length and distance.

 

Running should only commence at least 6 weeks after you have given birth, and that is if your doctor gives you the go ahead. Your body has changed a lot over the past 14 months, and so running might feel very different. Runner’s World recommends starting with a walk-run programme, alternating one minute of walking with one minute of running fro 30 mins: so in total you have 15 mins running and 15 mins walking. It’s recommended to do this every other day to give yourself time to recover. After 8 weeks you can start to run for 20 minute blocks as long as you feel up to it.

 

As you increase your cardio, it’s really important to continue with your strengthening exercises. Muscles are weakened during pregnancy,  and you don’t want to get injured!

 

So that’s it! That’s how women who have just given birth can start to re-integrate exercise into their routine. Gradually your muscles will return, and you can start to run again. I imagine the endorphins feel amazing after sleep deprivation.

 

This is the kind of image Google provides when you type in 'new mothers exercise'. She's definitely got some kind of endorphin high there.

This is the kind of image Google provides when you type in ‘new mothers exercise’. She’s definitely got some kind of endorphin high there.

All the new mothers, please take care and be kind to yourselves! These are suggestions on how you could approach it, not a judgement that you should. And for all the non-new mothers, thank you for sticking to the end! These exercises are good for everyone who want to develop a stronger core, and if you’re a runner, it’s always good to make sure your pelvic floor is strong.

 

Ellie B

 

 

Sources

  1. Anon (May 2013). When Can I Start to Exercise After Giving Birth? [WWW]. Available from: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a196/when-can-i-start-to-exercise-after-giving-birth
  2. Bourne, A. (April 2013). I’ve just had a baby. How can I remember to do my pelvic floor exercises? [WWW]. Available from: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/x1014318/ive-just-had-a-baby-how-can-i-remember-to-do-my-pelvic-floor-exercises (Accessed 29th October 2014)
  3. Jhung), L. (30th August 2010). Up and Running [WWW]. Available from: http://www.runnersworld.com/womens-running/up-and-running?page=single (Accessed 23rd October 2014)
  4. NHS Choices (18th August 2014). Keeping Fit and Healthy with a Baby [WWW]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/keeping-fit-and-healthy.aspx (Accessed: 29th October)
  5. NHS Choices (13th January 2014). Your Post Pregnancy Body [WWW]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/your-body-after-childbirth.aspx#close (Accessed: 29th October)
  6. Shelton, S. (no date). Top Moves to Get Your After-Baby Body, Fast! [WWW]. Available from: http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/post-pregnancy/post-pregnancy-exercises/?page=1 (Accessed 23rd October)

It’s time to talk about Food.

 

There seems to come a time when all running blogs address the F-word: food. And now it is my time.

 

Recently it feels that I’ve talked a lot about food. My instagram abounds with pictures of chocolate, it feels like half our holiday pictures are photos of what we ate (yeah…. I am that person. Don’t come to a restaurant with me unless you’re happy for my camera to be an additional dining companion). I love food: I love the experience of eating out, the comfort of eating in, and the treat of a takeaway. My favourite foods are curry and chocolate, and I love a good wine to go with both.

Here is a plate of poppadoms. They weren't even the main meal. But I took a pic.

Here is a plate of poppadoms. They weren’t even the main meal. But I took a pic.

 

Food is a very sensitive topic for many people. Eating is something that literally everyone needs to do if we want to lead any kind of existence, and yet it often brings with it all kinds of associations and opinions. There’s nothing like someone drawing attention to what’s on your plate to make you feel suddenly very self-conscious, and these comments can often be weighed down with additional meaning, both positive and negative.

 

Like a lot of people, I had a complicated attitude towards food when I was growing up. Sadly, I think most people have a complex relationship with food at some point, and some people experience this more keenly than others (just as a side note, don’t you think there’s something cute about using the word ‘relationship’ with regards to food?). Right now food and I are in a good relationship. We get on well. It massages my feet at the end of a long day, and I take the rubbish out cos that’s its least favourite chore.

Full plate for this Bride please.

Here are food and I on the happiest of days.

All joking aside (and I do amuse myself with these stupid jokes!), the key for me has been to recognise what my preferred eating habits are, and then make sure it’s healthy and balanced. My favourite meal is dinner, and we like to eat out. Plus, there’s always some evening chocolate going on in our house. So, therefore, generally I try to make sure that breakfast and lunch are relatively healthy.

 

Running is also an influencing factor regarding food. Training means that you physically require more food, and consequently, eating patterns change. When marathon training, there was no way I could have achieved my goals if I was too worried to have toast every day, or a big plate of pasta. I don’t eat quite so much toast now, but I’m also not running 40 miles a week.

food is fuel

Initially, running helped me mentally: it was easier to eat without guilt (which is a whole separate thing – maybe not for today!).  Then as I got faster and entered more races, I could also physically feel how the body needs fuel to do what I wanted to do.  About 60 minutes after I finish a race or a challenging training session, I can feel my stomach empty and my limbs start to feel like jelly. In these moment I understand just what food actually is for us, and it’s much easier to separate it from any additional baggage.

 

In case you are interested, chocolate milk is my favourite post-anything-difficult drink. It is good for replacing fluids, carbs and protein, and keeps that awful jelly-feeling at bay. Beyonce wasn’t wrong when she said ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly’ (I think I’ve used that quote here before. You can’t quote B too many times, you know).

 

Gatorade in my wine

 

And that’s how I manage my food. There’s really no secret to it.  Figure out when you’re likely to get your treats (and everyone should have at least one a day if they can!) and what your biggest meal is, and work around that. Honestly, people aren’t lying when they say ‘everything in moderation’. If only you can get your head to believe it too!

 

Ellie B