Most people associate pregnancy with weight gain, feeling uncomfortable, and being fatigued. Many women hope – but don't always believe – that they will get their body back after the pregnancy. I'm here to tell you this doesn't have to be!
While each pregnancy may be different and everyone's body is unique, there are some key principles to follow that will make a HUGE difference in how you look and feel to make sure you return to a better-than-before self. And the bonus is, practicing these principles will also improve the chances of your baby being healthier.
Choose a positive, carefree mindset. During this time, your outlook and managing your stress are key components in combatting inflammation and cortisol responses, which can slow your metabolism.
Breathe efficiently. 100% of pregnant women have a breathing dysfunction since they can't access their diaphragm. However, by breathing as softly and quietly as possible in and out through your nose, you will improve your chances of balancing oxygen and carbon dioxide for better internal chemistry. This will help you reduce or eliminate symptoms of hypocapnia like nausea, anxiety, brain fog, and fatigue.
In postpartum, women need to return to efficient diaphragm breathing focusing on the breath as described above but also breathing to the back and sides of the lower ribs. This ensures the activation of the diaphragm. The diaphragm acts as the conductor of your core, allowing involuntary activity of your core throughout the day.
Enjoy your exercise. Having a regular exercise routine that you love can be greatly beneficial. Studies show that doing something physical that you enjoy will give you more health benefits than trudging through an activity you don't like. If you stick with a regular exercise routine, as little as 30 minutes of walking (preferably in nature), you will reduce inflammation, improve your baby's neuroplasticity/brain development and feel better no matter what your day is like.
Focus on your core. Exercise isn't the only way to ensure your body is strong. The transversus abdominus muscle is the core's deepest muscle and is the muscle responsible for flattening the belly. We can connect with it best if we diaphragmatically breathe (see above). It is a muscle that should be on like background music all day long as we breathe or do any functional or workout activity.
Having good activation and tone in the transversus abdominus can help prevent diastasis recti (the stretching of the linea alba, or the central abdominal seam), can help close diastasis recti for a flat tummy, and can help you feel more supported during and after pregnancy.
Glut, pelvic floor, and core exercises can help you most during pregnancy and improve your shape after pregnancy. Once you are able to restore efficient breathing mechanics, you can do some deep stabilizer muscle exercises with the breathing coordinated. For example, you can hold a beachball in front of your chest with both hands, elbows bent. Exhale, contract your pelvic floor (lifting upward like a Kegel) as you squeeze/press both hands into the ball. Your core will turn on in addition to your pelvic floor. If you do it in a high kneeling position, you can get some glut activity as well. Hold 10 seconds and repeat 10x, 1-2x/day. An exercise program for each stage of pregnancy and postpartum is featured in The Wise Woman's Guide to Your Healthiest Pregnancy and Birth.
It's all about posture. Exercising good posture is key throughout your life but especially during and after pregnancy. Why? Because your collagen changes drastically, and this period is a window of opportunity to IMPROVE your posture for years to come! During pregnancy, you have the hormone relaxin pumping through your system. Ligaments and soft tissues "relax" and slacken, which allows the pelvis to stretch for delivery. But other ligaments and soft tissues also relax, which can cause you to fall into poor postures.
However, if you are aware and practice good posture (fight the downward gravitational forces), you can actually change your body to look taller, more aligned, and hence more graceful.
Be mindful when you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby, when you are lifting/carrying the baby, when pushing the stroller, and when lounging. Stay aligned and grow tall like someone is pulling a string from the crown of your head. You can even use pillows to support yourself to maintain neutral alignment. It takes 18 months for collagen to re-organize, so take care of yourself for the 1.5 years around your pregnancy, and you will look and feel better!
Focus on warming foods. Choosing warming foods during pregnancy and early postpartum will aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. This helps you feel more energized and stronger! Warming foods are lightly cooked, room temp, or warm/hot. They include things like soups, broths, stews, with or without light warming spices like ginger. Cold producing foods like raw vegetables/salads, yogurt/dairy, and cold temperature foods and beverages are not good postpartum, especially during the first 40 days. Don't forget to stick with seasonal foods, no matter what. If it is the winter and you just delivered your baby, fruits like strawberries wouldn't be growing, so there is no reason to eat them as they can be inflammatory and slow your metabolic activity.
REST! The first 40 days after delivery are a crucial time to rest, recover, and reset. You will need to round up your support network to help you – we suggest things like organizing meal trains and help from your friends and family during your third trimester. If you try to do too much, book things into your calendar, get back to high-level exercise too early, and not sleep enough, your cortisol will rise – and your metabolism will tank. This may cause you to hold onto those unwanted extra pounds no matter how much you try to lose them. So instead of dealing with an uphill battle, choose rest, relaxation, smart, gentle movement, and warming foods for the first 40 days after giving birth. After all, in the days after a marathon, you don't rush to work out…you rest and recover!
Believe in yourself and picture yourself in the best possible light. Visualize yourself looking fit, strong, beautiful, and elegant, exuding grace and control as you move through your pregnancy and postpartum months. From working with athletes throughout my career, you realize the power of visualization. It can be the difference between losing or winning a grand slam title. So just like the pros, visualize your way to looking and feeling fabulous!
WRITTEN BYPatricia Ladis