It may be the most natural thing in the world, but having a baby is tough work. “Being pregnant and giving birth is like running a marathon,” says Janette Yee, an athletic therapist in Toronto and mom of two. “You would never run a marathon without training, never do it without a coach. Pregnancy is no different, in fact it’s tougher.” So, how can you prepare for the biggest race of all?
Understand your chemistry
From the minute we conceive, our body pumps out all kinds of hormones, including the aptly named “Relaxin.”This insulin-related hormone will work to regulate mothers heartrate so more oxygen can be diverted to baby. In preparation for delivery, Relaxin will help soften the cervix and relax the ligaments in the pelvis, making the baby’s passage through the birth canal easier.
The softening and relaxing of the pelvis is good, productive, and necessary, but it can also lead to pelvic girdle pain. Pelvic Girdle Pain, is defined by discomfort at the posterior aspect of the pelvis, near the sacroiliac joint. The pain can travel to the lower back and down the legs. Building strength in the legs and pelvis will help counter the pelvic girdle pain.
“The stronger you are going into child birth, the faster you recover,” says Yee. The important thing is to ensure it’s safe for you to exercise. “After all, exercise is a mandatory part of a normal, healthy pregnancy,” according to Yee, who refers to her clients as athletes.
Here are two exercises to help improve the strength and activation of these important muscles:
- Begin with pelvic floor strengthening, such as Kegel exercises.
- Move on to squats. Stand with bare feet shoulder width apart and keep your knees aligned with your second toes. Keep your chest up and your spine neutral. Distribute your body weight equally on forefoot and heel, draw in your navel and activate your pelvic floor. Now, lower yourself as if you were sitting in a chair. The goal is to squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Inhale on your way down; exhale as you move up. You should feel the work in your thighs and glutes.
Yee trained hard for her second pregnancy. “I treated it like I was an athlete,” says the former rugby player. “That meant workout sessions of at least 20 minutes, 6 days a week. It meant running, squats, stretching and core work.” Says Yee, “The strength I maintained in my hips and my core absolutely helped my recovery.”
After baby arrives, Yee works with patients to repair their bodies. “A lot of damage can occur no matter if you had a C-section or a vaginal birth,” she says. She helps her athletes focus on their core – abdominals as well as hip muscles and glutes. “That’s the scaffolding for everything.”
A woman who has undergone a C-section will have scars in the lower abdominal region. If the scars are left alone, they can limit the soft tissue’s mobility, making simple tasks such as standing up straight difficult. “That can lead to chronic back pain, hip pain, and even disc injuries down the road,” says Yee. An athletic therapist can perform manual work on the scar to loosen that tissue and break it down, helping to decrease the risk of these complications.
“Although the changes in the body during pregnancy can sound daunting, don’t forget that pregnancy is a natural state,” says Yee. “The body is designed for this, and is also designed to recover. Sometimes it just needs a bit of help.”
Janette is a board certified athletic therapist and massage therapist practicing in Toronto. For over a decade, Janette Yee has worked with a special interest in pregnancy care and postpartum rehabilitation. www.janetteyee.com