The Importance of Movement During and After Pregnancy for Maternal Health

Movement

Understanding the Benefits of Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise

Leading up to the Walk/Run for Mothers this October, through Caring For Women, I wanted to write this blog about the importance of movement during and after pregnancy. I specifically want to talk about the benefits of movement, not just exercise. Movement will look different for each person, depending on what their body is used to and what types of activities bring them joy.

Why is Prenatal and Postpartum Movement Essential?

Engaging in physical activity during pregnancy is not only safe but highly beneficial. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, most women can benefit from physical activity during pregnancy, with minimal risks involved (Birsner, M. et al, 2020). Research also suggests that exercise during pregnancy can lead to a reduction in gestational diabetes mellitus, cesarean births, operative vaginal deliveries, and shorter postpartum recovery times (Birsner et al., 2020).

Moreover, maintaining physical activity during pregnancy can contribute to a smoother transition into the postpartum period and reduce the risk of postpartum depressive disorders.

A question you may be asking right now is, “is physical activity right for everyone during pregnancy?” The answer to this is, “not always.” It is always recommended that you speak with your doctor and or specialist before entering into a new physical routine, or even continuing the one you have been doing. There are contraindications to exercise and physical activity during pregnancy, but for the most part, gentle movement is usually encouraged.

If you are unfamiliar to exercise, or you just want guidance through your pre and early-postnatal journey, seeking out an exercise professional, like a kinesiologist, is a great option as they are trained to help you through those specific physical changes. They will know how to create personalized exercise programs tailored to your unique anatomical and physical needs, as well as the requirements of your growing baby.

The Role of Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy

Working with a pelvic floor (PF) physiotherapist can be particularly valuable during pregnancy and in the early postpartum period. These specialized physiotherapists undergo additional training to address pelvic-related issues that may arise during or after pregnancy, such as incontinence, pain during intercourse, heaviness in the pelvis, pelvic pain, or discomfort. They treat the entire body and can help you find what might be driving the pain or symptoms you may be having.

Postpartum Movement: Rebuilding After Delivery

Let’s talk a bit more about movement during the postpartum period. During pregnancy, modifications will most like be needed and you may end up focusing on very gentle movement and stretching near the end of the 3rd trimester.

After giving birth, whether vaginally or by C-section, your body undergoes significant changes. Your core muscles have likely separated, and your pelvic floor has experienced strain for nine months and may have been a part of the delivery.

Re-connecting to these areas is crucial to gaining the muscular strength back in the core and pelvic floor. It is recommended that exercise should not start until your doctor gives you the go-ahead to do so. This usually occurs around six (6) weeks postpartum. Take a look at the graph below for some intensity recommendations through pregnancy and postpartum. 

You will notice that intensity gradually lowers as pregnancy progresses, a blank spot (this is for delivery, followed by rest and recovery), and then a progressive increase in intensity once you are ready to start moving/exercising again. The timeline of the postpartum section is reliant on how you feel, not when social media or others tell you.

The go-ahead you receive from your doctor is sometimes given with very little guidance or assessment on the mother, physically, to ensure her body is fully ready. Personally, I know my body and mind was not ready at 6 weeks. This is a guideline only. If you are not ready to start moving at 6 weeks, that is ok! Wait until you feel physically ready.

Once you do feel ready, start slow and listen to your body, pay attentino to your body. Do you notice:

pain or tension anywhere?

any leakage of urine or fecal matter from your body?

do you have heaviness in your pelvis?

These are all indicators that you may be moving too fast too soon.

Reach out to myself or your nearest pelvic floor physiotherapist for an assessment.

The importance of reestablishing a connection with your core and pelvic floor cannot be overstated. CMC Fitness Consulting offers a specialized program called “Rise and Renew,” designed to rebuild foundational strength. This program begins with breath and pelvic floor reconnection through instructional videos and educational modules.

Upon completion, you’ll have access to three months of progressively increasing strength exercises to help strengthen your core and get you back to doing the activities you love!  

Exercise with others – also read: The Importance of Mom Friends Postpartum

A hiking mom watching her children explore nature

What is the criteria for being a "good mom"?

For our children to develop a secure attachment to us they need to experience feeling seen, soothed and safe. Renowned psychiatrist  Dr. Daniel Seigel, calls these the 3S’s of secure attachment

It is so easy for moms to heap on the guilt for having natural human emotions and experiences, such as being tired, worn out, wanting space, or feeling angry or disappointed. 

If I had to sum up the criteria for what all the books and research indicates about being a good mom is: show up with presence (much easier said than done), allow your humanity to come through, while being the adult to your children. Now before you roll your eyes and dismiss that as a cliche answer, allow me to elaborate because it can be very hard to put into practice. 

The more you push away or deny your lived experience of feeling tired, bored, sad, disappointed, angry, or lost, the harder living life will be.

Also Read: Get more information about the effects of mom burnout here. 

"Good enough" mothering

You don’t have to be all things to your children at all times. 

There are so many nights I have checked on my sleeping kids before going to bed myself, and felt a wave of regret for all the ways I wasn’t a great mother to them that day. 

It’s a common experience for many parents. What is important about this regret, or disappointment with how we behaved, is that it illustrates that we cannot be the parent we always want to be. The reality is that children will thrive without us being superheroes.

What they need is for us to show up with presence

And too many parents are not present. I’m not suggesting we need to be present all the time, that’s not realistic or developmentally necessary for children, but when we do talk to our kids, or answer their questions, or read them a story, or nurse them – too often we are distracted (often with technology) and it impacts our ability to attune to our kids. 

Children can thrive without many things in life, but not without a present parent. 

Accept your humanity. You aren’t perfect and you can strive to grow; it’s not an either/or situation but a both/and. 

The paradox is that when we accept our own humanity and lived experiences, it becomes easier to accept our children’s reality and accompanying emotions. 

This doesn’t mean you have to like your newborn’s cries or child’s anger. It simply means that your child’s emotions are varied and will come and go, and that instead of creating judgements around which ones are acceptable to you, you are able to accept they have a different reality than you. 

When we practice this daily, deep acceptance for how we feel (remember, acceptance is different than liking something) or what our children feel we can: 

  • Become less triggered and have more capacity to be curious about what is driving our children’s behaviour (are they hangry, tired, scared, disappointed, are they off their rocker because their brain is developmentally immature and needs help?)
  • Differentiate our reality from their reality (our child may be upset but we have greater ability to not be sucked into their vortex of chaos). For example, say something to ourselves such as, “My child is disappointed and having a hard time, but their reality is different than mine. I am not experiencing their disappointment.”

  • Reframe a hard situation – hearing crying or fighting can be highly distressing and exhausting but it won’t last forever.

When you learn to accept your humanity – which can be a long process of healing depending on your upbringing – you develop greater capacity to accept your children’s humanity and hopefully see your children for who they are, soothe them when they are in distress and help them feel safe.

If that sounds foreign or hard, perhaps spend time exploring your internal world with a trusted  loved one, a crew of mom friends, or a mental health professional.

 

What to do when you are struggling

I hope it’s clear that “motherhood nature” isn’t a fixed state or trait. Our motherhood nature can change and grow. 

I want to reiterate, work on letting go of perfection. There is a tension that all parents need to balance in striving to grow and become the best parents they can, while acknowledging their shortcomings. We all have shortcomings. You are a human not a robot, that is what makes you interesting. 

You have an attachment history that has deeply impacted you the person you are today; most parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have. 

Though we all struggle as parents, it’s so much worse to do it alone. We are wired to be in relationships with others and we need friends and seasoned mothers come alongside us for encouragement, guidance, and relief. 

If you are struggling, connect with social media accounts like Diary of an Honest Mom, The Good Mutha, Raising Yourself, or Lindsey Gurk to normalize your experience and hopefully feel a little less alone. 

If you are struggling, you are being a good mom by getting help; you are not weak. There are many resources available on the Canadian Mental Health Association.

If you are struggling as a parent from traumatic events you had as a child, check out Complex Trauma Resources to begin the process of healing. . 

Part of healing means making connections with a village of mom friends who have got your back, and who may be struggling with the same parenting challenges and life experiences that you are. If you are going to be a new mom and you don’t have a village of support around you, make sure you apply for care here

Put it into perspective: you are raising humans

Every difficult stage of parenting can feel like it takes forever. The first step to shifting your perspective is to think not about the difficulty of your present moment, but to consider the bigger picture.

Imagine yourself 5 years from now by asking yourself these question:

  • How old will your child(ren) be? 
  • How old will you be? 
  • What stage of life will you be in? 
  • Who will be in your life?
  • Who may not be in your life?
  • How would you like to have grown as a person?

One of the best pieces of advice my parents gave me was, “this too shall pass.” The stages of our children won’t last forever. The sleepless nights will one day be over. The behaviour of siblings chucking toys at each other will not endure. 

Being a mother is one of the hardest things you will ever do. It will change you – and it should. The experiences change you forever, in so many deep and meaningful ways. I believe if you allow it to transform you, it changes you for the better. 

Your motherhood nature will change as you change. 

Embrace the complexities and nuance, learn and strive to grow while honouring your humanity. And above all,  find other mothers who will walk-alongside you to be a source of strength and support. You were never meant to do it alone. 

Help us to support more mothers! Donate now to ensure that every new mom has a village of support around her when she has a new baby to care for. 

Written by Courtney Claggett

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