Fit For You: Pre & Post Natal Fitness

Dec 28, 2016

Perhaps it’s an obvious point, but pregnancy is a taxing time on a woman’s body.  The cliché is that during those nine months, a woman is doing everything for two – eating, sleeping, and exercising.

And if you’re used to doing all of those things for one, understanding what’s best for you and your baby can be a daunting task.  Megan Shemanske, a local fitness team leader and pre/post-natal fitness certified by the American Council of Exercise,  stresses that the old cliché is not exactly true.

"That mentality of 'eating for two' is going to put you in a spot that you would probably not prefer to be in nine months from now," Shemanske says.

With their bodies changing significantly over a period of nine months, most women tend to become more aware and conscious of their eating and exercise habits. This can definitely be a positive change for expecting mothers - as long as the limits are not surpassed.

"Listening to your body is the most important thing," explains Shemanske. "Your body will tell you when it's too much, when you shouldn't be doing it anymore, when it starts getting uncomfortable, or it'll give you symptomatic signs that this is no longer OK."

Based on individual pre-pregnancy fitness levels, women should aim for a heart rate of 140 bpm as the ideal cautionary number. However, Shemanske prefers using a scale of one to ten of perceived exertion.  

When exercising during the first trimester of pregnancy exertion should be on a scale of 6-7, a 5 during the second trimester, and a 3 during the third trimester. The frequency of exercise will also typically decrease the further into a pregnancy. However, with every body being different, what is difficult for one woman may be a regular routine for another. The important thing to keep in mind is to not go above the fitness level already attained before pregnancy.

"You don't want to progress and try to grow your fitness levels at that point, but you should really just try to maintain where you're at for as long as possible for as long as the body allows in terms of comfort," says Shemanke.

Since the stomach protrudes, most women do not even think about building their core strength during pregnancy. However, the core is the key according to Shemanske.

"Core training is absolutely by far the most important thing to focus on during pregnancy," she says. "I know it can be scary because you don't want to think about doing a sit up when you have a baby in you, so that tends to be the thing that women shy away from the most."

For pregnant women especially, a strong core (and back) will help with posture and alleviate back pain and discomfort. Planking exercises are ideal throughout the entire pregnancy, but avoid twisting motions and perform other core exercises on an incline past the second trimester.

While it is safe and highly recommended for pregnant women to do moderate exercise everyday (such as walking, yoga, and water activities), any high intensity exercise should not be performed two days in a row. If any form of exercise is questionable, use common sense and avoid any exercise that involves a high degree of balance or agility to decrease the risk of falling.

Listening to your body is key before giving birth, and it is just as important to do the same after having a child. Exercise is not recommended until four to six weeks after giving birth, especially since priorities will change after delivery to bonding with the child, sleeping, feeding, and healing.

Women often undergo plenty of body image stress without being pregnant, and dealing with a different body after a baby can be even more challenging. And while one may want their "old body" back quickly, women need to exercise patience and avoid stress when trying to get back into an exercise routine.

"Keep in mind it took you nine months to get there, it'll take you a minimum of nine months to get back, if not longer," she says. "It's not a quick fix, it's not what you see in magazines, it's a long process."

Instead of worrying about the changes a body goes through during and after a pregnancy, Shemanske encourages expecting mothers to keep a positive mindset and focus on their own health and the health of their child rather than how their body looks on the outside.

"There's a reason why you are gaining weight or why you can't fit into those jeans anymore, and just remember what that reason is," says Shemanske. "So honor your body where it is, how it looks, and how it feels."

*Originally aired September 2015