We are very excited to team up with expert Women’s Health Physio Fiona Mitchell to talk about all things related to the pelvic floor during pregnancy and after having a baby.

 

Q: How did you get into the field of Women’s Health Physiotherapy?

A: I had been a muscular-skeletal physio for years and after I had my children, I realised that there was a missing link, the pelvic floor! Having kids yourself really opens your eyes to the issues facing women postnatally.

 

Q: Why do (pregnant and postnatal) women come to see you?

A: Pregnant women generally come to see me due to low back pain or pelvic girdle pain.  Postnatally women come either for a check up, The Mummy MOT (R), to see how their pelvic floor is working or how their tummy gap is recovering. Others come with a specific issue such as ongoing PGP and LBP from pregnancy, stress incontinence, concerns about prolapsed or c-section scars. We usually find that one thing can lead to another and the best solution is to address everything together.

 

Q: Can you talk us through what usually happens when a client comes to see you in pregnancy or after having a baby?

A: First we have a chat and I ask what the Mum’s main concerns are as it’s great to be able to offer reassurance early on in the consultation. I ask all about this pregnancy or birth as well as any other children they’ve had. It’s important to have a clear picture of what bladder control is like or if they are constipated, whether sex is comfortable, what they are eating and drinking and how much sleep they are getting!

The second half of the consultation involves having a good look at posture, movement and tummy gap. Postnatally, If the baby has been birthed by C-section, I check the scar and the movement of the tissues around.  I check to make sure that the new Mum is breathing well and can coordinate that with a pelvic floor contraction. I usually do an internal check but not always on the first visit.

 

Q: What should a pregnant or postnatal woman avoid doing in order to protect her pelvic floor?

A: I would say that the most important way to protect your pelvic floor in any stage of life is to ensure that you’re not lifting anything heavier than you can manage. This varies from woman to woman. If we exhale when we make any effort such as lifting, it decreases the pressure and bearing down through our pelvic floor. Postnatally, it is important to give your self time to recover from birth whether you’ve had a vaginal or C-section birth. Returning to high impact sport too soon, straining on the toilet, lifting shifting heavy furniture all put your pelvic floor at risk.

 

Q: In your opinion, does exercising appropriately help or makes no difference to pelvic floor health during pregnancy and after delivery?

A: Pelvic floor and diastasis safe exercise can make a huge difference to pelvic health during pregnancy and after delivery. Keeping yourself strong during pregnancy not only aids delivery, but also means that you are likely to move better after your baby is born.

 

Q: What are your top tips for pelvic floor health – particularly in pregnancy and postnatally?

A: The most important thing to remember is that you have one pelvic floor for life! Treat it with love and respect and it will serve you well. Pregnancy and birth will take a toll on your body including your pelvic floor but if you’ve prepared well and seek help if you have any problems then you’re helping yourself as much as you can! Remember that once you’ve had a baby, you’re postnatal...for life. Give your pelvic floor consideration when to return to sport and exercise, lift and shift and take up new hobbies. If you’re unsure as to whether your pelvic floor is capable of an activity, get checked out by a women’s health physio.

 

Q: What exercises (other than kegels) are brilliant for pelvic floor health?

A: Functional exercises are great. You can exercise your pelvic floor by moving your hips, legs, arms and back as well as doing specific pelvic floor exercises.  A good antenatal fitness professional will teach you pelvic floor safe exercises. Some women like to do aqua classes which maybe useful if you have back or pelvic girdle pain.

Q: What are the top 3 things most clients say they wish they had known about looking after their pelvic floor (after seeing you)

A: They wish someone had explained the importance of Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercise, not getting constipated during or after birth and csection scar massage.  Csection scars can cause sensations of frequency, UTI or contribute to pelvic, hip or low back pain.

 

Q: Ok, please tell us HOW to do our pelvic floor exercises correctly and how often?

A: Most women may do a  exercise which creates the same sensation as stopping mid wee ( though you must not do your exercises whilst having a wee).

  • I will start in lying, relaxed and focusing on breathing low and wide into the rib cage. Once a good breathing pattern is established, on the out breath, i will instruct a gentle close around the anal sphincter and then a lift forwards and up or a drawing together of the tail bone and pubic bone. On the breath in, relax. Once this becomes a natural, easy movement, the muscle contraction can be held for long with the relaxed breathing working up to ten time ten second holds. Some ladies need different instruction but with most this works.
  • It’s important to do long slow holds and short quick ‘flicks’ on and off, of the pelvic floor and to move from lying into more functional positions such as sitting and standing, as soon as strength and coordination allows.
  • It’s great to do your pelvic floor exercises regularly and integrate them into your daily routine.
  • An important note to make is that some women may have an overactive pelvic floor and this can be a reason for painful sex, constipation and stress incontinence. These women need to do more relaxation exercises than strengthening. It can be confusing and is even more reason to seek help if you have any concerns about your pelvic health. You can access services via your GP or a private women’s health physiotherapist.

First of all, I love high impact exercise. I am a big fan of running and plyometrics (jumping). A long time ago I used to think that you couldn’t a good workout in if you didn’t go full on high impact.. I know now that high impact just isn’t appropriate for everyone and particularly in pregnancy and in the postnatal period it is sensible to protect your weakened pelvic floor and core by switching to low impact strength work. After years of teaching pregnancy and postnatal exercise classes, it’s become second nature to offer low-impact, safe variations of the “normal” types of exercises we do. I should also add here that if you ever attend an exercise class and the instructor can’t (or even worse won’t) give you a modification to an exercise then please don’t attend that class again! And continue reading to arm yourself with the knowledge to adapt the exercises yourself..

Anyone who has done one of my “low impact” classes knows that they are JUST as challenging, yet much kinder and more appropriate for the body, especially  during pregnancy, after having a baby, recovering from injury, or those who just want to avoid jumping/impact in general.  Mama on the Move’s strength and fitness online programmes are ALL low impact.

Here are some (video) examples of modifications of your beloved impact exercises without taking down the intensity:

Burpee

Star Jump

Squat Jump

Jump Lunge

Push ups

Plank

Side Plank

High Knees

NOTE: Please make sure you get the all clear from your midwife/doctor before commencing on any exercise programme. We would not advise doing the “step out” burpees or frontal plank if you are suffering from diastasis recti or in the 3rd trimester. In addition if you suffer from Pelvic Girdle Pain you may find some of these exercises (even the modified ones) not appropriate so as always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain/discomfort.

Tips on how to decrease impact and modify exercises:

  1. Keep at least one foot on the floor. If you want to change a traditional jumping movement, keep one foot on the floor at all times.  For example – see our star jump alternatives..
  2. Step it out…. Break the exercise out into separate segents… See our burpee variation

3)  Arms up! By raising your arms above your head, your heart rate will increase. If you’re keeping the moves low-impact, try to think of some ways to add in controlled arm movements to increase your intensity (light weights can also be added..)

4) Instead of jumping, rise up onto your toes. See our squat jump alternative -  Come down into a squat and rise up onto your toes (getting calf workout in too), reaching your arms up. Move quickly and your heart rate will soon start pumping!

5) Pulse it out…. Instead of jumping, add a pulse to ramp up the intensity  -see our jump lunge variation, you will really feel the burn with small movements but without the impact..

6) Decrease the range of motion.. For example, don’t go so low in the squats/lunges, start with small movements and build up from there.

7) For planks and push ups try using a wall or slight incline (like the back of a sofa) to avoid excessive pressure on your core. If you have no diastasis recti after having your baby then you can start to build up to floor work for side planks and push ups but always start on your knees..

Laura x

I think squats may just be my favourite exercise…..And so for the month of April you can join us in Squatting into Spring!!

We have a different squat variation EVERY DAY and we are challenging you to take part by squatting along with us…

Squats feature heavily in all my pregnancy and postnatal classes and are a staple of Mama on the Move’s strength programme… for good reason - who doesn’t want a peachier bottom with the added bonus of a strong pelvic floor?!

Squats are labelled as an exercise, but squatting is really just a fundamental human movement that many of us have now stopped doing altogether. We could squat more often than we realise throughout the day but instead we do tend to bend over much more to pick things up which is NOT great for the back… To reduce back and hip pain it’s good practice to squat every time you pick something up off the floor (including your baby/toddler!)

Squatting more will help you to become more and more flexible and strengthen and fire your glutes which is imperative to good postural alignment. By doing deep squats you’re encouraging a range of movement that we don’t get generally in our modern lifestyle.

We love squats because they…

1: Increase Pelvic floor muscle strength:

Your Gluteus (bum) muscles attach to your pelvis- if you strengthen the glutes with exercises such as squats the glute muscle it will lengthen the pelvic floor musles prevent ing them from becoming too tight.

2: Prevent Back & Pelvic Pain

Strengthening your glute muscles may decrease lower back and pelvic pain. Strong Gluteus Maximus muscles helps to stabilize your pelvis by supporting your sacroiliac joint. This prevents pain which is often caused by ligaments loosening due to pregnancy hormones relaxin and progesterone.

3: Give you a great looking butt!

Squats will keep your rear in shape during pregnancy and then post so you don’t have to worry about what you look like from behind! (for more tips on avoiding the dreaded mum bum see our blog)

4: Prepare for labour

Squats can help you specifically prepare for labour and birth. The exercise mirrors positions you can hold to help you cope with contractions in early and late labour, helping baby to descend deeper down into the pelvis.

5: Stronger Birth Positions:

Strengthening leg muscles during pregnancy by performing a variety of squats gives you more endurance in your birthing positions, ones that will allow gravity to assist making the pelvic opening wider which gives baby a bit more room to push through!

How to squat properly

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hips. Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead
  2. Toes should be slightly pointed outwards and engage your core by sucking your tummy button into your spine to work your transverse abdominals. (see our blog about your core muscles here.)
  3. Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground as if to sit in a chair position – pushing your bottom back and down. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet.
  4. Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  5. Push back up through your heels, exhaling at the same time.

Key points:

  • Inhale when lowering body, exhaling when pushing back up.
  • Keep toes pointed forward.
  • Engage your abdominals.
  • Don't allow your chest to drop and sink onto the tops of your thighs.
  • Keep your pelvis in neutral, make sure you untuck the bottom.

When Should You Not Squat?

There are times though when squats are not beneficial and you should avoid:

1: When baby is not in an optimal position after 30 weeks.

Squats help descend a baby deeper down into the pelvis. If a baby’s bottom is presenting first when a baby is in a breech position you don’t want to be pushing a bottom further down. Turn your baby into the optimal position first and then you can start squatting again.

2: Pain

If there is any pain when you perform a squat then you may need to have your technique assessed to correct your form or you can choose from different variations to reduce any discomfort.

  1. Medical reason/injury

If you have been advised by your healthcare professional not to squat then you should follow their advice.

Laura x

Happiness means different things to different people. With International Happiness Day tomorrow, I thought I’d write about how exercise has been vital to my happiness in motherhood. In the early postnatal stages I remember feeling suffocated by the expectation that I should be radiantly happy, when in reality I was really struggling with the realities of coping with a newborn. I was often too proud to admit that being a mum was not the fulfilling, amazing and rewarding experience that everyone else seemed to think it should be. Don’t get me wrong, I did experience peaks of happiness and positivity but it was sporadic. I was often left with the feeling that I was waiting for the right conditions to be happy. Once I got a good night sleep I would be happy. Or maybe once this growth spurt was over. Or when my child had stopped teething. Or when I lost some weight.

After many failed attempts to try and improve my happiness by working on the ‘good nights sleep’ I decided that instead I should maybe focus on losing some weight instead. I felt miserable every time I looked down at my stomach and was nowhere near being able to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, and being asked “When’s it due?” every time I ventured out without my children didn’t do too much for my mood either. However, I was aware that I had limited willpower when it came to food so I would have to start doing some exercise instead.

I searched on Facebook and found a postnatal exercise class close by. I can still remember going along to the first session; I was so close to bailing because I couldn’t find any fitness clothes that would actually fit me. It was such a long time since I had done any exercise that I was petrified about whether I would be able to keep up with everyone else and my body felt weak and clumsy after having children. As I drove to the class I had visions of all these superset gym bunny types judging me as I struggled to complete the exercises.

That first session was to completely transform my life. Yes, I couldn’t manage a press up, squats were agony and lets not even start on the burpees….but I was buzzing. Exercising gave me some headspace and for the first time in ages I felt like I had actually achieved something. Even though I really didn’t feel like going beforehand and found every single exercise painful and challenging, when I returned home, I felt so much more energised and positive.

Although I had started exercising with the goal of losing weight, as time went on this became completely irrelevant. I started to feel more like my old self again, less stressed and more confident. I’m not going to lie, there were (and are) still days when I felt overwhelmed, but now I knew that a quick workout would help blast away the negativity. Exercising also gave me a goal outside of just making it through the day without losing it. It was great to a have a personal challenge, an outside focus that gave me some ‘me’ time away from the daily stresses. Rather than fixating on how my body looked I started to focus on how my body felt, becoming firmer and more powerful. When I looked in the mirror, instead of hating my reflection, I was impressed by my body’s new abilities.

More and more research is proving the mental health benefits of exercise. Experts offer multiple reason why exercise positively impacts mental health; most agree it likely a combination of indirect and direct factors. Better circulation and reduced inflammation from exercise are immediate affects. With more oxygen being delivered to the brain, the mind is clearer and less fatigued. With less fatigue and a stronger state of mind we can handle stress more easily. In fact, according to a study at the University of Vermont, as little as twenty minutes of exercise can improve our mood for up to 12 hours.

It is important at this stage to say that at no point was I suffering from postnatal depression. For those of you who are affected by this condition I would recommend reading Laura’s blog about it here.

Lastly, I would like to say a huge thank you to Laura, as it was her class that I was fortunate enough to find on Facebook. She has helped me rebuild my confidence, regain my sense of self and reconnect with my body. Most importantly though, she has helped me discover that exercise makes me happy – and that feeling after a workout of wanting to enjoy every moment of being alive is something I am thankful for every day.

 

Alignment is pretty important for all of us, but especially so if you are pregnant or postnatal. Would you like to say goodbye to your lower back and neck pain? Want to repair your abdominal separation? Would you like a pelvic floor that doesn’t leak?

The first step in achieving these things is mastering your alignment. We don’t want to build strength on a body that isn’t optimally positioned, because without improving on your alignment first you are not going to be able to improve your core strength, the foundation on which all other movements are built (see our blog about the core muscles here).

 

What is Alignment?

Basically, it’s how your body is positioned, the placement of your body parts relative to one another. When our bones and joints are in an optimal position, our muscles can apply force onto those joints and do their job most easily. A lot of chronic aches and pains, a diastasis, and pelvic floor dysfunction call all benefit from improved alignment.

 

What Does Good Alignment Look Like?

Pilates is based upon the principle of biomechanics, the area of science concerned with the analysis of mechanics of human movement. In other words it is the science of explaining how and why the human body moves in the way that it does and the different forces that are acting upon it in different positions.

The skeleton on the left shows optimal alignment, the ribs are stacked over the hips, there is a natural curve in the lower spine with the pelvis untucked.

In the skeleton on the right, you’ll notice that the ribcage is no where near being stacked over the hips. The pelvis is jutting forwards, and the lower back is being compressed. Ouch. Oh, and the glutes? Total mum bum territory 🙁

Unfortunately, this shift in alignment is a common side effect of pregnancy. The extra weight of the foetus causes changes in your body’s centre of gravity, and this is exacerbated by the relaxin making your joints unstable. For some women, the response to the growing bump may be to tip the pelvis forward to counterbalance the extra load, increasing the curve in the lower back, putting strain on the lumbar spine and increasing pressure on the disks. In other women the pelvis tips backwards, placing increased stress on the sacrum at the bottom of the spine. One further change that occurs is the rounding of the upper spine due to the increased weight of the breasts, bringing the shoulders out of good alignment. To compensate for this we may thrust the ribcage forward.

On top of all this these changes in our alignment mean that our core muscles cannot function properly. Tucking the pelvis under shortens the pelvic floor muscles leading to weakness and problems such as incontinence and prolapse. Thrusting the ribcage out over the hipbones increases the strain on the linea alba, which may result in a diastasis recti (see our blog about what an abdominal separation is here and what you can do about it here). Ultimately, many changes in pregnancy and postnatal alignment tend to increase intra-abdominal pressure, as shown in the diagram below, placing your core muscles and joints under increased stress.

These postural changes do not automatically mean that you will get back pain or joint problems, but they may be a contributory factor. A lot of women report that their back problems first started during pregnancy. If nothing is done, these problems do not always automatically disappear after the birth and may go on to be long-term problems.

So, what can you do about it?

If you only remember one thing from this post, make sure it’s this: ribs over hips. I’m giving you permission to check yourself out every time you walk by a mirror. Stop and stare, even. Where is your ribcage in relation to your pelvis? Flaring up? Rounding forward? This is a “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” kind of situation. We need to get it juuust right.

Your ribcage needs to “live” over top of your hip bones. This allows our inner core unit – our diaphragm, our transverse abdominis, and our pelvic floor muscles – to work optimally. It allows our body the chance to create core stability and then strengthen our body in correct movement patterns.

Next, untuck that tailbone! If you are guilty of being a tucker then you need to release your sacrum. Pay particular attention to the way you sit, as a common tendency is to sit with the pelvis tucked under rather than sitting up on the sit bones. Also, aim to build strength in the glutes (see our mum bum workout here), which helps to prevent the sacrum from collapsing into the pelvis.

Another key step to developing core stability is breathing. Proper breathing is necessary for our core muscles to fire on cue. How efficiently we breath is highly dependent on our alignment, and when we’re able to breath well, we are much more likely to accept and handle intrabdominal pressure, which is necessary for core stability. When our core cannot handle intrabdominal pressure, it is not well contained and usually goes OUT (belly bulges) and/or DOWN (pelvic floor leaks).

Living and exercising with your body in good alignment is at the heart of Pilates, which is why it is such a great form of exercise for pregnant and postnatal women (and why we’ve included it in our fitness programmes). We’ve created an infographic that summarises the Pilates fundamentals, the core principles of Pilates alignment and movement for you to stick somewhere prominent in your home. Now, in your daily routine try to check your alignment whenever you can. Doing dishes, brushing your teeth, holding babies – where are your ribs? Doing squats, lunges, press ups – where is your pelvis?

Good luck! Tamsin x

 

While I was having coffee and <ahem> eating cake with my lovely Pregnancy Pilates group the other day we were discussing the subject of the “mum bum”. How during or post pregnancy many of us find that our bottoms feel rather soft and lacking in muscle tone! It’s expected to have a squishy tummy post baby but the bottom too?! Why is this? Well, during pregnancy your centre of gravity shifts and as a result, many women try to counterbalance that shift by tucking their tailbone.  This means that you end up underusing your glute muscles and overusing the posterior pelvic floor muscles. This results in a flattened backside that can’t fill up or hold up a pair of jeans.

While it might seem a bit odd, the next time you are with your mum friends... check out their derrieres (surreptitiously of course!) – what do you see?  Chances are you will see a lot of flat bums, flat backs and jeans that are continuously being pulled up. The ‘mum bum’ epidemic is out of control; if you want to avoid it then read on for some advice and exercises to help keep your bottom bootylicious, and, as an added benefit your pelvic floor will thank you too!

1.Sit Less

Sitting does nothing to build the glutes and everything to make your bum as flat as a pancake. This is tricky in the early postnatal weeks as we are often glued to the sofa feeding our little ones. However, in between those feeds minimizing the amount of time spent sitting is critical to maintaining a healthy backside!

  1. Walk

One of the best exercises out there is walking, and something that all new mums and mums to be can and should do as often as possible. It is a low impact form of exercise, so kind to the pelvic floor as well as a good way of getting the endorphins flowing. Hill walking is particularly beneficial, as when you add in the incline of a hill, it really blasts those glutes into high gear along with elevating your heart rate.

  1. Glute Bridges

The simple route to a perfect posterior is to master the glute bridge.  As well as helping your bum look fabulous this exercise will also help improve your hip flexibility and mobility. To increase the challenge, try raising one leg off the ground and keeping it steady as you bridge, or move both feet on top of a table or box.

Action

  1. Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this TVA activation throughout the exercise.
  3. Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability.
  4. Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.

Watch points: Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.

During pregnancy you should be cautious if you choose to exercise while lying on your back due to supine hypotensive syndrome, particularly after 16 weeks. Exercise on the back for short durations only and watch out for feelings of dizziness. If you experience dizziness, stop exercising immediately.

 

  1. Squats

Squatting is a great bum builder and is also a functional movement as you will be always bending down to pick up the little ones or the paraphernalia that comes with motherhood. Squatting can be done (and should be done) during pregnancy and within a few weeks postnatally.  The range of motion can be modified but you want to aim for a nice deep squat with the tailbone un-tucked and your pelvis in neutral (keeping the small curve in your low back). Squats are one of my favourite exercises and there are many variations that can be done to keep things interesting.

Action

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hips. Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead
  2. Toes should be slightly pointed outwards and engage your core by sucking your tummy button into your spine to work your transverse abdominals. (The girdle that holds everything in your abdominals together.)
  3. Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground as if to sit in a chair position – pushing your bottom back and down. As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet.
  4. Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  5. Push back up through your heels, exhaling at the same time.

Watch points:

Inhale when lowering body, exhae when pushing back up. Keep your toes pointed forward. Don't allow your chest to drop and sink onto the tops of your thighs.

During pregnancy there are times though when squats are not beneficial. You should avoid squatting when baby is not in an optimal position after 30 weeks, as squats help descend a baby deeper down into the pelvis. If there is any pain when you perform a squat then you may need to have your technique assessed to correct your form or you can choose from different variations to reduce any discomfort. There are some scenarios when you don’t want to induce early labour, a couple of examples might be Vasa Previa and multiple pregnancies under 35 weeks.

 

  1. The Oyster

The oyster helps to open up the hip joint, as well as strengthening the glutes and stabilising your pelvis. The opening and closing of the leg are also a great way of working your pelvic floor muscles.

Action

  1. Lie on your right side with your shoulders and hips aligned on top of each other. If you are pregnancy you may wish to use a pillow under your head and bump for comfort.
  2. Place your left hand on the mat in front of you and bend both knees so that your heels are in a line with the back of your pelvis.
  3. Inhale to prepare and then exhale and keeping the feet connected lift up your top knee. Keep the pelvis still and stable and move from the hip joint.
  4. Inhale and control the leg back to the start position.

Watch Points

Only open the top leg as far as you can whilst keeping the pelvis still. Keep your core engaged and your waist lifted off the mat throughout the exercise. Try and place as little pressure through the top arm as possible

  1. The Glute Pulse

This exercise focuses on building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. Completing the move in four point position will also challenge the core muscles as you work to keep the torso stabilised and the spine in neutral against the movement of your leg.

Action

  1. Start in four point kneeling position with wrists under shoulders and knees under hip joints.
  2. Inhale to prepare. Then exhale and keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg.
  3. Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
  4. Inhale and lower the leg back to start position.

Watch Points

Keep your spine in neutral by engaging your core muscles, and avoid rotating your hip s by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise.

We've created some short tabata workouts to get those glutes working:

Pregnancy:

Postnatal:

The term “core” is really a fitness buzzword and its actual meaning can be debated to no end. If you have read Tamsin’s blog you know about the ‘Power Four’ as the main inner muscles of the core that Mama on the Move focus on: The transverse abdominis, (TVA) the pelvic floor (PF), multifidus and the diaphragm.

For pregnant and postnatal women the process of carrying and delivering a baby can place a significant strain on your core muscles, meaning that we often suffer from conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction, hernias, diastasis recti and low back pain. Quite often it is not just the case that these muscles have been weakened but our brain may also have forgotten how to connect with and communicate with them. If you are pregnant – click here to read our blog on connecting with your core in pregnancy…

  • How to engage TVA:

I personally use the cue of “gently drawing your tummy button towards your spine” with my clients, and I believe if you really understand that this is NOT sucking your tummy in as hard as you can then it is an effective cue for lots of people, myself included!

So, we know it isn’t sucking your tummy in hard – WHY? Well think of a tube of tooth paste, if you squeeze it hard in the middle - all you’re doing is displacing the paste. Yes, the centre where you squeeze is thinner, but the paste is still in the tube, it’s just moved. Sucking in your stomach and pulling air up into your diaphragm or pushing air down into your pelvic floor isn’t going to do anything for you.

You also want to add in the correct breathing and connect with the pelvic floor at the same time as “gently drawing your tummy in towards your spine” on the EXHALE and release these muscles on the inhale. When the muscles of your Pelvic Floor turn on, your TVA can engage properly. This is drastically different from simply “sucking in your stomach”. Making a ssssssssss sound as you exhale can sometimes help find the deep core muscles you are working.

  • So, how to engage your Pelvic Floor?

This is going to sound a little strange, BUT - imagine using your vagina like a straw. Imagine sucking up a smoothie or trying to pick up a grape. It’s a gentle upward lifting action. Note, it’s gentle, not forceful.

Don’t forget your posture:

Good posture and alignment is crucial. Make sure your spine is neutral, your chest should not thrust – so lower ribs stay back, stacked directly over hips. Your shoulders are relaxed and not up by your ears and your tailbone or bottom doesn’t tuck underneath you. When you engage your TVA, you should not see movement anywhere else in your body.

REMEMBER:

  • Simply drawing/sucking your stomach in doesn’t do anything. So don’t waste time trying to active your TVA independently
  • Your Transverse Abdominis AND Pelvic Floor muscles activate together
  • Think about your posture, shoulders relaxed, chest not thrust forward, bottom “untucked”
  • Proper engagement of your TVA and Pelvic Floor feels like a gentle upward *and* inward pulling
  • Don’t forget the BREATHING. Inhale to prepare, EXHALE as you gently pull upward on pelvic floor and inward with tummy to spine. INHALE to release the muscles.
  • DON’T FORGET to relax these muscles too -you CAN overuse them– don’t go around trying to hold in your tummy and pelvic floor all day – this will not make them stronger, they need to relax.

When to “engage” the Core:

  • Before you lift anything… your baby, the car seat, the buggy…. Prepare and protect your back by properly engaging your core. I know this sounds like a lot to remember but if you re-train yourself to do this then it will become second nature…
  • Before you perform exercises such as squats, lunges, press ups etc. Remember also to EXHALE on the EXERTION – which in squats, lunges, press ups is as you push back up
  • When you are doing your pelvic floor exercises, don’t forget these muscles work best when worked together so activate your TVA as well.

Our pregnancy and postnatal programmes include Pilates workouts that will help you reconnect with and strengthen your core and pelvic floor. Click here for more details.

Laura x

 

One thing clients are often surprised about is that they can and should be working their core muscles during pregnancy. As Tamsin talked about in her blog, most people are not really sure what their core muscles are or how to properly engage them. Many think they are your abdominals (the “six pack muscle”) and whilst women may be aware in pregnancy that exercises such as crunches and sit ups are not suitable (Correct!), they are unaware that there are some essential core exercises you should be doing.

Magic Disappearing Bump Trick

An effective and safe core exercise to do in pregnancy is called “hugging the baby in” and the great thing about this simple exercise is you can do it standing, sitting (on the ball is good but on a chair fine) or on all fours. You just fit this in around your day and practice it whenever you have some spare time. It’s also a great “party trick” as you can amaze your other half/friends as you hug your baby in and make your bump disappear a little! This exercise is also safe for all 3 trimesters and can be done postnatally (even after a c section).

PLEASE NOTE – THIS DOES NOT HURT YOUR BABY IN ANYWAY!!

Hugging the baby in (engaging your pregnancy core) promotes good posture during pregnancy by strengthening the deep core muscles, the TVA and pelvic floor, which helps support the weight of your growing baby.

By learning to ‘HUG THE BABY,’ you are strengthening your TVA and pelvic floor which in turn:

  1. Decreases susceptibility to Diastasis Recti
  2. Prevents and alleviates lower back pain
  3. Promotes good posture
  4. Help with pushing the baby out during delivery
  5. Postnatally it helps your tummy return back to its pre pregnancy state quicker

How to Hug the Baby and Release the Baby

  1. Stand up tall, lengthening the spine to the ceiling, like you have a string on the top of your head.
  2. Inhale deeply, allowing the air to fill down the sides and back of the ribs, (Lateral Thoracic Breathing).
  3. EXHALE as you gently lift up on the pelvic floor and you hug your baby (pulling baby or tummy in towards the spine activating the TVA). Keep the pelvis neutral (don’t tuck your bottom under).
  4. Feel equal weight on your feet pressing down into the floor and keep the shoulders relaxed and down away from the ears.
  5. INHALE as you relax the TVA and pelvic floor, releasing the Hug the Baby posture.

The ability to completely relax the TVA and pelvic floor allows for flexible, strong muscles rather than tight, inflexible muscles, and it is very important to remember to relax completely on the inhale.

In the video I am hugging the baby in on all fours. Mare sure your hands are directly under your shoulders (and shoulder width apart) and that your knees are directly under your hips and hip width apart. You spine should be in “neutral” position, which a flat back and un-tucked bottom.

During my third pregnancy I followed Mama in the Move’s Fitness and Pilates programmes, which include lots of safe deep core exercises and I can honestly say it was my easiest pregnancy and I had no back pain at all. I was also able to activate my deep core muscles much earlier postnatally because I had been working them throughout my pregnancy.

Laura x

So it’s that time of year again. We’ve completely overindulged over the festive period and feeling a little jaded we start the New Year full of good intentions. As 2017 beckons, our thoughts turn to a brand new, blank canvas that is the NEW YEAR – the chance to be the “best” versions of ourselves once again…. Millions of us will make New Year's Resolutions but apparently 80% of us fail to stick to them. We’ve all experienced the frustrations of starting a new training program and sticking with it perfectly for a few days or weeks, only to fall off the wagon for one reason or another.

If you want to maximize your chances of actually sticking to your resolutions this year then read on for Mama on the Move’s 5 top tips for a healthier 2017.

  1. Focus on a habit goal

The most common pitfall that people tend to fall into is to create a resolution that is focused on an outcome, such as ‘lose weight’ or ‘run 10K’. The problem with this is that we have little control over achieving these outcomes. Whilst a few people will manage to lose weight, for many of us this simple sounding statement is far more challenging to achieve. When we fail to see progress we become dispirited and give up altogether.

A habit is something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it. Around 40% of the actions that we perform each day are a result of habit. Whilst you cannot control outcomes you can totally control the time and effort you put into acquiring new, healthier habits. All outcome goals are actually the result of creating and sticking to a new habit for a sustained period of time. Just focus on what you can do each day and before you know it you will start seeing results. In our programmes we have created 10 nutrition commandments that we encourage you to adopt as healthy eating habits.

  1. Make small changes that are achievable

Another of the main mistakes that people make is to make large sweeping statements as their resolutions. Yes, I do understand that it seems a lot more impressive to pledge to ‘Run a marathon’ or ‘Drop a dress size’ but most people fail at new habits because they take on too much too fast. This is just not sustainable, particularly if you are a new mum trying to juggle everyone’s demands, or an expectant mum struggling with morning sickness.

Aim to start with a small positive habit that will take you five to ten minutes each day. You’ll get a lot more mileage out of setting up a small habit, and winning at it repeatedly. According to a 2012 study of more that 650 000 adults, those who walked for 10 minutes every day, even if they got no other exercise and even if they were overweight, lived on average 2 years longer than those who couldn’t find 10 minutes to exercise. We’ve designed our Mama on the Move workouts so that they are less than 15 minutes long, which is totally achievable. You may even find that once you build one workout habit, it’s even easier to achieve the next one.

  1. Expect setbacks

There seems to be an increasing fear of failure in our culture. Particularly as mums we put huge amounts of pressure on ourselves to live up to unrealistic expectations. Quite often when we fall off the wagon or break our resolutions we feel like we have ‘failed’ and at this point it is tempting to give up completely.

However, failure is not only normal, it’s completely healthy. When you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, you haven’t failed; you’ve learned. Try to adopt a “growth mindset,” which thrives on challenge and sees failure as an opportunity to acknowledge and embrace your imperfections so that you can become better at overcoming them in the future.

  1. Use external triggers to re-enforce your new habit

One of the best ways to get a new habit to stick is to link your new healthy habit to a trigger and perform it consistently. If you get it done before, during, or after something you’re already doing, and you’re a lot more likely to actually do it.

For example, you go to work every day. You could put your workout in before work. Or after work. But work is the trigger that you connect your workout to.

Or maybe you tie it to dinner. I’m going to workout before dinner.

You can workout after you take the dog for a walk. During your lunch break. Right after you wake up. You can put your workout whenever works for you. But as a new habit, you want to plan it either:

  • Before something
  • During something
  • After something

That something that you already do is the trigger for your new habit to start.

  1. Get motivated

Motivation is crucial in helping you to stay on track with your resolutions. It takes on average about 30 days to master a new habit, which occurs in three phases:

PHASE 1(1-10 days): After the initial excitement around the start of a new habit the motivation wears off and tedium sets in.

PHASE 2 (11-20 days): The new habit starts to become easier but daily discipline and commitment are still needed.

PHASE 3 (21-30 days): Habits start to become routine. The positive results and advantages of the new habit start to be felt.

If you want to make it through the 30 days its important to build in strategies that will help you stay motivated. Obviously we are all different in terms of what makes us tick but here a range of suggestions to keep you on track.

  • Team up with a habit partner
  • Write down your successes at the end of each day (and if you had a hiccup, what you’re going to do to make it less likely in the future!)
  • Sign up for a challenge or event
  • Give yourself small rewards each day you achieve your habits
  • Make yourself accountable by telling people about your new habit
  • Keep a record of any positive changes you have noticed
  • Enlist the help of friends and family to support you
  • Join an online community like our Mama on the Move Facebook pregnancy or postnatal groups
  • Make it easy to stick to your habit, for example by clearing the kitchen of temptation

So, hopefully armed with these tips you’re all set to make some awesome new habits next year. However, particularly for new mums and mums to be my last piece of advice would be to be kind to yourself. There are a lot of different ways that life's stresses can increase for periods of time. You may need to dial your habits back to stay in the game. Just know that it’s okay to do more some times, and less other times. These things go in cycles; that’s normal and ok.

Get in touch with us on our Facebook page to let us know your resolutions for 2017!

Tamsin x

I was probably hugely naive but I was completely unprepared for what would happen to my body after having a baby. Before getting pregnant I had never had to watch what I ate and I while I was aware that I would not get my figure back the day after giving birth I definitely thought that things would get back to ‘normal’ after a month or two.
In retrospect, there were a number of warning signs I missed that should have altered me that this was not going to be the case. I did a lot of ‘resting’ and ‘eating for two’ during pregnancy and consequently I was HUGE. I went on maternity leave at 28 weeks and spent a lot of that time going out for coffee, always accompanied by a slice of cake.  I had put on the recommended two stone that you are supposed to gain by the end of pregnancy by 20 weeks, and when my son arrived he weighed in at 9 pounds 11.

So I should not have been surprised when four months after having my son I was getting asked, “When’s it due?” if I went out without him. The situation became even worse after I had my daughter. I can still remember vividly the day I managed to get a rare afternoon off from my then 2 year old and 6 month old and headed to the shops full of excitement to get my holiday wardrobe sorted. As the afternoon progressed my confidence sunk lower and lower. All of the places where I used to shop only stocked bikinis, which there was no way I could contemplate. I ended up in desperation clutching a hideous miracle shape changing swimsuit two sizes bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. Then I was hit with the sinking realisation as I looked in the mirror of the changing room and saw what my body had become. It seemed to sum up all the negative feelings I had about becoming a mother; out of control, unattractive, frumpy and just not ‘me’. I sat down in the changing room and cried. As soon as my husband got home later that evening I went for my first run in three years.

Fast forward six months and I had been completely bitten by the fitness bug. I was doing circuits twice a week, spin and had signed up to doing a marathon. I felt in a much better place mentally and had got down to a healthy weight but things were still not right. Whilst the rest of my body had slimmed down my stomach stubbornly refused to budge, and actually in some ways looked worse as it was now totally out of proportion with the rest of my body. On top of this, once I started running longer distances for marathon training I started experiencing problems with my pelvic floor.

Luckily I discussed these issues with Laura and she checked me for a diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and discovered that I had a three-finger gap that was very deep in my lower abdomen. She gave me some corrective exercises and made me stay away from high impact activities until the gap had decreased. One month later I was down to two fingers and within three months it was less than one and I could feel my core was so much stronger (and as a bonus I no longer looked 3 months pregnant!).

These experiences inspired me to train as a Pilates instructor and specialise in pre and postnatal fitness. I am passionate about the importance of exercise in helping empower mums and enabling them to reconnect with their bodies. I also want to make sure that they are informed about how to exercise safely and effectively both before and after pregnancy. I know how important it is to be doing the right sort of exercise after having a baby, particularly if you are trying to get rid of the ‘mummy tummy’. If you want to find out more about diastasis recti read our blog about it here. We’ve put together an infographic with some gentle core strengthening exercises that will help you start repairing the gap. For more Pilates exercises to strengthen your core muscles and diastasis friendly fitness workouts why not check out our postnatal programme.

Tamsin x

Diastasis Recti Infographic

Diastasis Recti Infographic