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One thing you learn when you’re having a baby is that no two pregnancies and no two female bodies are the same.
Your friend Laura might have had glowing skin, a neat bump and energy to burn right up until she went into labour. Meanwhile you feel like a sweaty beached whale with adult acne who needs a nap after climbing a flight of stairs.
And once you’ve had the baby, the same rule applies. Some women will snap back into shape and be in skinny jeans within weeks, whilst others will take a bit more time to ease themselves back into the physical and emotional state they held prior to pregnancy.
Fitness after pregnancy can be a big deal to a lot of women, especially those whose exercise regimes were a key part of their lives pre-pregnancy or for those who feel like they have less control over their bodies after giving birth.
To learn more about fitness during and after pregnancy, Irish Life has spoken to Fitness Competitor, blogger and owner of Dimensions Dance Wear, Orla Hopkins.
Orla, who hails from Skerries, recently welcomed her second son Hunter and has shared with us, her experience of fitness – not only as a professional but having recently given birth herself.
Congratulations on the birth of Hunter! How did you find this pregnancy compared to your first?
I actually found this pregnancy tougher. I was extremely tired and suffered more from morning sickness – which was actually more like all day sickness for the first 16 weeks. Once I hit week 17, I felt great. My energy levels and appetite were back to normal.
As the tiredness lifted, my energy was up and I was able to get back to my workouts. My labour was literally a text book birth, which was totally different to my first – thankfully!
As a professional in the fitness industry, did you feel pressure to maintain your figure during pregnancy?
I didn’t feel too much pressure at all. During my first trimester I gained weight pretty quickly due to my sickness and headaches. I literally couldn’t look at anything that was healthy, I just craved sugary foods like jellies, breakfast cereals, granola, bread etc.
But at that 17 week mark, I started to feel better and back to my normal diet of fresh veg, grilled lean meats plenty of salads, I actually started to CRAVE salads! Then when I started working out again, probably four or five days a week, I found my weight gain balanced out.
How does your exercise and fitness regime change during pregnancy?
It’s very important to me to keep training when pregnan,t not only for myself and that feel good factor, but also to keep myself and the baby healthy. It helps with the strain of the bump by keeping up the strength in my lower back and legs. And it also helpa prepare the body for birth and for the post natal recovery.
I got full clearance from my consultant to keep doing what I was doing in moderation. He trusted me to listen to my body & take each session with caution and consideration, which I did.
During this pregnancy I worked out most of the time at home, performing circuit style sessions incorporating a fitball, resistance bands, kettle bells and ankle weights. I always listen to my body so some days my workouts were only ten minutes and other days 45 minutes, depending on how I felt that day.
How did you approach exercise after having Hunter?
I started my post natal recovery exercises on day two post partum, I received these from the hospital physio. They are extremely basic and all about recovering your strained, stretched muscles but these exercises are so important and I really advise all women to ask too see the hospital physio post labour and get a copy of them.
I then started back walking when I felt ready and as the days went by, I was able to start to speed up my pace and began power walking probably approximately four weeks post partum.
Then after my six week check I went back to the gym, slowly working myself back. It’s been tougher this time around as I’m juggling a school-going very busy seven year old. But making time for yourself is so important as I also say – a happy mum equals a happy family.
#TBT to that beautiful bump … it's hard to believe Hunter is 11weeks 🙈💙👶🏻 How our lives have changed in those 11weeks … juggling 2 with our crazy lives is much tougher than we expected but we are absolutely loving it 💙💙💙 Serious team work going on 👊🏼 I was so paranoid about getting back into a routine (as we did when Noa came along) but it's a different story with 2 … so I/we have decided to just go with the flow & take each day as it comes & accept help whenever it's offered 😜 which is something I didn't do with Noa xxx Sending love & lots of hugs to all you expectant mums out there 😘 & throwing my HANDS UP for all you awesome parents out there 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼 Happy Thursday 💗#Family#Love#mamatoboys#Bumplife
What advice would you give to other women wanting to keep up their fitness during and after pregnancy?
My advice to anyone who is wanting to keep up their fitness levels pre and post natal is to firstly get the all clear from your consultant, GP or midwife.
If you are feeling a little lost as to what you can and can’t do don’t be afraid to ask for help. Book a PT session or look into pregnancy keep fit classes or yoga. There are plenty of specialists out there who are extremely passionate about what they do and helping others so be sure to get a program that fits your needs and pregnancy.
Top Tips For Pregnancy Fitness
- Get professional advice
If you want to exercise or keep fit during your pregnancy, you should always speak to your doctor. Every pregnant woman has a different experience and different capabilities as their body undergoes such a huge change.
Resist the urge to Google to find safe workouts during pregnancy and take the time to get advice from a professional instead.
- Don’t push yourself
Whilst normally it’s good to push yourself in the gym or when you’re working out to get that extra burn, when you’re pregnant, you should always stay in the safety zone. Always stop when you get too tired, sore or when you feel like you should be taking it easier. Trust your body and do what it wants.
- Stay well nourished and hydrated
This is important when keeping fit, regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not but is even more crucial when you’re growing a human. Even when you don’t necessarily feel thirsty, keep guzzling water and pay close attention to your body temperature too.
- Warm up and cool down
Prepare your body for exercise, rather than jumping right into it. Otherwise you may easily strain your muscles and suffer days of pain afterwards.
- Pelvic floor
The pelvic floor is a layer of muscle that supports the uterus and helps maintain bladder and bowel control. During pregnancy, there’s a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor, so doing exercised that are specific to that area will help strengthen it and may even help bladder and bowel problems that sometimes occur post birth.
Top Tips For Post Partum Fitness
- Start slowly
Do not expect to be able to jump back into a circuits class after you’ve given birth. You will need to start getting back into fitness very slowly, giving your body the chance to adapt. Understand that even going for a walk will seem like climbing a mountain shortly after childbirth.
- Ignore the pressure
Understand that it is not your job to be super skinny or absolutely ripped immediately after having a baby. Use the time after giving birth to take care of yourself and your baby and ignore the pressure to snap back. Every body recovers and changes at a different pace and it may no longer be possible for you to look exactly as you did pre pregnancy. Focus more on self-acceptance than self-improvement until you’re physically ready to return to fitness.
- Wobbly joints
The hormone relaxin which is released during pregnancy and softens the ligaments and joints can stay in your body post childbirth, so you may find that during exercise your legs and pelvis can feel a bit unstable. For this reason, you should avoid exercises that are too rigorous or jerky in movement.
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