It’s been almost one year since our grandson, Luke, was born. When I think back to the years when I was pregnant, I wish there had been more fitness advice available. It was so difficult losing my “belly” after each pregnancy. If I had known that I could practice yoga and exercises such as Pilates during my pregnancies, perhaps I wouldn’t have had to battle the bulge…the belly bulge…especially after two C-sections.
Pregnancy is an exciting and joyful time in a woman’s life: it’s the start of a new chapter and a brief window of opportunity during which a family can prepare for the arrival of its newest member. It is also the most stirring display of the incredible strength of a woman’s body. But the fact remains: pregnancy is not for the faint of heart and most women are intimidated and downright scared of the toll it will take on their body. Annie Martens, ACE certified fitness trainer and founder of Hoboken, NJ-based Bella Bellies, says fear and apprehension at the overwhelming task of not only giving birth – but also recovering from it – is natural, but with the right tools and adequate support, all women can emerge from their pregnancy a stronger woman and a happy mommy. Flat tummy included. During her own pregnancy in 2005, Annie first realized just how severe the lack of fitness experts and programs dedicated to helping women recover from pregnancy was, contributing to the feeling of helplessness most women experience when it comes to regaining their pre-baby selves. It was then Annie decided to address the core problem by tackling the one issue that every postpartum woman battles: the inescapable baby belly. “There’s a myth that women who try to regain their flat tummy after giving birth are preoccupied with vanity and that they should just accept their “mummy tummy” with grace. That could not be further from the truth,” explains Annie, going on to say there are clear health issues at stake. “The presence of excess fat over the midsection puts stress on a woman’s heart, other vital organs, core muscles and her spine. Women need to return to a healthy muscle to fat ratio following their pregnancy for the obvious benefits to their health, but also to their overall wellbeing. They deserve to feel as good as possible and to be proud of their bodies!”
A Happy Pregnancy is a Healthy Pregnancy
The first step to “losing baby weight” begins during pregnancy and at Bella Bellies, Annie encourages expectant mothers to approach fitness as a way to nurture her body and her unborn baby during a time when they both need it most. While weight gain should be a concern for every woman, it is not the only concern or even the primary concern. Instead, fitness during pregnancy should focus on stress relief and strengthening the muscles used during birth to make it as safe an experience as possible, and finally, to help ensure that the recovery from pregnancy is as easy as it can be. “Weight gain during pregnancy is relative: some women will gain, some should attempt to lose weight if they aren’t at a healthy weight, and for some women the priority will be to maintain,” she explains, adding that the woman’s healthcare provider can determine which group she belongs in. Annie also says that a healthy prenatal fitness and nutrition program will help alleviate many of the most uncomfortable issues that arise during pregnancy. “Any issues women experience during pregnancy is the whisper before the roar. Addressing them early on with fitness and nutrition will make it easier after the baby is born.” There are some important milestones all prenatal fitness and nutrition plans should cover.
Safely fit fitness into your pregnancy
- Kegel exercises are a pregnant woman’s best friend.
- “The muscles used in labor cannot be ignored, and Kegels are the best way to tone and strengthen those muscles before and after,” Annie says. “Regular Kegels can help the body heal more quickly after a vaginal birth and prevent incontinence and hemorrhoids, among other things.”
- The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises against exercises in a back line position after the 16th week of pregnancy. Annie urges pregnant women to err on the side of caution and avoid them all together.
- “When a pregnant woman lays on her back, her much-heavier-than-normal uterus puts quite a lot of pressure on the vena cava, which is her main blood vessel. Additionally, back line exercises can lead to a greater separation of the abdominal muscles than is desirable.” Modified Pilates and Yoga created for pregnancy take this into account.
- Speaking of a greater separation of the abdominal muscles, Annie says that all fitness programs during pregnancy should closely monitor diastasis of recti, the technical term for that separation.
- “As women begin to “show” in their second trimester, their abdominal muscles separate to accommodate the uterus,” she explains, adding that while a separation of the muscles is expected and completely safe, strengthening those muscles will help manage it. “We can safely strengthen the ab muscles to avoid overstretching the tissue connecting them with isometric transverse abdominis exercises developed especially for pregnancy.”
- Water does a body good. It is more important to stay hydrated throughout pregnancy than at any other time – especially for those whose doctors have cleared them to participate in cardio-intensive workouts.
- Annie’s guidelines: drink at least 32 ounces of water two hours before any workout to ensure mom and baby stay safely hydrated.
Banish the post-baby body blues by taking a load off, literally
Once a woman has crossed the finish line and given birth to her beautiful baby, tackling all of a new mother’s responsibilities can feel like an impossible task. In addition to her previous responsibilities to her family and her career, a new mother must adjust to the demands of her baby and simultaneously address the new demands of her body. According to Annie, a strong body and support are necessary components of any new mother’s bag of tricks. “Whether she had a vaginal birth or a C-section, a new mother’s body has been through the wringer and the battle wounds left behind are rarely exclusively physical. The best way for a new mother to recover, physically and emotionally, is by pursuing an exercise regiment that makes her feel healthy and confident without monopolizing her time, making sure she’s getting the right nutrition, and by connecting with other people in the same boat,” Annie explains. At Bella Bellies, Annie and her team work with clients to achieve those goals, but she says, women can implement the most important parts of her program on their own.
Battling the bulge
The single most important physical goal for any new mother is to flatten out her tummy. According to Annie, eliminating the “mummy tummy” is instrumental in a woman’s self-confidence as well as her overall health. “In a very short period of time, her baby bump goes from a cute baby belly that people marvel at to something that’s not so cute at all. As if to add insult to injury, the presence of extra weight in her midsection poses a very serious health risk and is a real drain on her energy.” Annie cautions that it’s important to heed healthcare providers’ advice regarding when a new mom can safely commence working out (four to six weeks after the birth for vaginal deliveries and up to 12 weeks for C-sections), but says there are safe steps women can take to begin feeling like themselves again immediately following the birth of their baby.
- Bind those bellies! Products that bind the stomach effectively tackle diastasis of recti, or the natural separation of the abdominal muscles that takes place as a pregnant woman’s belly grows to make room for her baby.
- “The wisdom is that with belly binds, the bones and the muscles are guided back to the midline of the body, as are the tendons, helping the belly regain its natural non-pregnant shape,” Annie says. “It also helps eliminate some of the swelling after giving birth.”
- Massage the belly back into place. Women recovering from C-sections can eliminate surgical scars through a specialized massage technique they can perform themselves.
- According to Annie, getting the blood flowing and breaking up the scar tissue where a C-section incision was made is vital to healing. “Women should spend at least two minutes a day massaging the scars from their C-section until they gradually begin to feel the scar tissue loosening.” One caveat: wait until any stitches are removed and inform your doctor.
- When you get that green light from your doctor, get going. Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of most workout routines, but it is particularly important for women recovering from pregnancy.
- “Cardiovascular activity lowers blood pressure, or prevents high blood pressure, depending on the situation and it actually “cleans” out the arteries, which feed a person’s bones and organs,” explains Annie. “Basically, cardio trims the midsection. And immediately following pregnancy is when the vital organs of the midsection are under the most stress from excess weight and swelling.”
- Annie clarifies that those who aren’t comfortable running for their cardio workout need not despair. “Excess fat in the midsection can also be targeted with cardio workouts in the form of brisk walking, Pilates, or other methods.”
The most important thing to keep in mind during and after pregnancy, reminds Annie, is that all efforts to get into better shape are to benefit you and your new family. “Staying in good health during pregnancy and getting back into shape after pregnancy is essential to helping new moms feel their best, which in turn makes them happier,” she says. “However it’s also important to remember that a healthy body does not come in one shape and size. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be a chore during pregnancy, immediately following or at any time.” Pregnancy and childbirth are an amazing part of the female experience, but they aren’t easy. At Bella Bellies women are encouraged to embrace the changes their bodies are going through, taught to nurture their bodies at all different stages, and are given the tools necessary to diminish the harmful excess belly fat new mothers are left with. No woman should fear pregnancy because of the toll it takes on her body, especially since every woman can have a flat belly after pregnancy with the right information and proper support.
About Bella Bellies (www.bellabellies.com)
Founded in 2005, Bella Bellies is a full-service fitness studio located in the heart of Hoboken, NJ that caters to the unique needs of women with special emphasis on the effects pregnancy and childbirth have on their bodies. The talented fitness instructors are educated and certified in a variety of disciplines and are dedicated to helping clients relax, recharge and regain confidence in their physical appearance. From Pilates to the modified “Momilates,” Bella Bellies maximizes fitness through tailored exercise and nutrition programs in a setting that offers clients both serenity and access to the latest technology on the fitness market.
About Annie Martens
During the summer of 2005 Annie Martens was elated to learn she was pregnant with a healthy baby and as a fitness specialist intended to continue exercising for her own well being as well as her baby’s. However, she noticed a void in the fitness industry caused by the lack of programs that address the distinct physical, mental and spiritual challenges mothers face during their pregnancies and on a leap of faith left her career in New York City and set to work filling that gap. Her efforts led to the Hoboken, NJ-based fitness studio Bella Bellies, where Annie has helped over 3,000 women safely stay committed to fitness during and immediately following pregnancy with programs including Stroller Moves – which she developed with her infant daughter’s love of interaction and movement in mind – and the Momilates: Pilates for Mommies classes. Annie holds a degree in exercise physiology and is a graduate cum laude of the Boston Dance Conservatory. She is a certified fitness trainer, GyrotonicÒ teacher, Doula, and Pilates and Yoga instructor. Together with her mother, Lorraine Wellington, R.N., B.S.N., Annie co-authored the book “Momilates: Pilates for Mommies” and she is featured on the “Prenatal Pilates with the Tupler Technique” DVD with famed author Julie Tupler.