While times are changing as we all adjust to life at home, the needs of a woman’s body during the Perinatal Period remain the same. A woman’s body during pregnancy and after goes through rapid transformation in order to grow, birth, and care for, a new life. Her unique needs for exercise during this period require appropriate modifications. The good news is, with the shelter in place order, a woman can get those needs met at home, with a bit more of the same education and modifications.
During pregnancy, changes take place in multiple body systems as the baby grows and occupies space. The lower abdominal muscles stretch to 3 times their original length. Hormones released during pregnancy assist the pelvic bones to move gently as required for birth. While this is a good thing, the hormones act on the entire body, so it is important to perform whole body strengthening exercises for stability. Having an exercise program that includes both proper alignment and exercises to stay connected to these muscles help the body manage changing loads.
In addition to strength requirements during this period, there are also mobility requirements. As mentioned earlier, the pelvic bones will shift to allow passage of the baby through the birth canal. Having adequate mobility of the entire area around the pelvis, including the back and hips, is very important. While moms can’t go for regular bodywork these days, there are wonderful techniques for self massage at home that can be taught using simple balls and rollers.
Having great alignment is of paramount importance as well! I always teach moms to avoid slouched sitting as best they can, especially during the third trimester, because it could encourage the baby to shift back in the pelvis. Staying active and in good alignment helps get the baby in the best position for birth- head down, baby’s back to mom’s belly, and chin tucked.
As for birth preparation, I love to educate women that birthing is actually a reflex, called the Infant Ejection Reflex. This is great news, as it means that her body instinctually knows how to birth. What helps most to assist this primitive reflex is for a woman to do what she can to keep her body and nervous systems in a relaxed state. The best way to do this is also simple and accessible- deep breathing. When we breathe deeply, allowing the ribs to open to the sides, the breath moves down into the pelvic muscles, helping them to expand and soften. Deep, relaxed breathing also activates a nerve in the diaphragm muscle, our primary breathing muscle, that signals the body to move into a “rest and digest” state, as opposed to the ‘fight or flight’ state. Multiple studies have confirmed that deep breathing and meditation change brain waves and have profound effects to relax the brain and nervous systems.
I like to think of moms as athletes, who require rehabilitation after having a baby in the same way a professional athlete would rehabilitate an injury. After all, she grows a baby (a monumental feat), prepares her body for birth, and the moment the baby is born, mom is working to feed and care for this new life. And so, the more she can do to prepare during pregnancy, the better. If she is starting the rehabilitation process after, that is fine as well- it is never too late to rehabilitate the body from the effects of pregnancy and childbirth. But how?
There are many options! First of all, regular walking is excellent for strength and cardiac training. Yoga is wonderful for working on the three pillars of strength, stability work, and relaxed breathing. There are many passionate professionals right here in Marin County, who have specialized training to work with women during this period, including personal trainers, yoga instructors and Women’s Health or Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists. These days, most of these professionals have online training groups and offer individualized care via phone or computer. If you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out. Stay active, stay strong, and enjoy this miraculous stage of womanhood!