To my friends who are trying to conceive,
First and foremost, thank you for being here. I know this is a time that can be exciting or trying or a combination of both. Thank you for trusting me to provide sane and (I hope) sensitive information.
This post is just for you. I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to prepare for pregnancy (and the end goal, your strong postpartum!) while you’re waiting for a plus sign. I’m not here to talk with you about fertility, vitamins or whether or not you should cut out caffeine (that’s a thing??!). Here, I want to focus on things you can do NOW to set your body up for long term (→ postpartum) success.
Please reach out if there is anything I can offer you during this stage of your childbearing journey. I see you. I’m here for you.
Without further ado, the list:
1) Establish care with a pelvic health physical therapist. Find out what your baselines are.
If I had to limit this list to one item, it would be this. Use this time to begin learning about your pelvic health. Read a book on pelvic health, go to a class on pelvic health if it’s offered at your birthing location, book a session with a pelvic health physical therapist.
All over my social media and my blog, I wax poetic about how amazing these providers are during pregnancy and postpartum. And they absolutely are. However, when they are evaluating your pelvic floor and abdominal wall during and after pregnancy, they are comparing your body to a standard that is not be perfectly tuned to your body. For example, there’s some debate about whether a small amount of bladder descent might actually be “normal” (e.g. not a pathology!!) and we know that abdominal muscles always have some degree of separation in people who have never been pregnant. If you don’t know where your organs sit or what your abdominal wall looks like before you get pregnant, it’s hard to precisely evaluate how much things have changed after the fact.
You can absolutely receive high quality pelvic health care without establishing this baseline. So, please don’t panic if you can’t or choose not to make this appointment. It’s an “add”. If you know what your personal baseline is before you become pregnant, your provider will be able to better assess how much YOUR body has actually changed as a result of your pregnancy. This will enable more personalized evaluation and diagnosis of postpartum changes in your body and help you set realistic parameters for your postpartum recovery.
2) Nail your breathing mechanics now, before there’s a baby throwing a (joyful) kink in the system.
If I had to limit my list to two things, this would be the second.
First, a quick anatomy review: Your inner core is made up of your respiratory diaphragm, your pelvic floor, your innermost abdominal muscles and a few of your back muscles. These muscles work together in a coordinated and reflexive manner to stabilize your pelvis and trunk, facilitating strength and mobility in your limbs. For a variety of reasons, pregnancy interrupts this system. It interrupts the coordination between the muscles as well as their ability to reflexively stabilize your body.
Bringing awareness to this system early on and (regularly) practicing good breathing mechanics will go a long way towards keeping your body strong during pregnancy, reducing common aches and pains during pregnancy and potentially improving your laboring experience through improved fetal positioning and your own awareness and control of your core and pelvic floor muscles. If you have nailed your breathing mechanics before or during pregnancy, you will also give yourself an enormous edge during your postpartum recovery.
Investing in learning how to harness your inner core through breathing will pay dividends over your childbearing journey.
3) If you think you want to exercise DURING your pregnancy, start now.
Hopefully this one makes sense. Exercise during pregnancy is safe and beneficial to everyone involved (unless you have specific contraindications!) but it’s easier to maintain a routine, rather than start a new one, during pregnancy.
4) Start building strength where it will matter most: Upper back, posterior chain (basically, the muscles on the backside of your body), and anterior core (in particular, transverse abdominal muscles- the innermost abs). Sounds like almost everywhere, right? You want to build up strength on your backside to counteract the eventual forward pull of a growing belly and breasts and strength in the core to support the belly itself.
Even if you’ve never been a big fan of strength training, adding a bit in during your lead-up to and during pregnancy can go a long way towards improving your physical comfort during pregnancy and staving off common aches and pains.
5) There’s lots of common sense advice out there on reducing stress, improving your diet and increasing the quality of your sleep. I’m going to leave that to the experts (or Dr. Google), for the most part. My two cents: Balance your yin and your yang. If you are working out a lot, start building in more restorative exercise like yoga, stretching or walking. Even if you’re a CrossFit athlete. Even if you’re not a yogi. Even if you’d rather be running. I’m not asking you to subtract anything. I’m asking you to consider adding. Add stuff that’s down-regulating. Add stuff that allows you to think about your breathing. Your sanity and your pelvic floor will thank you a million times over.
6) Get a head start on your reading. Pregnancy is not as long as you think it’s going to be and you might not feel 100% and up to being a student the whole time (hello, first trimester!). If you need some ideas, check out this quick post that contains a list of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care books that I recommend. Many of these books have information that’s useful from the get go, so you won’t regret starting now!
I hope these tips give you someplace positive to focus energy and don’t feel like additional things you “must” do to prepare for pregnancy. They’re all wonderful things to do. If you don’t do them, you will be fine. If you are reading this, I would love to know what types of activities you are doing to prepare for pregnancy. Would you consider sending me a note a letting me know? Email me here and let me know if and how you are preparing for your pregnancy.
Contact me if you have questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum, if you’re local (Seattle's Eastside: Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and surrounding areas) and interested in working with me on a custom personal training plan, or if you’d like help finding a qualified pregnancy or postpartum personal trainer near you.