Tree Life Birth Care in White River Junction, VT, is our newest location for Total Pregnancy Fitness. The center is dedicated to providing balanced, evidence-based support to women and their families during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. They offer doula care, childbirth education, prenatal dance classes, and lactation consulting in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire. For more information, visit http://LifeTreeBirth.com or email Mary Etna Haac at DoulaMaryEtna@gmail.com.
Mary Etna R Haac, MPH, PhD, DONA-trained Birth Doula. Bilingual: English-Spanish. 703–447-98–94.
Women’s Health & Fitness Programs
Many important health issues for girls and women involve matters of reproductive
health, childbearing, fertility and aging. Research informs us that an active, healthy
lifestyle provides a number of benefits throughout a woman’s life span:
reduced discomforts from pregnancy, labor, birth, recovery & menopause
reduced risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and premature birth
potentially shorter active labor and reduced risk of cesarean delivery
more rapid return to joyful activities, less excess weight following birth
mother-infant interaction, leading to infant psychomotor enhancement
reduced rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes
reduction of some cancers, osteoporosis, falls and loss of muscle mass
improved social support, networking and stress management skills
greater belief in one’s ability to be strong and capable (self-efficacy)
In the generations since birth moved from the home to the hospital setting, it has become less and less frequent that women in developed nations see birth first hand and accept it as a natural part of life prior to their own first birth experience. The “epidemic” of fear surrounding birth may well be partly a result of this phenomenon. In a recent post published in Midwives magazine, a publication of the UK’s Royal College of Midwives, DTP director Ann Cowlin wrote a blog entitled ‘Exercise and Body Trust in Birth.’ The post addresses the confidence in one’s body that accompanies training specific exercise and how this applies to pregnant women and their preparation for birth. Here is the link to the blog post: http://community.rcm.org.uk/blogs/exercise-and-body-trust-birth
DTP: When did you first work or study with DTP? HSB: We first discovered DTP in 2011 while researching evidence-based exercise programs for pregnant women. DTP was exactly what we were looking for! So in January of 2012, Healthy Start Brooklyn trained three former clients and one staff member to teach free DTP classes to low-income pregnant women in Central Brooklyn. It took some time for us to get the program up and running, but we have been offering classes since March of this year and they have been continuing successfully ever since.
DTP: Describe the focus or mission of your work. HSB: Healthy Start Brooklyn is a federally funded program that seeks to improve the health and wellness of women, infants and families in Central Brooklyn. Rates of infant death, premature birth and illness in the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, East New York, and Flatbush are far higher than elsewhere in New York City and the U.S. as a whole. HSB provides support services, education and training to reduce these inequalities and improve the lives of Central Brooklyn residents. Our DTP classes, as with our childbirth education and doula programs, are aimed at trying to offer our clients free services that are available to more affluent women to help offset some these inequalities that can have a negative impact on birth outcomes.
DTP: What do you most enjoy about your work? HSB: We enjoy seeing our clients coming back to class every week. Some of them have very little support systems in their lives, and it is extremely rewarding to see them participate in class each week and stay after class to talk to each other and share stories. It is our hope that the class not only positively affects their physical health, but also their mental health as well, serving as a place where they can de-stress and socialize with other women in similar situations. We also really enjoy receiving pictures of the babies that our class had some part in helping enter the world healthy!
DTP: What is the most important or interesting thing you have learned from working with moms, moms-to-be, or other women clients? HSB: Pregnant women can move! In the beginning, we were nervous about making our class routines too high intensity for some of the women who were further along in their pregnancies. We were surprised to find that they could all keep up and were even requesting the higher intensity routines.
To learn more and see more photos, go to the DTP Blog:
In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitnessbusiness includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population).
See photos and read more about Renee’s business on the DTP Blog here. The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.
Renee is a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles. She started studying with DTP in March 2012 and completed the practicum in May 2012.
I most enjoy the good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise. I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs enable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own. I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy. I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.
I have long wanted to write this post. Recently two articles appeared in the NY Times prompting me to move forward. One article dealt with how it is that ongoing vigorous exercise produces brain enhancements. The second article dealt with how running creates its “high” and explained why the resulting addiction is an evolutionary benefit for human survival.
Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better be running.
Ethiopia, circa 1974
The pregnant mom who exercises vigorously and regularly — the one who runs or swims or does aerobic dancing — is not the one at risk, or whose infant is at risk, of a lack of tolerance for the rigors of labor or for lifestyle health problems. It is the sedentary or low activity mother and her offspring who are at risk. I have written at length on this reality in my chapter on Women and Exercise in Varney’s Midwifery.
This realization has plagued me for ages, and the two articles in the Times convinced me to make this statement, explain why it is true and exhort women of childbearing age to become aerobic animals.
In the contemporary world, we are not as active as previous generations. Few women exercise to the extent required to develop the capacity to withstand the rigors of birth. It is little wonder that so often health care providers hear that women are afraid to exercise, and childbirth educators hear that pregnant moms are afraid of birth and don’t have confidence in their ability to do it. There are solutions for these issues…
The biggest bang for the buck is aerobics. This gets almost everything that helps you in labor. It increases endurance, strength and range of motion. It improves breathing capacity (you get more oxygen + less fatigue). It reduces your need to tap your cardiac reserve (your body works hard in labor but not to the degree it must if you are not fit). Plus, regular participation in a good cardio or aerobic workout gives you the mental toughness and confidence you need to know that your body is capable of the work and the recovery — what we call body trust. Fit Pregnancy has discussed the myths surrounding how hard a pregnant woman can work out.
Learning useful positions and movements is extremely helpful. Be sure that your workout also includes strength and coordination movements — such things as squatting, core movements for pelvis and spine, and other motions that aid your progress in labor. Being upright and moving are keys to a healthy labor. These require strength and coordination.
Mental focus and being present teach you to work with your body. Activities such as relaxation training, yoga, pilates for pregnancy and dance help you develop the mental skills (mindfulness and deep breathing) that accompany your movement. Learn to recognize your body’s signals so you know when it’s time to push.
A truly effective use of your time is a one hour class a couple times a week that combines all these elements. We have known this for decades. The evidence is clear that it works. Keep moving…right into labor and birth!
MORE?!! You didn’t think that was it? Only a few comments on evidence as to WHY moving around, burning calories, being strong and learning to relax while pregnant is beneficial? No, of course not. You know there is more to it, like WHAT movement is safe and effective during pregnancy?
So, what is safe? Well, first, unless you have a very few conditions that your health care provider considers unsafe, every woman — fit, currently sedentary, young or a little older — can exercise safely in pregnancy. How much of what kind depends on your fitness level and exercise history. Get medical screening first.
If you are fit, you can do vigorous exercise
If you are fit, you just need to learn how to modify some movements to accommodate your biomechanics. As your body changes, stress on the joints and tissues means a little less jumping or ballistic motion will be more comfortable and safer. If you are fit, you can continue with vigorous exercise and it will be of benefit to you and your baby.
If you are not so fit or are sedentary, find a certified pre/postnatal instructor and join a group where you will have fun, get some guidance and be monitored for safety. How do you find such a person? Try our Find A Class or Trainer page.
What is effective? Don’t spend your time on things that may be nice to do but don’t help you focus and prepare for birth, relieve discomforts or have the stamina for birth and parenting. There is substantial scientific evidence and information from large surveys that these things are helpful.
Cardiovascular or aerobic activity is the most important activity you can do. Already fit? Keep working out; join a class if you want support or new friends. If you are sedentary or somewhat active, you can improve your fitness by doing at least 20 — 30 minutes of aerobic activity 3 times a week. Work at a moderate pace — somewhat hard to hard — so that you can talk, but not sing an aria! If you are more than 26 weeks and have not been doing cardio, you can walk at a comfortable pace. Aerobics is key because it gives you endurance to tolerate labor and promotes recovery.
Strength and flexibility exercises that do not hurt and are done correctly are also safe. There are some special pregnancy exercises that actually help you prepare for birth. Essential exercises that aid your comfort, alignment and birth preparation include:
• Kegels (squeezing and relaxing pelvic floor muscles) — squeezing strengthens them and thus supports the contents of the abdomen, and learning to release these muscles is necessary for pushing and birth.
• Abdominal hiss/compress and C-Curve® - contracting the transverse abdominal muscles reduces low back discomfort and strengthens the muscle used to push and later to recover abdominal integrity after birth.
• Squatting — getting into this position strengthens the entire leg in a deeply flexed position; start seated and use arms for support, stability and safety. Leg strength improves mobility and comfort in pregnancy and postpartum; plus, deep flexion is a component of pushing in almost all positions.
• Strengthening for biomechanical safety — strengthening some parts of the body helps prevent injury to bone surfaces, nerves and blood vessels within joints re-aligned in pregnancy. This can be done using resistance repetitions (weights, bands, calisthentics or pilates) or isometrics (yoga or ballet). A responsible class will focus on upper back (rowing), push-ups, abdominals, gluteals, hamstrings, and muscles of the lower leg.
• Stretching of areas that tend to get tight — relieving some discomforts through flexibility helps you maintain a full range of motion. Static stretches, used in combination with strength exercises or following aerobics, is most effective. Stretching prior to exercise tends to produce more injuries than not stretching. Areas needing stretching include the chest, low back, hamstrings and hip flexors (psoas).
Mind/Body skills are very important. There are two activities that exercisers constantly tell us are a big help in pregnancy, birth and parenting.
• Centering employs a balanced or neutral posture, deep breathing and mindfulness to help you work in a relaxed way. Athletes and dancers call this “the zone.” Starting your workout in association with your body establishes economy of motion, something very useful in birth and parenting, and reduces risk of injury.
• Relaxation is another key activity; it relieves stress, promotes labor in the early stages and helps you enter the zone!