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Pre and postnatal exercise – My honest experience

Prenatal exercise

Modern day pregnancy. Social media often conjures up the image of a lady in glamorous ‘bump-friendly’ yoga wear, beaming whilst effortlessly engaged in a sun salutation.

Whilst pregnant, I decided to join a prenatal yoga class. The cost of the weekly class (which had to be pre-paid termly in full) was eye-watering, but I supressed my StingyFit values and joined the class out of curiosity, dashed with the hope of making some local ‘mum-to-be’ friends.

The reality of the class was far from the image that I had imagined. It took place in a sweaty basement room (which I guess is not untypical in London), crammed with pregnant women lined up on a row of yoga mats like battery hens. There was an air of London Fashion Week, as many class goers subtly (but unsubtly) compared bump sizes and body leanness during the class. It was not the relaxing experience that I had expected. After one class, I never returned.

Instead, I found solace in gently exercising in the privacy of my home (or my office ‘wellness’ room) and brisk walks around my neighbourhood. I was surprised to find so many good YouTube yoga and pilates video workouts, separated into those suitable for pregnant women in their 2nd and/or 3rd trimesters. Initially, I was a little anxious about exercising without guidance from a hands-on fitness expert, particularly as I had previously miscarried in my 1st trimester, but I built up confidence over time, listening to my body and using common sense.

I do not doubt that some prenatal exercise classes are enjoyable, but this was not my experience. Perhaps exercising in solitude is not for everyone, but it might be useful to consider this option when you are feeling self-conscious and vulnerable, as the pregnancy hormones rage through you. During pregnancy, I always felt much better after doing a bit of exercise, even though the urge to stuff myself with crisps after each workout never subsided.

Postnatal exercise

Hands up those of you mamas who listened to your midwife and periodically fit pelvic floor/kegal exercises into your daily postnatal regime. I wasn’t one of them. Frankly, given the trauma of child birth and the challenge of keeping a newborn baby alive, pelvic floor exercises weren’t high on my agenda. I fared no better after giving birth to child 2, as I then had to handle the trauma of child birth (again), as well as keeping a newborn baby AND child 1 alive. So far, so predictable.

I would, however, urge those of you pregnant ladies to try and do some pre and postnatal pelvic exercises if you possibly can (the NHS website contains useful information on this). It’s not too late for you and worth the commitment. I really regret that I cannot jump on a trampoline with my kids for any period of time without protective wear (if you catch my drift) and I have to ensure that I am ‘empty’ before going out for a run without exception. No amount of pilates that I’ve crammed in since maternity leave has improved things!

Despite my experience of prenatal exercise classes, I enjoyed going to some postnatal exercise classes. In fact, I’ve made lifelong friends from a baby and parent yoga class that I attended with child 1 during maternity leave. However, I found that these classes weren’t really about the parent or baby doing much yoga. It was a great support group involving a few downward dogs (with child 1 clinging onto my arm or leg) and involving a bit of resistance training when lifting and lowering child 1 whilst singing ‘Oh the Grand Old Duke of York’.

In terms of ‘real’ exercise, my NCT friends and I pooled our pocket money together during maternity leave to get a personal trainer to give us a weekly postnatal fitness session. This worked well for me because:

  • we arranged the sessions for after 7pm so that we could all dump our babies with the dads as soon as they came home from work.
  • I was able to get sweaty and wheezy during cardio sessions without feeling like Mr Blobby, as I was among good friends. We motivated each other and laughed A LOT during these sessions.
  • the sessions took place in various venues, including our local park (thankfully after most park goers had gone home), the personal trainer’s garden shed and my living room (we once moved all the furniture to one side of the room for a FITT workout!). The mix of venues kept things varied and interesting.

I have friends who swear by ‘buggyfit’ or other similar fitness classes where you can ‘bring your own’ baby. I think they can be great for postnatal fitness without the stress of finding childcare. However, for me, it wasn’t a stress-free option. Child 1 was never one of those placid babies who would be content to sit in a buggy for 30-45 minutes with a rattle to chew on.

Other friends also recommend a regular kitchen boogie or disco with babies in tow at ‘witching hour’. I have been known to do this more generally from time to time with child 1 and child 2, but neither child seems convinced by my enthusiasm for S Club 7 hits, even when they were babies.