I’m gonna be honest, here. It’s awesome that the trend for celebrating real women’s bodies, particularly post-birth, is catching on. It truly is. And nobody needs a self-esteem boost quite like an exhausted mum in the middle of newborn maelstrom. But that doesn’t make me a-okay with the prospect of more folds, rolls and nifty skin pockets a la Jabba the Hutt, or extra stretch marks to add to my already generous collection, or a pair of mammaries worthy of a National Geographic special – should I feel the desire to procreate once more.
Now, I don’t have a huge problem with my pregnancy-pummelled physique, but the human body – and my self-image – is only so forgiving; if I have another bambino, I don’t want to be hating on my reflection from here to eternity.
Short of a postpartum lobotomy, or plastic surgery, the obvious answer – for me, anyway, is exercise. And the trick, according to Lucy Howlett, a personal trainer in both modern pregnancy and post-natal exercise, is to get into shape before those two pink lines show up. However; if said baby-buncakes is already in the oven, there’s still no reason to avoid the gym.
One can argue (quite accurately) that by the time I’m knee-deep in nappies and spit-up again, the last thing on my mind will be a svelte pair of thighs. But there’s actually plenty plusses to keeping fit while preggers, that go beyond my ridiculously superficial fantasy of fitting into size 0 jeans with babe perched on bony hip.
While working out regularly will obviously help to keep extra weight gain at bay, on a day-to-day level, it can help you feel more comfortable in your growing body, too, with less aches and strains. And (this is a big one), studies show that active women are less likely to experience problems during labour.
Howlett also mentions better posture, sustained energy levels and water retention reduction as added benefits – as well as a therapeutic shift in mood for those experiencing baby blues or post-natal depression.
Specialising in pregnancy training, Howlett explains the advantages of a combination of movement styles:
“I do yoga, to help release tension, to calm the mind and connect with the baby as well as to deepen the breath in preparation for labour. I also use bodyweight training, kettlebells and resistance bands to introduce functional movements that will strengthen the whole body for everyday tasks — such as lifting the baby, car seat, pushing the buggy, and holding children.”
With babe on board, though, it’s important to stick to the rules when you’re sweating it out. Mervi Jokinen, Practice and Standards Professional Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, tells HuffPost UK Parents: “The exercise pregnant women take should reflect their previous exercise regime. So for example it would not be appropriate for a woman who has done no exercise for many years to suddenly start running long distances in pregnancy.
If they haven’t exercised routinely they should begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times per week, increasing gradually to daily 30-minute sessions and if they have any questions we advise them to talk to their midwife or GP.”
Once you’ve figured out your safe level of work-out intensity and duration, you need to keep in mind the cardinal do’s and don’t’s when planning a fitness routine:
*Do not lie on your back from the second trimester. And only do gentle and subtle twisting movements, to avoid pressure on the uterus and growing baby.
*Really high impact exercise such as volleyball, netball, jumping exercises, etc. should be avoided. Due to relaxin (a hormone that allows the joints to be more flexible – to make space for baby), sudden movements, changes of direction or landing heavily can cause damage to joints or misalign the pelvis, causing great discomfort.
*You can train your core in pregnancy — as it helps with recovering your strength after labour — but once your bump is clearly visible, stop any ‘crunch’ type exercises so as not to cause excess pressure across the abdominals.
Of course, the biggest thing to remember is to be realistic. All the hothouse yoga and StairMaster marathons in the world won’t necessarily prevent saggy belly, bosoms, and nether regions; nor can they guarantee that I won’t become a human roadmap to Stretch Mark City. I need to make peace with these unavoidable truths and focus on the bits I can control.
And honestly? I’d take my precious babs over a Barbie bod any day.
(Nobody likes a skinny cow.)