Would you run in a marathon without preparing and training?
It’s a question I ask my pregnant clients. A majority of marathoners wouldn’t dream of it, but generally want to learn more about what they could do to keep fit the best they can during the pregnancy process. They would focus on their preparation, strengthen their bodies and minds so they can remain injury free in the lead up, perform the race of their life and recover well afterwards.
So if that’s the case with an endurance event like running, why don’t we think about natural childbirth in a similar light? The body begins changing as soon as conception occurs with changes in hormones like oestrogen and relaxin, blood volume. Then, as the pregnancy develops, the centre of gravity changes, body weight increases, ligaments increase in laxity and even the feet change. This means the body needs to be able to be strong, fit and mobile to prevent occurrences of lower back pain, acute injuries, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. We then turn our heads to labour would be physically harder and require more endurance and strength than a marathon. The body needs to deal with strong muscular contractions for 6 to 14 hours (on average). Vast amounts of oxygen are required for the working muscles and it becomes a long distance cardiovascular workout. What’s more, unlike a marathon, there is no set finish line. Quitting isn’t an option. We just have to keep working until we receive our ultimate prize (which is also way cooler than a medal).
Just like strong fit marathon runners, mothers with a good cardiovascular and muscular strength background also have been shown to recover from the childbirth event quicker. Physiologically, muscles which are constantly put under the strain of a work out become efficient at recovering through increased blood circulation and the cellular repair response to trauma is heightened.
But isn’t exercising risky?
Now before you start thinking that exercise is risky for both you are your baby, it’s important to recognise that researchers have busted many myths about exercise and pregnancy. Rather than becoming sedentary (never a good option), the evidence shows that both aerobic and resistance training can help increase the health of your baby and manage pregnancy issues such as weight gain, lower back pain, muscular cramps and fatigue. Now, if you weren’t squatting 60kg prior to becoming pregnant, you would never start lifting heavy. Resisted exercise can include different body weight or weighted actions, an increased focus on endurance and quality of muscle contraction.
Are you unsure where to even start?
Exercise should be individualised to your goals, body type, conditions, previous fitness levels and experience by a qualified trainer. There are certain changes in prescription, which should be taken into account when it comes to exercise and they change over the course of the pregnancy. It is best to start this discussion with a women’s health exercise physiologist, physiotherapist and general practitioner.
Here is the big take home message….
You must realise it won’t be easy. There are days where you will feel tired, heavy, & nauseous. However, in the long run, just like in marathons, prior preparation will deliver a better performance.