Fitness and pregnancy: What’s changed over the past five years?

From fertility to the toddler stage, there’s a wealth of information on feeling good

Mary Jennings in 2016: “Pregnancy is not a time to lose weight, run faster or tone up.”  Photograph: Eric Luke

Mary Jennings in 2016: “Pregnancy is not a time to lose weight, run faster or tone up.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 
This summer, The Irish Times will offer tips, advice and information for parents on how to help their children thrive during the holiday months. Read all about it at  irishtimes.com/summeroffamily

More than five years ago I put pen to paper on my experience of fitness, pregnancy and life with a new baby. Over a series of months I tracked what I learned and experienced from fertility to the early toddler stage.

I’m lucky I did write it all down as I certainly don’t remember much detail from those busy years. Looking back at my notes I am reminded of how overwhelming I found the volume of information and the pressure to do the right thing for my baby and myself.

What has changed

Today, five years on, there are certainly more health coaches and physiotherapists trained to work with pregnant and post-natal bodies, and books and podcasts available consolidating the latest research. Thankfully, there also appears to be a gradual move away from aesthetic goals. Looking great in pregnancy or shaping up after baby is not what this new breed of health coaches are focusing on. Feeling good in yourself, feeling strong enough to take on the challenges of motherhood and feeling confident enough to know when you need to sleep, move or ask for help is finally moving higher up the list of goals for mothers.

The plus side of Covid

One key benefit of the growth of virtual classes and coaching in this Covid world is that we have more access to experts in pregnancy and women’s health. There are opportunities to enjoy classes and learn in online workshops from specialists from all over the world. While my only options may have been a local pregnancy class (at a time that didn’t suit) or some old fitness DVDs, now there are endless options that might suit your needs, interests and your timetable. The only problem might be that there is too much choice.

A guiding light

What you will notice through each of the phases is that having a relationship with a good pelvic health physiotherapist can be of huge benefit as you navigate your changing body and work out what is normal or not along the way. If we can build our confidence in our body knowing that how we are feeling is normal, we are less likely to feel worried and uncertain about what we should or could be doing fitness-wise. Your local pelvic health physiotherapist will also be able to recommend other professionals, support groups or fitness classes in your area or online.

The voice of experience

While my journey along this path will be different to yours, I hope you can appreciate that there is something you can do every day to look after yourself – and that doesn’t always have to be exercise. Our health in this stage of our lives can be sacrificed so much by a mother’s wish to do everything for her child and never leave any time for herself. Tiredness is a big factor, and sometimes it is easier to put on another load of laundry than lie down on the floor and do two minutes of exercises. Noticing this, accepting that we can’t do it all every day, but also deciding to do something, however small, for yourself can set you on a path to feeling more positive about your own body.

Run your own race

Next month my little boy turns five and gets ready for starting school. How much I ran in pregnancy, how soon I fit back into my jeans or indeed how long it took me to my fitness back after he was born really doesn’t matter. Indeed, my outlook on fitness and running has changed a lot in those years, so you might also find that what is important to you pre-pregnancy may not be in the future. We all experience fertility, pregnancy and post-natal return to exercise differently. It is not a competition. Our kids are all different too, as are our lives outside of parenting and exercise, so we very much need to go with what feels right for us and try our very best not to get caught up in a race for perfection that doesn’t have a finish line and will only burn you out trying to get there.

Read more

It is hard to consolidate each of the stages of pregnancy and life with a new baby into one article, so instead I have provided you with the links to each of the relevant articles below. My entire series of articles on my pregnancy journey are still available online and provide an insight for new mums on fitness challenges during this precious time. I treated this time as a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the body, speaking with experts from women’s health physiotherapists to doulas, yoga teachers to obstetricians. Some of my best tips came from mums who had been there before and had learnt through experience.

I hope you find something below to help you wherever you are along this exciting path.

Previous articles
Fitness and fertility
Fitness and first trimester
Fitness and second trimester
Fitness and third trimester
Fitness with a newborn
Fitness with a three-month-old
Looking back over pregnancy and first year of baby
Return to running post-natal guidelines

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
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Best of luck! 

Mary Jennings is founder of ForgetTheGym.ie. She coaches runners of all levels to reduce risk of injury and enjoy running more

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