Plenty of women decide to take their physical fitness and health more seriously after having a child. It makes sense: new moms have a different set of responsibilities than they used to, and they also have an even deeper need for personal time away from kids, spouses, and well-meaning (but occasionally annoying) in-laws and hangers-on. Staying healthy can help all moms (and all women) face the daily challenges that life throws in their path — from stress to heart disease to the plain old common cold.
But even during pregnancy and immediately after, there are plenty of choices mothers can make to maintain their and their children’s health. Pregnancy does a number on the body, and it amounts to more than weight gain and possible bouts of postpartum depression:
Abdominal muscles lengthen significantly during pregnancy, the spine moves into an exaggerated S curve, caesarean section can leave internal scar tissue, and the hammock of muscles in the pelvis that support organs and bones, called the pelvic floor, stretches or even tears…Left untreated, the changes can cause problems down the road, from pelvic and low back pain to incontinence and other issues.
So, how can you avoid some of these issues?
- Kegels. Kegels, Kegels, Kegels. These exercises strengthen the pelvic floor, prevent incontinence, and improve sexual function. Women of all ages (and men, too!) should do them daily. You can find the pelvic floor muscles by focusing on stopping the flow during urination, and holding it. Once you’ve identified those muscles, you can squeeze them at any point during the day that you remember to do so. You can even work this exercise into a breathing or yogic meditation, wherein you squeeze the pelvic floor muscles as you push air from your belly.
- Pre-natal vitamins. Believe the hype. Pre-natal vitamins with 1000 mcg of folic acid help prevent neural tube defects in developing fetuses, and they usually come with enough iron to support the extra blood supply that pregnant women need. Pre-natal vitamins are also a good choice for women who want to become pregnant, because they give women all the extra nutrients they need to have a healthy baby. Start your pre-natal vitamin routine at least three months before trying to conceive.
- Yoga and Pilates.These disciplines focus on building core strength gently, in a way that can help prevent abdominal muscle separation, support the spine, and generate more power in the pelvic floor.