fitness, pelvic health, postpartum, Pregnancy

Pregnancy is Temporary, but Your Choices Last Forever

Being avidly interested in perinatal fitness & a new mom myself, I come across a lot of advertising and social media posts about exercise in pregnancy and postpartum. I often find myself scrolling through the comments to see what the general consensus is on the latest (usually controversial) video or message is.

One comment that almost always crops up is:

“I did crossfit/ran marathons/did crunches/did what I always did when I was pregnant and my baby turned out perfectly fine”

And all I can think is you just don’t get it!

While there are definitely recommendations for exercise in pregnancy circled around maintaining baby’s health, Mom’s health is just as important!

(I know, groundbreaking stuff, right?)

When I (and many other well-educated fitness professionals) say maybe it isn’t the best idea to do crunches, or run long distances, or lift super heavy, I’m not saying this because I think you are putting your baby’s health at risk. I am saying these things because you are putting yourself, your body and your future function at risk!

Yes, you can powerlift (or sprint, or do jumping jacks, or whatever) when pregnant, and baby will probably be fine, and it might feel okay for you at the time, but should you? Probably not.

Something one of my idols in the fitness industry, Brianna Battles says regularly about exercise in pregnancy is:

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
~Brianna Battles, Everyday Battles

It all circles back around to training with intention. When pregnant, a lot of women fear losing themselves when the baby comes (I know I did. I so did!) so they try to keep doing what they’ve always done and enjoyed through their pregnancy, as if to prove to themselves that they are the same! But, as much as you are the same, you are so not the same during (and after) pregnancy. You are growing a human! That is a big-freakin-deal! You need to respect that. You need to surrender yourself to the fact that as important your personal goals are, the priority should be keeping your body healthy and strong in this (so very short) chapter of your life.

There are so many more factors at play in the perinatal period when it comes to exercise and fitness. Hormones influence your connective tissues. A growing uterus influences center of gravity, balance and movement patterns. Diastasis recti influences core function and strength. The weight of baby on the pelvic floor influences it’s ability to respond appropriately (hello, pee sneeze – not normal!). So we need to take all of these things (and more) into account when training in pregnancy.

Yes, we can program exercise along the same lines you are used to and enjoy, they just might look a little different. The how of exercise is often more important than the exercise itself. It’s about strategy rather than just do’s and don’ts. If you follow Brianna (mentioned above) Jennifer Cambpell of Mama Lion Strong & Healthy Habits Happy Moms, or Jessie Mundell, or Julie Wiebe or Katy Bowman, they all preach ‘ribs over hips’ and keeping your ribs, spine and pelvis neutral.

[Side note: I would be literally nowhere if it wasn’t for all I have learned from following these amazing women and for their trail blazing in this field]

So, can you complete a heavy overhead press while 30 weeks pregnant? Yes. Okay, but can you do it while maintaining your ribs over hips, without your diastasis bulging, and without holding your breath? No. Then that exercise isn’t the best choice for you in this chapter of your life. If you say you are just going to do it because it feels fine to you, my next question is why? What is the value of continuing to do an exercise that maybe isn’t the best for your body at this point? Is it because you think you should be able to do it? Is it because you’ve seen other pregnant women do it and you want to look ‘badass’ like they did? Is it because you’re afraid of looking like a weakling or a failure who didn’t have the guts to go for it? Take a look inside yourself, and analyze why you feel you need to do a specific exercise or program. Is it worth the risk? Spoiler alert: putting your glory ahead of your future function is not badass and doesn’t take guts. You know what takes guts? Putting yourself first. Saying no when someone challenges you. Looking within yourself and standing up for your own values. That’s badass. That takes guts. Going with the flow because everyone is doing it, that’s cowardly. Having the courage to stand out on your own is the pinnacle of strength.

Now I’m not saying you can never do your favourite not-so-ideal-in-pregnancy exercise again. That is definitely something you can return to. However, it’s something you need to work up to, and be mindful of how your body is functioning, and be ready to maybe take two steps forward and one (or two or three) steps back along the way. It’s about checking the ego, and respecting where your body is at during this very important period and allowing yourself to surrender to it. This chapter in your life is temporary. Eventually it will end, but the choices you make within it can have lasting consequences if you aren’t smart about it. In closing, I’d like to bring it back around to another quote from Brianna;

Pregnancy is temporary, Postpartum is forever.
~Brianna Battles, Everyday Battles

Try not to forget that, because your body won’t.

having-the-courage-to-stand-out-on-your-own-is-the-pinnacle-of-strength

Birth, pelvic health, Pregnancy

Hold Your Breath, Count to 10, Push Your Baby out, and Your Uterus too

Have you ever heard the term ‘Purple Pushing’?

I hadn’t either, until after I was diagnosed with a grade 2 cystocele (bladder prolapse) and a grade 1 uterine prolapse.

You read that right ladies, all that preaching I’ve been doing about being safe to prevent prolapse, well it didn’t save me.

And I’m about 99% sure I know exactly why.

Two and a half plus hours of ‘purple pushing’. Now the details of the pushing phase are a little foggy in my memory, probably due to the extreme fatigue I was hitting by that point. But I do remember on more than one occasion, grunting through a push and my midwife telling me to stop ‘pushing into my throat’… READ: shut up and bear down. Well when you bear down like that, you’re not only pushing your baby out, you’re pushing everything out. It’s really a matter of what gives first.

And you’re thinking ‘So what? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? That’s how it is in the movies, and on TV and in every birthing video ever

Nope. The research says otherwise. Actually, current UK & Canadian recommendations advise against directed pushing. Directed pushing is when the midwife or OB tells the woman when and how to push, usually at the beginning, middle and end of a contraction (that’s right, 3 full body, everything you’ve got pushes per 1 minute contraction) while they count to ten and you turn purple in the face (hence purple pushing).

I remember my midwife telling me 2 pushes per contraction wasn’t good enough. I remember thinking there was absolutely no way I had it in me to put that much effort in, 3 times, every couple of minutes. No wonder I was passing out between contractions by the time we transferred to the hospital. It just didn’t feel right. It felt forced, and painful, and wrong. Birth shouldn’t feel like you’re working against your body. It should feel like your body is doing this amazing thing and you’re kind of just along for the ride and helping out a little, which is what it had felt like for me up until that point!

The fact is that pushing like this not only is exhausting, it is not effective, it is damaging your body and sometimes can increase the risk for your baby to go into distress before they are out.

Boy can I speak to how exhausting it can be to push like that. It is essentially flexing every muscle in your body, while holding your breath, for 10 or so seconds, 2-3 times in a row, every 2-5 minutes. For those of you who’ve been through it, you feel me. For those of you who haven’t, imagine doing a 1 rep max squat, 3 times in a row. Not fun. This has also been found in the research, the effectiveness of the maternal muscles in contracting effectively to push out the baby is related to how frequently they are asked to contract. So if you contract 3 times per minute, rather than once, the muscle contraction gets progressively less effective, decreasing the efficiency of the push.

If a woman is allowed to push spontaneously when birthing (i.e. when she feels she needs to), it has been found that she instinctively pushes with the peak of the contract, once per contraction, thereby maximizing the efficiency of the push and making the most of the effort she is putting in voluntarily (if you can call it that). If you triple that effort, without any marked increase in effectiveness, it is possible the woman may become physically exhausted, before the baby is born, increasing the likelihood of an instrumental delivery.

This is exactly what happened to me. I was SO tired, and we intended on going to the hospital to use a vacuum to assist. So we took a break from ‘coached’ pushing, I was basically left to push voluntarily for about 10-15 minutes during the transfer, and I believe that, coupled with the moving around required to get to the hospital, helped Nugget get to the point where we didn’t need a vacuum after all.

I also believe that pushing like this is what has caused my prolapse. You see any time you bear down (think actively pushing out a poop, sorry if that’s too vivid for some, but I think we’re way past that if you’ve read this far!) you are putting pressure on your pelvic floor. The act of bearing down creates tension in the diaphragm, core muscles and directs all of the pressure created in your abdomen downwards, onto, you guessed it, your pelvic floor and all of those lovely organs sitting on top of it. So if you think, 3 pushes per contraction instead of one, thats 3x the amount of pressure placed on all of those muscles and organs. No wonder 50% of women who have given birth vaginally are estimated to have some degree of prolapse!

This act of holding your breath and pushing also increases the risk of harm to the baby. Let’s think about this logically: when you hold your breath, you are not taking in oxygen. Now, sitting on the couch doing nothing and holding your breath for 10 seconds probably isn’t a big deal. But when you’re literally flexing every muscle in your body and also you are the only source of oxygen for another human currently contained within your body, you are consuming oxygen at a much higher rate. And if there is less oxygen circulating in the mother, there is less oxygen getting delivered to the baby. There is even evidence that bearing down for more than 5 seconds can cause late-decelerations in the baby’s heart beat, often a precursor to an emergency c-section.

So why are we still holding on to the era of ‘we must actively push the baby out’? There are a lot of reasons. The medicalization of childbirth, where it is made to be the most convenient for the doctor, woman on her back, with an epidural working against gravity. Another is our bodies are no longer the bodies of ‘natural’ humans. We no longer hunt & gather, walk miles and miles each day, squat to forage and toilet. Our musculature is different than that of our ancestors due to the vastly different environment we live in. More often than not, we hold a lot of tension in our pelvic floor muscles, and those interfere with childbirth, especially when we are tense and scared of the event at hand. But if we were to take care of all of those variables, the fact is we wouldn’t have to actively push at all to give birth. Do you see elephants and lions and any other mammal that has a uterus holding their breath and grunting on those nature shows? No. 99% of the time the baby animals literally just fall out of the mother, after the uterus does all the work!

This is why we have to take care of ourselves in pregnancy, be educated about our rights and options, and choose healthcare providers that align with our goals and intentions. We have to be our own advocates and stand up (both literally and figuratively in this case) for what we know is right! We have to listen to our bodies, and I mean really listen. We have to get to know them in great detail, know every sensation, what is normal and what isn’t. That way when big events like this come along, we are prepared to work with our bodies instead of against them.

And above all, Squat!

Just keep squatting everyone.

makes-1

Birth, fitness, Pregnancy, Uncategorized

What I Learned From my Labour & Birth

They say hindsight is 20/20.

39 weeks
Me in early labour at 39 weeks pregnant!

I thoroughly believe that is true. Looking back at my labour and birth of nugget nearly 6 months out, there are a few things I would have done differently, if I had the chance. This doesn’t mean I regret anything. I did the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time, but I also believe that it’s smart to take every experience you have and try to learn something from it.

  1. I wouldn’t have pushed so early
    As soon as I felt the urge, I pushed. It felt good, so I kept doing it. Looking back now, I think I was just over excited and should have let my body and my uterus do more of the work before I started actively participating. Even when a woman is not actively pushing, your uterus is still working to bring baby down with each and every contraction. I would have focused more on ‘breathing baby down’ or breathing through contractions and allowing them to do their work and conserving my energy for the work of actively pushing later on.
  2. I would have squatted more during labor
    I honestly have absolutely no idea why I didn’t do this. Squatting during labour helps open the pelvis and relax the pelvic floor, allowing baby to come down more easily. I prepared by squatting throughout my pregnancy, I knew that squatting in labour was beneficial, but for some absurd reason it did not pop into my head once to squat during labour. I think maybe I had it in my head that squatting should be reserved for pushing, but even then I didn’t think of it.
  3. I would have paid better attention to my posture
    All day in early labour I was so keen. I stayed in alignment, made sure I was giving my baby the best passage through, until I got into the birth tub. For some reason as soon as I got in there, I sat back on my sacrum (re: slouched) and I believe that influenced nugget bumping into my pubic bone on his way out. I also started out pushing in this position, which when I think back was actually a terrible idea!
  4. I would have slept!!
    Man, I wish I had slept more in early labour. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and stayed awake until 9 the next morning after he was born, with the exception of a few very short naps. I had it in my head that labour was going to be quick and didn’t let myself relax. I was also worried if I got too relaxed, labour wouldn’t start and I would have to be induced. Being induced terrified me, so that was always in the back of my mind.
  5. I would have paid closer attention to my body
    Going into labour I thought I was very body-aware. Now, thinking back, I don’t remember feeling the baby move down. I was shocked when my midwife told me how low he was because I didn’t feel it. I don’t remember feeling my contractions move him down until he was crowning. I don’t remember feeling my pelvic floor, whether it was relaxed or not. I would have put more mental effort into concentrating on how everything felt and how it was changing as I progressed.
  6. I would have seen a women’s health physiotherapist prenatal
    Now this isn’t essential, however I believe it would have dramatically helped me connect with my transverse abs and pelvic floor while I was pregnant to better prepare them for labour and postpartum. It probably would have also made me realize that I had a tight pelvic floor and allowed me to work on releasing that tension before I went into labour.
  7. I would have moved more in the later stages
    If I had known how much of a difference getting up and walking out to my car and contracting in those awkward positions would have made, I would have done it so much earlier! If I had known possibly hiking up and down the stairs even one time would have helped nugget sneak past my pubic bone and stop that excruciating pain I would have done it in a second. My midwife said later she thought about suggesting it, but didn’t think I would have been very receptive to the suggestion, which may or may not have been true.
  8. I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself
    As soon as my water broke, it was game on. I was raring to go. I’ve never been much of an endurance athlete and that was totally reflected that day. I wanted things to happen and I wanted them to happen NOW. I happened to be wearing my FitBit and I recorded nearly 60 stories of stairs walked that day! Looking back, instead of basically climbing a mountain worth of stairs, I should have rested, relaxed, and let my body do it’s thing.


I hope you can learn a bit from the things I would do differently if I had the chance. I’m hoping I will remember this when it comes time for nugget #2 and I can have the homebirth I dreamed of the first time around. I can only hope that my words and experience will help even one other woman takes steps towards having the birth that she hopes for, whatever that looks like.

 

what I learned

Birth, fitness, pelvic health, postpartum, Pregnancy, Self Care

Why the 6-week Clearance Isn’t Enough

So you’ve had your 6-week postpartum check-up with your doctor, OB or midwife. They say ‘All is good, you can resume exercise’. You think ‘Awesome! I’m going to go out for a run tomorrow!’. Then tomorrow comes, you start running, and you feel like a bowling ball is bouncing inside your vagina, you leak, or worse you lose control of your bladder or bowels.

No one wants this. Why didn’t they warn you?

You’re not alone. The fact is, it takes a lot longer than 6 weeks for your pelvic floor, abs and uterine ligaments to return to normal. I am 5 months postpartum and still only feel maybe 90% normal. I can’t tell you why doctors and midwives don’t talk about this, but I’m hoping by reading this you’ll have a little bit more insight into postpartum exercise.

I talked about relaxin and pregnancy before, but did you know relaxin influences you for up to 3 months postpartum? And other hormonal changes will influence the laxity and strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments as long as you are breastfeeding?

True Story, Bro.

Let’s look at this logically though. Even if we take the scientific mumbo jumbo out. Your uterus was just huge (relatively speaking), then within the span of 6 weeks (or less) it shrank back down to the size of a pear. All of those ligaments, tendons and muscles that were holding that giant uterus up for 9 or so months have been stretched and loosened to accommodate it. They are going to take time to get back to where they were before. Here’s some perspective, if you had your leg in a cast for 9 months, then got the cast cut off, do you think you could go out and run a marathon 6 weeks later? Doubtful. Why do we treat all those very stressed ligaments inside our abdomen and pelvis any different? They’ve gone through massive changes and we need to respect that. We need to slowly and gently start adding exercises back in to allow those structures time to re-adapt back to their former glory.

Think of your pelvic floor like a trampoline. Now imagine a 400lb sumo wrestler sitting on that trampoline. That’s what your pelvic floor is like at the end of your pregnancy. Trying desperately just to keep everything up. Now imagine that sumo wrestler sitting there for a few months. How stretched would that trampoline be?

Ya, let that visual sink in for a moment.

We want that PF to bounce like trampoline, and be taught enough to resist the pressure of the organs it’s holding up (uterus, bladder, bowels) but flex with breath and impact. If you were trying to fix that stretched out trampoline, and someone kept jumping on it while you were working, it wouldn’t be very effective, would it? This is how it works with your PF and impact postpartum.

So what do I mean by ‘impact’?

I mean jumping, skipping, running, jogging, box jumps, jumping jacks, basically anything where there’s a period of time where both of your feet are off the floor, no matter how short the period of time is. Yes, even if it is a split second. Yes, even if you land gently.

Now, this isn’t to say you can never do these things again. This is definitely something you can work your way back to eventually. But you have to take your time, be careful and do it right. If you want your body to be functional well into old age, it’s important to take care of it now. If you want to have more children and want your body to support those pregnancies well, it’s important to respect this postpartum period and recover appropriately.

So the next question is how?

Well first, go see a Pelvic Health Physio (do I sound like a broken record yet?). Then work with a personal trainer who specializes in postpartum (like me, soon!) or purchase a program that is designed for postpartum women, like Birth2FitMum.

The most important thing, though, is to be mindful of your body. If things don’t feel right, don’t do them! Let go of your ego, and just be proud of where you are at currently. Just because you aren’t in the same place you were months ago, doesn’t mean you are broken, it’s all part of the journey! You grew a human! Go You!

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While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!

Birth, fitness, pelvic health, postpartum, Self Care

My Core & Floor – The Never Ending Saga

I am so thankful I was lucky enough to learn about diastasis recti (DR) and how it relates to pregnancy early on in my pregnancy. So many women I talked to had no idea what this is, how it develops and how it affects their lives going forward. Even some OB/GYNs are poorly informed on what DR is and what it means for their patients. One of my good friends was telling me about the coning in her belly while she was doing crunches in her 3rd trimester and how her OB just told her ‘oh that’s normal, don’t worry about it’ so she didn’t think anything of it and just pushed the coning down while she continued doing crunches! What her OB SHOULD have said was, this is DR, this is what it means, these are the exercise you should not be doing as they will aggravate it and make it worse.

DR is the separation of the abdominal muscles to accommodate the growing uterus, and it happens to up to 66% of women when pregnant. In order to heal this separation, you first need to reconnect with your deep core muscles, the transverse abdominus (TA) and your pelvic floor (PF) and re-learn how to engage them appropriately.

I had a DR at the end of my pregnancy, even though I worked to prevent it. Looking back now, I think poor posture was to blame, but we all know hindsight is 20/20. At birth my separation was about 2 1/2 finger widths at the widest. I was lucky in that simply following my training program, Birth2FitMum, I was able to heal it within 6 weeks. However, once I began seeing my pelvic health physiotherapist (PHP) I realized that it was probably my over-active TA that helped more than I realized. The problem was, even though my TA healed my DR quickly, they further delayed the healing of my poor stretched out PF.

See, the core muscles work in symphony, and when one component is over or under-active, it throws the whole system out of whack. Julie Wiebe does an excellent job of explaining this in her video here. I love her model of the piston system of the core muscles. I experienced the issues she discussed in this video. I was tensing my PF in hopes of counteracting my strong abs. Before visiting my PHP I found Julie’s program The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness extremely helpful. I’ve since learned through visiting my PHP that I hold a lot of my tension in my core, through holding in my abs and PF and taking short small breaths (because you can’t really hold your diaphragm taught and stay alive!). I’ve been learning how to allow my abs and PF to relax and how to take bigger breaths, and it’s still a work in progress 2 months later. It seems once I get one issue sorted out, another pops up, and after visiting my family doctor today, it seems I am on my way to the pelvic floor clinic in my city.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get in for another 3+ months. In the meantime, I will continue doing my exercises prescribed by my PHP, the pelvic floor piston exercises, as well as a few other exercise I’ve found help me personally connect with my PF and breath. One of my favourites that I’ve been doing since I was pregnant is just sitting in a squat. And no, I don’t mean those awful hover squats like you’re trying not to sit on a public toilet. More like you’re squatting in the forest having a pee. I relax, and it really helps me feel my breath through my pelvic floor. If you are having a hard time understanding how your breath and your PF are connected, try this. I also like to flow through cat-cow poses while controlling my breath and PF contractions. I think the reason these exercises work for me is because it takes my TA out of the equation, because they always want to kick in and take over.

I’m hoping I can re-learn how to use my core effectively before it comes time to work on nugget #2, and I think I am on the right track. However, some days I just feel like I am missing a piece of the puzzle, and I’m hoping the pelvic floor clinic can help me with that. I encourage you, if you feel like something just ‘isn’t right’ to go to your doctor, or find a PHP near you to help you sort things out. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time, and multiple tries to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it. You don’t have to just deal with a dysfunctional body because you had a baby!

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While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!

pelvic health, postpartum, Self Care

Strength Training and the Pelvic Floor

This week I finally kicked my own ass into gear and started gathering practice hours to prepare myself for my practical exam to finally get my Personal Training Specialist certification from CanFitPro. I sent out a plea on Facebook for anyone who would be willing to submit themselves to a session with me. I was thankful to have 4 wonderful ladies step up and come join me in my little home gym!

One thing that came up over and over again was the pelvic floor. I just always seem to find ways to work it into the conversation! I think it is because I was so blown away by the knowledge I have gained since become pregnant and giving birth that I just feel the need to share it with the world!

Did you know you can have pelvic floor dysfunction without having a baby?

Did you know you can induce stress urinary incontinence (SUI) through weightlifting?

Did you know most women don’t know how to properly connect with their pelvic floor?

Did you know a pelvic health physical therapist can help with all of these things?

Did you know that I think every single woman who has given birth should see a pelvic health physical therapist? (I hope you know this, from reading previous posts!)

It felt so good this week to share my knowledge of the pelvic floor with some lovely women, even though none of them had given birth, and some of them never plan to. The information was so well received by all of them! I think maybe they can feel my passion shining through.

One eye opening moment I had was watching this video by YouTube Vlogger Meg Squats. She and a fellow powerlifting friend discuss their issues with stress urinary incontinence and how it related to their weightlifting. I had never thought about the pelvic floor in this context, but it totally makes sense. The anatomy of the female core has the opportunity for weakness if the pelvic floor isn’t adequately engaged, thanks to the vagina. The vagina is essentially a hole in your core, and when you are exerting the levels of intra-abdominal pressure required for powerlifting, if you’re not functionally engaging your pelvic floor, it becomes a point of weakness, leaving women vulnerable to SUI or worse, prolapse.

I brought this up with the ladies I trained who are into power lifting or lifting heavy and they were blown away by the idea. I feel like every trainer who trains women needs to at least take the pelvic floor into consideration, especially when they start introducing concepts like using intra-abdominal pressure to brace for lifts. They were also surprised when they tried to engage their pelvic floor, they felt like they had no idea what they were doing! Which is a very common occurrence. I thought I was a champion at Kegels until I visited my pelvic floor physio postpartum and she helped me see that I was clenching so many unnecessary muscles when I thought I was only engaging my PF.

When I left my physio after my final (so far) visit, I took a handful of her business cards and have been handing them out to my post-partum mom friends like candy! We had a mom’s get together the other day, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that every single one of us had some form of pelvic floor dysfunction. And we are all fit, healthy women who were avid athletes and hit the gym regularly before we had our babies!

We need to talk about this more, ladies. Rather than ‘just wait until you pee every time you sneeze’ how about we say ‘have you made an appointment with a pelvic health physio yet?’

Birth, motherhood

What do you mean you didn’t get an epidural?

 

I am at that age, 29 years old. The majority of my friends are trying to get pregnant, pregnant or just recently had a baby or two. So, as women do, we talk. A lot of the currently pregnant or recently pregnant women have asked me about my labour and delivery. I shared my story, as I did here, but they wanted to know how. So here are the ins and outs of how I managed an unmedicated birth.

Now I am not by any means suggesting I did it the ‘right’ way. Or that these strategies will work for you. It was just really important for ME to try my best to have an unmedicated birth, ideally at home. If you chose to schedule a c-section, or get an epidural the second the first contraction hits, or give birth in the forest with deer and bunnies, the more power to you! As long as it is what is right for you and your baby.

I remember my close friend getting pregnant a few years ago. Well before I had even considered the idea of having a baby. She was telling me all about how she was planning to have an unmedicated birth and all the preparation she was doing.

I thought she was absolutely insane.

I was fresh off a labour and delivery placement in nursing school and seeing what those women went through made me cringe at the thought of feeling aaaallllll of that.

Then I got pregnant and my perspective completely changed. All of a sudden it wasn’t about me, it was about this child, and what I felt would be best to bring him into this world. I did research, watched documentaries, found a midwife, fell in LOVE with Ina May Gaskin and watched Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives over and over and even made my husband watch it too.

I think having the right mindset was key. You have to believe you can do it in order to be able to. I’ve been an athlete in one form or another my whole life so that was something I could relate to. I decided to approach labour like an athletic event, like a marathon or climbing a mountain. I tailored my workouts at the end to be like labour training. I’d do one minute on, one minute off of different exercises to prepare myself mentally for the work of continuous contractions every two minutes. I used positive self-talk and told myself over and over again that I can do this. One of the biggest things that I found helped me was doing some research on Hypnobirthing and watching relaxation videos.

When the time came for me to actually be in labour I was excited! I was not scared at all, I saw it as a goal for me to challenge, not as something I needed to survive. I felt every contraction as work towards my baby coming earthside. I knew the stronger the contractions the sooner I’d get to meet my baby, so as they got stronger and closer together, I got more energized and excited. I felt like I was working with my body, not against it. Allowing it to do the work it needed to do.

When my midwife arrived in the middle of the night and checked me, she was so surprised to find I was already 7cm dilated, as I was still smiling and chatting in between contractions. I watched an entire season of friends and laughed and joked.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops and rainbows. Pushing was, let’s just say, not the funnest thing I’ve ever done. At first it was great, it felt like a relief to finally be able to push with the contractions. I felt like I was actively doing something to help my baby arrive.

That was until my pubic bone began to separate.

That’s where the real work, the mental grit, came into play. It was hard. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This part of my labour was all a bit of a blur, but my husband tells me there was a lot of screaming and swearing and definitely a few F-bombs were dropped. This is where I think being a homebirth made the difference between me staying with my unmedicated plan, versus taking something for the pain. It simply wasn’t an option. I didn’t think about it, it wasn’t offered, it wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t until I was 2 1/2 hours into pushing and just physically and mentally exhausted that the idea of maybe trying to go to the hospital for some help was even brought up.

Once we got to the hospital, we tried to use the gas, but for whatever reason we couldn’t get it to work. And at that point, I wasn’t even having the same pain that I was having at home. Baby’s head had slipped past my pubic bone and we were in the home stretch, so we didn’t even worry about it.

I truly believe that the key’s to making it through were having a midwife and attempting a homebirth. I was so much more relaxed, I knew my midwife very well by the time it came to deliver so I was very comfortable around her. I went into it with the right mindset and a positive attitude. Even though women tried to discourage me with comments like ‘oh just you wait’ and ‘the pain is real’ I wasn’t phased. I knew I could do it, and I did.

motherhood, postpartum, Self Care

Pain, Weakness, Defeat – How I felt Postpartum

As mentioned in my Birth Story, I had what they call a ‘prolonged second stage’ which means I actively pushed my baby out for over 2 hours, just over 3 hours to be exact.

It was the most excruciating, difficult, empowering thing I have ever done in my life.

It was worth it.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely.

Would I try and do everything possible to avoid doing it again if I knew it was an option?

Definitely.

Would I have chosen a C-section over what I went through?

Unquestionably, NO.

I believe everyone gets the birth they need. I will admit I went into labour cocky. After all my baby was so far engaged my midwife had never seen a baby that low before. When she checked me in early labour, she said he was ‘right there’. I thought when it would come time to push it would be, 1, 2, 3 he’s out, break out the champagne.

Nope.

And what do you think all of that pushing did to my pelvic floor?

Well… It wreaked a little bit of havoc.

No one tells you what it feels like AFTER you give birth. Sure they say it’s like a period, they talk about the cramping, and the breastfeeding difficulties, and the sleeplessness. No one talks about the fact that you might feel like you’re sitting on a swollen baseball or like your organs are going to fall out or you can’t hold a full bladder anymore. Or that doing something simple like walking around the grocery store might cause you pain in a way you hadn’t even considered.

No one talks about that.

Because you have a baby! And he’s amazing, and adorable and the greatest thing that has ever happened to you! (truth) But the fact that you have a perfect, healthy baby doesn’t negate how you are feeling. I was so caught off guard by the pelvic pain and weakness. After all, I had worked really hard when I was pregnant (I thought) to ensure my pelvic floor was in tip-top shape! I thought I’d be a rockstar, pop this Nugget out, and be back to normal in a jiff.

Not the case.

By my 6 week check up with my midwife, I was still having pain, and feeling weak and while I was lucky enough to not have incontinence, I still didn’t have the same control I once did. Luckily, my midwife had a contact for a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist (PHP) in my city and I booked an appointment.

6 weeks later I finally got in to see Michelle. (She’s that busy)

I recently was telling my friends about my experience with Michelle. I used words like ‘magical’ and ‘tender’ and ‘professional’.

You have a really intimate relationship with your PHP when you’re done. She helps you with things you may not even discuss with your mother.

She gave me confidence to know what is and isn’t normal within the context of my own body. She helped me realize my version of a Kegel was not very effective and helped me perfect it. She also made me realize I hold a lot of my stress and tension in my core by bracing it way more often than is necessary, which was resulting in a lot of tightness in my PF. She helped me learn how to relax and release that tension so I could enjoy things I hadn’t been enjoying before. She even helped me work through the grief I was feeling over the fact that I had worked so hard to keep my core strong, and here I was, so weak that wearing my baby for a trip to the grocery store was causing me pain.

Let’s just say, after I finished my last session, the first thing I did the next day was send her flowers and a Thank You note.

I truly believe every single woman should see a PHP after she gives birth. Regardless if it is vaginal or C-section, uncomplicated or complex, easy or traumatic. See a PHP!

What most women don’t realize is that during pregnancy your core all but shuts down. It get stretched so much that it is really difficult to connect with those muscles and keep them toned. A PHP will help you reconnect, and become more functional and I promise you, it will help you in every movement you make.

Birth, fitness, pelvic health, Pregnancy, Self Care

Pregnancy Fitness – How I did it

In previous posts I mentioned that I maintained working out throughout my pregnancy. Now let me preface this by saying I am not a doctor, midwife, physiotherapist or personal trainer (working on this one!) and I am simply explaining what I did, what worked for me and how I felt doing it. Before I got pregnancy  I was working out regularly, lifting (relatively) heavy weights and doing some high intensity workouts.

Most women experience a dip in stamina in the first trimester, and I was no exception. Even though I only had minor morning sickness I definitely had the fatigue, all I wanted to do was sleep. And I did. Because why not? I was smart enough to realize that come 8 or so months from then I wouldn’t be able to sleep all day, so I did! In addition to magnificent, glorious, magical sleep (can you tell I am writing this post-baby, with a 2 month old who still enjoys multiple night wakings?) I continued on my merry way working out the way I normally do. I lifted weights 1-3x per week, depending on my work schedule, and walked 25-60 minutes with the Big Brown Dog 4-6 days a week. I did not do traditional “cardio”, mostly because I fucking hate running. Hate. Despise. Loathe. I tried it once last year in preparation for the Tough Mudder. I managed to scrounge out a few 8km runs and deluded myself into believing I found the ‘runners high’ but nothing stuck.

I digress.

The moral of the story is until about 14 weeks, nothing changed. I worked out normally, lifting ‘heavy’, walking. Living life. Somewhere around the beginning of the 2nd trimester I decided to purchase the Fit2Birth Mum program from pregnancyexcercise.co.nz. I cannot say enough good things about this program. It felt exactly as hard as it should, I ended my work outs sweaty, but I never felt overworked or out of breath. The best part of her program is the owner, Lorraine Scapens, also hosts a Facebook group for each program and answers questions from users about their specific needs in a timely and friendly fashion.

In addition to the Fit2Birth program I continued my weight lifting, progressively lowering my weights as the weeks went by. For some perspective I started deadlifting and squatting approximately 150lbs, and my final weight lifting session was somewhere around 34 weeks and I was lifting about 65lbs, read: less than half my normal, but probably way too heavy for some other women. I also focussed on maximizing the strength and flexibility of my pelvic floor. I did many stationary squats (think peeing in the forest) as this has many benefits for pregnant ladies, which I will get into in it’s very own post later on down the road.

Now for the benefits, at least from my perspective.

As mentioned previously, around 9 weeks or so, I made a lengthy journey across the country to share the good news with my family in person. This included many hours sitting awkwardly in an airplane. I think it’s no coincidence that this is also when I started experiencing sacral-iliac joint pain. I thought this was the end of the world as I knew it. Working out keeps me sane. I knew a lot of women start having SI joint pain, and they are hooped. No more workout. No more walking. No more functioning. Done. So I snuck down to my nice little basement gym and did the easiest workout I could muster, and prayed and went to bed. The next morning before I got up, I was so paranoid that the soreness from my workout would be the death of my in addition to my newfound SI pain. I got up. I was sore. But no SI pain? Magic!

Well if you think about it, SI joint pain is usually born from a poor interaction of the sacrum and the ilium, two bones on the back half of your pelvis. Relaxin allows the ligaments holding the two bones together to loosen, allowing the bones rub painfully. One would think, strengthening the muscles around these bones would help hold them in place properly, decreasing the amount of pain. This was certainly true for me. This carried on throughout my pregnancy, every time I got lazy and didn’t work out for a while, my hips would get sore, I would work out, the pain would go away.

I also believe working out helped Nugget be in the perfect position for birth from early on. At my 20 week ultrasound his head was so low in my pelvis the tech had to all by smash my bladder in order to see it well enough to take measurements. This was true again for my follow up ultrasounds at 24 and 34 weeks. As soon as I knew that he was head down, I squatted until I could squat no more! Squatting is a functional movement. Back in the day (re:100+ years ago) humans used to squat regularly. Think hunting/gathering/child rearing/harvesting fields etc. Our bodies were designed to squat! It makes so much more sense physiologically than bending at the hips. We are so much stronger in a squat! Also, squatting helps open up the pelvic bones and lengthen the pelvic floor to allow the baby’s head to descent into the pelvis and make it less likely to flip. I’ll explore and share my love for the squat in it own post later on, as I could go on forever!

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While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!